TJ Oyster Bar
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes the TJ Oyster Bar fish taco superlative, but I think it comes down to the batter. It always manages to remain light and delicate without spreading out from the taco into a deep-fried starburst. The result is a perfectly encapsulated nugget of fish, tucked into its tortilla like a swaddled babe, or a happily cocooned butterfly ready to burst forth into something beautiful. After a round of cocteles and oysters from the raw bar, a few fish tacos and a cold clamato here is as good as it gets.
5201 Linda Vista Road, Linda Vista
Matador Mexican Grill
USD kids know. The barbacoa street tacos here are legit. They come with a big bowl of lamb broth. Taco savage that I am, I like to soak the entire taco in the broth, so that it turns into a drippy, fatty, messy, super-savory association of meats and juices, commingled into one lambtastic celebration of Mexican fast food. It ends in catastrophic fashion half the time — lamb shreds and juice everywhere — but it’s worth it. The carnitas and buche tacos are a great backup if you come hungry and there’s no barbacoa to be had.
3201 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
Among the many Zarapes, only at the big El Zarape can you get the potato-mole taco. As tacos go, it has the je ne sais quoi magic of rich, zesty mole, soft potato, and crispy cabbage. The whole thing works perfectly, and, as a bonus, it’s super cheap during happy hour. Goes great with a tamarindo margarita. You won’t lose with any other taco here, but the potato-mole is a winner, for sure. I also dig the fried calamari taco with “cusabi” sauce.
4280 El Cajon Boulevard, City Heights
Darker and steamier than a midsummer Mexico City night, every order of mixiote de borrego sits in its broth and little tinfoil shrine like a secret waiting to be whispered to a confidant, or a rumor percolating just beneath the surface. It’s also not a bad deal, because a $14.99 order will make six tacos and feed two for lunch. Add a little cactus salad and the deal is done. If lamb isn’t your thing, go for the cochinita pibil and shift your attentions momentarily toward the Yucatán. If the place has a flaw, it’s that the sidewalks roll up at 6 p.m.