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Tahona Bar takes it to the street

Perks include cemetery view dining, and cocktails out of a VW bus

A trio of tacos: (front to back) carne asada, pollo pastor, carnitas
A trio of tacos: (front to back) carne asada, pollo pastor, carnitas

As indoor dining is still off limits, I didn’t expect to find myself at Tahona Bar. Old Town’s best modern Mexican eatery boasts a stunning rustic-meets-contemporary interior, punctuated by tastefully arranged bottles of its signature booze, mezcal (a tahona is the traditional stone wheel used to crush agave piñas in making the smoky spirit).

Place

Tahona

2414 San Diego Avenue, San Diego

As much as the creative food and craft cocktails, a romantic setting is the lure here, and shame as it is, I wouldn’t have thought the place could replicate the same level of charm while embracing the sidewalk and asphalt al fresco that dominates this ‘rona summer.

A carne asada burrito, with barley

And it hasn’t. But neither has Tahona withered in the face of covid restrictions. Instead, it’s made the most of the resources available to provide an altogether different experience that remains worth a visit.

For one, it’s switched to counter service, taking orders from a table crossing its entrance. Food prep, too, has been taken outside, to a plancha just off the sidewalk. The menu has been stripped down, losing refined takes on antojitos, moles, and aguachiles to focus on street tacos and burritos.

A donkey sculpture and outdoor seating at Old Town's Tahona Bar

Which isn’t to say the food has lost any luster. The $4 tacos include a pollo al pastor with pineapple, carne asada with a black bean puree, shrimp al diablo with Oaxacan cheese, and a vegan taco of cauliflower and maitake mushroom with black mole and sesame seeds. My favorite was the slow braised carnitas, far less greasy and salty than what you’ll find at the majority of local taco shops, yet every bit as satisfying. In all the tacos, the fresh corn tortillas were scrumptious: light, and slightly crispy at the edges, they set the tone for my whole meal.

The Tahona VW bus parked out front, with a small mezcal bar inside

Order a $13 “fuerte”, and your choice of above proteins are served on a plate, with tortillas on the side, along with black beans and tender kernels of barley. That barley almost makes a rare appearance inside the $10 burritos. As someone who tends to prefer casual dining, I enjoyed the food here better out on the sidewalk, minus the fuss and expectations of the beautiful interior.

Tahona's head ancho cocktail: mezcal, ancho chile liqueur, lemongrass, pineapple, vanilla, and serrano chile

As far as atmosphere goes, there’s not a ton to enjoy on San Diego Avenue, but Tahona sits next door to the historic El Campo Cemetery, which dates back to 1849, so we enjoyed people watching tourists explore the small graveyard and its mix of stone and wood markers.

Beside that, Tahona has proven its character with a couple of quirky touches. Sidewalk tables themselves are shaded by turquoise umbrellas, the seating bracketed on one side by a metal donkey sculpture, on the other by a blue VW bus. The back hatch of the bus is flipped open to reveal the restaurant’s mezcal selection inside. Tahona may have moved out to the street, but most of its tasty cocktail selection came with it, a bartender putting cocktail shakers to work, even during weekend lunch hours.

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A trio of tacos: (front to back) carne asada, pollo pastor, carnitas
A trio of tacos: (front to back) carne asada, pollo pastor, carnitas

As indoor dining is still off limits, I didn’t expect to find myself at Tahona Bar. Old Town’s best modern Mexican eatery boasts a stunning rustic-meets-contemporary interior, punctuated by tastefully arranged bottles of its signature booze, mezcal (a tahona is the traditional stone wheel used to crush agave piñas in making the smoky spirit).

Place

Tahona

2414 San Diego Avenue, San Diego

As much as the creative food and craft cocktails, a romantic setting is the lure here, and shame as it is, I wouldn’t have thought the place could replicate the same level of charm while embracing the sidewalk and asphalt al fresco that dominates this ‘rona summer.

A carne asada burrito, with barley

And it hasn’t. But neither has Tahona withered in the face of covid restrictions. Instead, it’s made the most of the resources available to provide an altogether different experience that remains worth a visit.

For one, it’s switched to counter service, taking orders from a table crossing its entrance. Food prep, too, has been taken outside, to a plancha just off the sidewalk. The menu has been stripped down, losing refined takes on antojitos, moles, and aguachiles to focus on street tacos and burritos.

A donkey sculpture and outdoor seating at Old Town's Tahona Bar

Which isn’t to say the food has lost any luster. The $4 tacos include a pollo al pastor with pineapple, carne asada with a black bean puree, shrimp al diablo with Oaxacan cheese, and a vegan taco of cauliflower and maitake mushroom with black mole and sesame seeds. My favorite was the slow braised carnitas, far less greasy and salty than what you’ll find at the majority of local taco shops, yet every bit as satisfying. In all the tacos, the fresh corn tortillas were scrumptious: light, and slightly crispy at the edges, they set the tone for my whole meal.

The Tahona VW bus parked out front, with a small mezcal bar inside

Order a $13 “fuerte”, and your choice of above proteins are served on a plate, with tortillas on the side, along with black beans and tender kernels of barley. That barley almost makes a rare appearance inside the $10 burritos. As someone who tends to prefer casual dining, I enjoyed the food here better out on the sidewalk, minus the fuss and expectations of the beautiful interior.

Tahona's head ancho cocktail: mezcal, ancho chile liqueur, lemongrass, pineapple, vanilla, and serrano chile

As far as atmosphere goes, there’s not a ton to enjoy on San Diego Avenue, but Tahona sits next door to the historic El Campo Cemetery, which dates back to 1849, so we enjoyed people watching tourists explore the small graveyard and its mix of stone and wood markers.

Beside that, Tahona has proven its character with a couple of quirky touches. Sidewalk tables themselves are shaded by turquoise umbrellas, the seating bracketed on one side by a metal donkey sculpture, on the other by a blue VW bus. The back hatch of the bus is flipped open to reveal the restaurant’s mezcal selection inside. Tahona may have moved out to the street, but most of its tasty cocktail selection came with it, a bartender putting cocktail shakers to work, even during weekend lunch hours.

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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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