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.
1912 Coronado Avenue #105, Nestor
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.
2181 Logan Avenue, Logan Heights
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.
1004 North Harbor Drive, Downtown 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.
1301 Market Street, East Village
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.
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.
435 Broadway, Downtown 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?