Jenny Milkowski and Danielle Radin taste tacos at Backyard Kitchen & Tap. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The Gringo tacos at Backyard Kitchen & Tap. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The Garnet Vampire tacos at Backyard Kitchen & Tap. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Jenny Milkowski and Danielle Radin try tacos at Oscar's Mexican Seafood. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The octopus taco at Oscar's Mexican Seafood. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Jenny Milkowski and Danielle Radin taste poke tacos at Duck Dive. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The poke tacos at Duck Dive. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Danielle Radin and Jenny Milkowski try tacos on the rooftop of El Prez. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The chicken tinga tacos at El Prez. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Tacos al pastor at Tacos El Franc in Tijuana. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Growing up in the suburbs of a Northeastern city in the 1980s meant tacos came out of a box shelved in the “international” aisle at a grocery store. One day a week – usually Wednesdays – we were exposed to “tacos” with greasy ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce and mounds of mozzarella stuffed into delicate hard shells.
It was a fun mess and about as close to Mexican food as we got. But, like tacos, we evolve.
Just last weekend we were ordering al pastor tacos in the busiest, noisiest, and probably, best taco spot in Tijuana. Tacos El Franc is a must-visit for any fan of the authentic street taco – the ambiance, the smells, and the flavors can’t be beat.
But up here in the beach communities of San Diego, National Taco Day (Oct. 4) is celebrated a little differently as local restaurants think outside of the box. There are cauliflower tacos, vampire tacos and even poke tacos – and we tasted them all.
Our tasters, known for their taco infatuations, were Danielle Radin, digital anchor, and producer for Fox 5, and Jenny Milkowski, traffic anchor at CBS News 8. They tried and rated (on a scale of 0 to 5 tacos) a variety of tacos at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood, Backyard Kitchen & Tap, El Prez, and Duck Dive.
“I think I’ve tried every kind of taco – from tongue to stomach, to head tacos. I’ll taste anything at least once,” Jenny said.
“You had me at tacos,” Danielle said. “If we’re tasting tacos, I’m always ready to eat.”
Their conclusions, along with a summary of some of the best taco spots from La Jolla to Point Loma, are below.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
703 Turquoise St.
Oscar’s specializes in seafood tacos such as battered fish or shrimp tacos, smoked fish tacos, or grilled octopus tacos. Oscar’s also offers specialty tacos like tacos al pastor, shrimp, and chorizo tacos, and even shrimp and bacon tacos. Vegetarians can enjoy veggie tacos and soyrizo tacos.
At Oscar’s, Jenny tried the smoked fish and Danielle had the grilled octopus.
“First bite, I was like, yum,” Jenny said. “But I wish there was more fish and it had a smokier flavor. It was good. I rate it 3 out of 5 tacos.”
“It was really good, zesty with a good texture, which is hard to do with octopus,” Danielle said. “I liked it and I recommend it. I rate it 4.8 out of 5 tacos.”
Backyard Kitchen & Tap
832 Garnet Ave.
This American gastropub serves some of Pacific Beach’s best tacos. Choose from Backyard’s fun taco plates such as the Garnet Vampire, which is slow-roasted pork carnitas, pico de gallo, and cotija on a cheddar crusted corn tortilla, and the Gringo, which is chipotle chicken, cabbage, and jalapeno crema on a crispy corn hard shell.
At Backyard, Jenny and Danielle tried both the Gringo and Garnet Vampire tacos.
“The Gringo taco has a hard shell with a lot of chipotle-flavored chicken and it was OK,” Jenny said. “The Vampire taco was juicy and filled with delicious pork. You’re not going to walk away hungry after one, but who am I kidding, I would eat two. I like it a lot. I rate them 3 out of 5 tacos.”
“This Vampire one was filled with a lot of pork and authentic flavors,” Danielle said. “It’s huge, so one will get you full. Going from the pork to the Gringo taco was like night and day. I like the crunch of the hard shell and it had a good sauce. I rate them 3 out of 5 tacos.”
4190 Mission Blvd.
El Prez throws a taco-filled fiesta everyday. Guests can choose from more than 13 different types of tacos served in freshly-made tortillas. Favorite El Prez tacos include seared ahi tacos, cauliflower tacos, and filet mignon tacos.
Jenny tried the cauliflower tacos and Danielle had the chicken tinga tacos.
“It was pretty good, but I didn’t like that the cauliflower was fried because I like to feel that I’m being healthy,” Jenny said. “It had good spice and the crema was tasty – I liked it. I rate it 3 out of 5 tacos.”
“It has fried cheese on top, which threw me off at first and it was big – kind of an aggressive taco,” Danielle said. “It was really good and mango salsa gave it a sweet and savory taste that I enjoyed. I rate it 3.5 out of 5 tacos.”
4650 Mission Blvd.
Duck Dive and its ambiance is an ode the rich surf and beach culture that resides just steps away from the Pacific Ocean. Their menu takes on classic American dishes as well as a coastal favorites. They serve the usual fish and carne asada tacos but offer a twist with the poke taco with a wonton shell.
Jenny and Danielle both tried the poke tacos. “I got super excited to try these because I love ahi tuna,” Jenny said. “The wonton shell is big and the lettuce is not necessary. It’s a fun new taco and I liked it. I rate it 3 out of 5 tacos.”
“The wonton had a good texture, the sauce is really good and the poke went well with it all,” Danielle said. “It is something new and different. I liked it. I rate it 3 out of 5 tacos.”
1375 Garnet Ave.
With Vallarta Express’ 24/7 service, guests can order tacos at any time of the day. Guests can also order tacos through the drive-thru. Some of Vallarta’s many taco options include favorites like shrimp or carne asada tacos and more adventurous choices like the Philly Taco, which includes a choice of steak or chicken with melted cheese, mushrooms, peppers, bacon, and salsa; or the Buffalo Taco, which includes lightly breaded chicken, buffalo sauce, romaine lettuce, ranch dressing, and salsa Fresca.
Fat Fish Cantina Grill
4474 Mission Blvd.
Fat Fish Cantina Grill mixes Southern California tacos with flavors from south of the border. Choose from a variety of taco plates such as surf and turf tacos, shrimp tacos, carne asada tacos, and more. On Tuesdays, Fat Fish celebrates Taco Tuesday with $1.25 street tacos and $2 shrimp tacos. Fat Fish also observes Taco Thursday with fish tacos for only $2.50.
4508 Cass St.
Tacos Mimi specializes in authentic Mexican tacos. Meat lovers can choose between a variety of classic street tacos such as carne asada, al pastor, pollo asada, and birria. Champiñones, avocado, and papa tacos are all suited for vegetarians. Additionally, Tacos Mimi also offers a selection of seafood tacos.
Pacific Fresh Grill
2015 Garnet Ave.
Pacific Fresh Grill is a new taco shop in Pacific Beach. The shop has a Taco Tuesday deal where guests can order a taco sampler of three tacos and a drink for $10. Their motto is “Live every day like it’s Taco Tuesday.” At Pacific Fresh Grill, choose from tacos al pastor, cochinita pibill (pulled pork), carnitas, fish, and many more.
4657 Mission Blvd.
Known for their carne asada tacos, Taco Surf has both Taco Tuesday and Taco Thursday specials. The eatery offers crispy beef, chicken, potatoes, and turkey crispy tacos and a variety of soft tacos like carne asada, carnista, and pollo asada.
877 Hornblend St.
Pueblo fuses modern, Baja, and coastal flavors to make an excellent beachy, culinary experience. Pueblo uses fresh, local ingredients to make their tacos. Choose from seafood taco plates like the smoked tuna taco plate, the garlic sauteed octopus taco plate, or the jicama tortilla salmon taco plate.
La Playa Taco Shop
3973 Mission Blvd.
La Playa Taco Shop is a small hole-in-the-wall taco joint that offers taco classics such as carne asada, carnitas, fish, beef, chicken, al pastor, and shrimp. Stop by for good prices and great Mexican flavors.
621 Pearl St.
With the tagline “Hecho a mano,” Taco Stand aims to recreate an authentic Tijuana taco stand experience. Taco Stand offers hand-made corn tortillas, grade meats, and fresh ingredients. Their guacamole and salsas are all made from scratch. Don’t forget to ask for one of Taco Stand’s homemade churros.
Puesto La Jolla
1026 Wall St.
Puesto La Jolla celebrates the flavors and culture of Mexico. This award-winning Mexican artisan kitchen and bar has a great selection of tacos, but it is most highly acclaimed for its Mexico City-style crispy melted cheese tacos.
Don Carlos Taco Shop
737 Pearl St.
Don Carlos is a hole-in-the-wall taco shop on Pearl Street. They offer a variety of soft tacos, crispy tacos, and rolled tacos. Don Carlos also offers a host of vegan and vegetarian options and has something for everyone.
2259 Avenida De La Playa
Based on the tagline “Comer Awesome,” this La Jolla Shores restaurant celebrates Mexican food and culture. For lunch, this casual restaurant interprets Mexican street food. For dinner, Galaxy Taco recreates the Mexican family-style experience. Galaxy Taco uses the freshest ingredients and offers both meat and vegetarian options.
5504 La Jolla Blvd.
This Bird Rock restaurant serves a variety of tacos tradicionales. Meat lovers will love Don Bravos’ street tacos and guests can choose from different types of steak and meat tacos. The eatery serves great tacos for a great price.
Mike’s Taco Club
5060 Newport Ave.
Mike’s Taco Club serves a wide variety of tacos including a scallop tacos, octopus tacos, and tacos especiales, which include fish, shrimp, and scallops. Tacos come with cheese, cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, and avocado
Bravo’s Mexican Bistro and Cantina
5001 Newport Ave.
Bravo’s celebrates Taco Tuesday twice a week. On Tuesday, come to Bravo’s for $2.50 select tacos, beers, and tequila. Taco Tuesday is also observed on Thursdays. Come to Bravo’s for the tacos, and stay for their large selection of margaritas
4888 Newport Ave.
Ortega’s Cocina is a cute restaurant with a family feel located in the heart of Ocean Beach. They offer a wide variety of tacos, and they are most well-known for their grilled fish tacos, carne asada tacos, and chicken tacos. Aside from tacos, Ortega’s has an extensive menu of Mexican food favorites.
Nico’s Mexican Food
4918 Newport Ave.
Nico’s Mexican Food is a hole-in-the-wall taco shop with a small dining area. For great prices, choose from a variety of crispy tacos including carne asada tacos, fish tacos, carnitas tacos, beef tacos, and chicken tacos.
Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill
5083 Santa Monica Ave.
Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill serves fresh and local seafood. Order their seafood in the best way – as part of a taco. Blue Water’s fish tacos served on fresh corn tortillas with cabbage, tomatoes, onions, cheddar cheese, homemade white sauce and your choice of fish marinated in a spicy chipotle sauce
1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
Hugo’s does Mexican food with a vegan/vegetarian-centric spin. Meat-eating guests may choose from beef, chicken, or seafood tacos. Many options, such as veggie, tempeh, and tofu tacos, are available for non-meat eating guests.
1403 Scott St.
Mitch’s Seafood serves some of the best fish tacos in San Diego. Its fish is fresh from the waters off San Diego and Northern Baja. Mitch’s taco menu offers a range of seafood tacos including grilled fish, beer-battered Alaskan cod, and fried calamari.
Ortiz’s Taco Shop
3704 Voltaire St.
Ortiz’s Taco Shop is a small taco shop located near Point Loma High School. The shop serves everything from soft-shell street tacos to crispy tacos to rolled tacos all made with meats such as carne asada, carnitas, and chicken. For more adventurous eaters, Ortiz’s also offers authentic Mexican flavors like tacos al pastor, cabeza, and buche.
2912 Shelter Island Drive
Miguel’s Cocina has a family feel that offers authentic Mexican flavors. The restaurant has a large menu and a great taco selection. Order a taco plate and choose from tacos like chicken mole, adobada, longaniza, pork belly tacos, or seafood tacos like the crispy ahi tuna, grilled swordfish tacos, and the Ensenada-style shrimp tacos. Don’t forget to order an extra side of Miguel’s white queso.
Tony’s Fresh Mexican Food
1578 Rosecrans St.
At Tony’s Fresh Mexican Food, fresh is better. And it’s better 24 hours a day seven days a week. Tony’s even offers drive-thru service. This small taco shop offers a variety of tacos and Taco Tuesday specials. Choose from seafood tacos and specials like A la Diablo Tacos or Achiote chicken tacos.
2725 Shelter Island Drive
In honor of National Taco Day, choose from a selection of The Brigantine’s tacos including the Brig’s famous fish tacos, the grilled Sonoran spiced swordfish tacos, or the surf and turf taco plate.
Samantha Webster contributed to this story.