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Great atmosphere, better tacos

Baja Oyster, Border X, Carnitas, Canteen at Quartyard, Candelas, Senor Taquero

Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar — stick with tacos. - Image by Matthew Suárez
Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar — stick with tacos.

Most of these taco joints you just wanna be at, anyway. Some, it’s their fun, or their music, others, it’s the incredible eye candy they give away for the price of a taco – fabulous views of the town, the water, their own little escape worlds. That’s okay, because for me, atmos. counts (and good prices, too). It’s lucky most of these places make some crazy-good tacos as well.

Place

Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar

1912 Coronado Avenue #105, San Diego

You feel it the moment you come through the door. Usually the first guys to greet you are Nazareth and Leo, the two hyperactive chefs. Watch out: non-taco dishes such as the Chef’s Creation (steak, shrimp, octopus) can cost $30. So stick with tacos. I go for shrimp-and-cheese ($4.50), and even more, the surf-and-turf taco ($6.25) which comes with Culichi sauce (roasted poblanos and Mexican crema, from Culiacan, Sinaloa), a hot green guac-lookalike which will get you goldfishing for cool air, in a good way. Also, Tacos Dorados (3 tostados for $9.95) can be the best deal, with anything from smoked fish to carnaqueso to spicy shrimp.

Place

Border X Brewing

2181 Logan Avenue, San Diego

You come here for the craft beer, and discover the tacos ain’t at all bad either. And in exactly the right spot: Border X Brewing is one of those cultural crossroads that’s too fun to miss. Tury’s Tacos set up in the beer garden with the usual selection of tacos. But the two to go for (my opinion) are the asada chorizo, and the pastor. Each one is so-o lush and richly marinated. Cost $2.50 each. Try pairing them with the brewery’s Horchata Golden Stout. Lots of vanilla and cinnamon. And you get live music to chomp and stomp to, specially Thursday nights when a loose bunch of Cubanmusic-playing musicians sets the place alight.

Place

Carnitas' Snack Shack — Embarcadero

1004 North Harbor Drive, San Diego

Yes, it is about the carnitas, pork meat tenderized, braised, crisped on the outside, then pulled apart. The most wicked of temptations. And these guys do it so well. If you make it to happy hour (3-6 pm Monday to Friday), a carnitas taco will cost $5, with chips and salsa, plus a ton of guac and pico. Tuesdays they extend happy hour till closing time, at least 9 pm. And they have actual healthy tacos, such as the cauliflower (it comes with red cabbage, chipotle crema). The elephant in the room? You’re downing all this deliciousness at an outside bar right on the waterfront, watching the waters glisten at you 20 yards away.

Place

Quartyard

1301 Market Street, San Diego

Okay, this is basically an outdoor beer place with a play area for your dog, and bean bag games for you. One shipping container’s a bar, another houses the Canteen, which serves really good tacos. Come on Friday an hour before sunset – when the light’s magic — get your favorite pint, order your tacos ($8.25 for three, chicken, carne asada or carnitas. I dig the CA), and position yourself at the mini counter they have alongside the faux grass pooch run. You can see tiny mutts, Dobermans, labs, basset hounds and Great Danes mixing, flirting, chasing tennis balls. It’s a hoot. And somehow those corn-tortilla tacos taste the most delicious in the world.

Place

Candelas on the Bay

1201 First Street #115, Coronado

It’s not just the fifteen-dollar taco deal, or the million-dollar harbor view. It’s that the $14.95 offer is for all-u-can-eat tacos, from 11 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Saturday. They have continually-arriving pots of steaming-hot corn tortillas and chafing dishes loaded with carnitas, al pastor, chicken (tinga de pollo), and Coca Cola-tenderized carne asada, plus rice and frijoles. For this to be a deal, you need to come hungry, so you can pack in more than two tacos. (Demetrio, the manager, says most customers try to make it to six, which is fine by him). Meats too gringo-friendly? Douse with plentiful hot sauces. Oh, and that cross-harbor view? Feast your eyes for free.

Place

Senor Taquero

435 Broadway, San Diego

This is the nearest thing to a hole in the wall downtown, and it’s great because it specializes in the lesser-known taco fillings. The three I come for are cabeza (“head,” but actually this is from the cheeks), birria (beef shoulder marinated in red chili sauce), and suadero (shredded beef from between the belly and leg). Also, you should try the tripa (“boiled, deep fried, and grilled”) beef tripe taco. Tortillas are always double corn, and you get salsa and guac as part of the deal. Plus, this is a great late-night refuge if you’ve been partying in the Gaslamp, open till 11 pm, and 3 am Fridays and Saturdays. And did I mention, $1.79 per taco?

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Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar — stick with tacos. - Image by Matthew Suárez
Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar — stick with tacos.

Most of these taco joints you just wanna be at, anyway. Some, it’s their fun, or their music, others, it’s the incredible eye candy they give away for the price of a taco – fabulous views of the town, the water, their own little escape worlds. That’s okay, because for me, atmos. counts (and good prices, too). It’s lucky most of these places make some crazy-good tacos as well.

Place

Baja Oyster & Sushi Bar

1912 Coronado Avenue #105, San Diego

You feel it the moment you come through the door. Usually the first guys to greet you are Nazareth and Leo, the two hyperactive chefs. Watch out: non-taco dishes such as the Chef’s Creation (steak, shrimp, octopus) can cost $30. So stick with tacos. I go for shrimp-and-cheese ($4.50), and even more, the surf-and-turf taco ($6.25) which comes with Culichi sauce (roasted poblanos and Mexican crema, from Culiacan, Sinaloa), a hot green guac-lookalike which will get you goldfishing for cool air, in a good way. Also, Tacos Dorados (3 tostados for $9.95) can be the best deal, with anything from smoked fish to carnaqueso to spicy shrimp.

Place

Border X Brewing

2181 Logan Avenue, San Diego

You come here for the craft beer, and discover the tacos ain’t at all bad either. And in exactly the right spot: Border X Brewing is one of those cultural crossroads that’s too fun to miss. Tury’s Tacos set up in the beer garden with the usual selection of tacos. But the two to go for (my opinion) are the asada chorizo, and the pastor. Each one is so-o lush and richly marinated. Cost $2.50 each. Try pairing them with the brewery’s Horchata Golden Stout. Lots of vanilla and cinnamon. And you get live music to chomp and stomp to, specially Thursday nights when a loose bunch of Cubanmusic-playing musicians sets the place alight.

Place

Carnitas' Snack Shack — Embarcadero

1004 North Harbor Drive, San Diego

Yes, it is about the carnitas, pork meat tenderized, braised, crisped on the outside, then pulled apart. The most wicked of temptations. And these guys do it so well. If you make it to happy hour (3-6 pm Monday to Friday), a carnitas taco will cost $5, with chips and salsa, plus a ton of guac and pico. Tuesdays they extend happy hour till closing time, at least 9 pm. And they have actual healthy tacos, such as the cauliflower (it comes with red cabbage, chipotle crema). The elephant in the room? You’re downing all this deliciousness at an outside bar right on the waterfront, watching the waters glisten at you 20 yards away.

Place

Quartyard

1301 Market Street, San Diego

Okay, this is basically an outdoor beer place with a play area for your dog, and bean bag games for you. One shipping container’s a bar, another houses the Canteen, which serves really good tacos. Come on Friday an hour before sunset – when the light’s magic — get your favorite pint, order your tacos ($8.25 for three, chicken, carne asada or carnitas. I dig the CA), and position yourself at the mini counter they have alongside the faux grass pooch run. You can see tiny mutts, Dobermans, labs, basset hounds and Great Danes mixing, flirting, chasing tennis balls. It’s a hoot. And somehow those corn-tortilla tacos taste the most delicious in the world.

Place

Candelas on the Bay

1201 First Street #115, Coronado

It’s not just the fifteen-dollar taco deal, or the million-dollar harbor view. It’s that the $14.95 offer is for all-u-can-eat tacos, from 11 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Saturday. They have continually-arriving pots of steaming-hot corn tortillas and chafing dishes loaded with carnitas, al pastor, chicken (tinga de pollo), and Coca Cola-tenderized carne asada, plus rice and frijoles. For this to be a deal, you need to come hungry, so you can pack in more than two tacos. (Demetrio, the manager, says most customers try to make it to six, which is fine by him). Meats too gringo-friendly? Douse with plentiful hot sauces. Oh, and that cross-harbor view? Feast your eyes for free.

Place

Senor Taquero

435 Broadway, San Diego

This is the nearest thing to a hole in the wall downtown, and it’s great because it specializes in the lesser-known taco fillings. The three I come for are cabeza (“head,” but actually this is from the cheeks), birria (beef shoulder marinated in red chili sauce), and suadero (shredded beef from between the belly and leg). Also, you should try the tripa (“boiled, deep fried, and grilled”) beef tripe taco. Tortillas are always double corn, and you get salsa and guac as part of the deal. Plus, this is a great late-night refuge if you’ve been partying in the Gaslamp, open till 11 pm, and 3 am Fridays and Saturdays. And did I mention, $1.79 per taco?

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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