Taco Mania: Five San Diego tacos worth your $2
For a little over 24 hours, I ate nothing but tacos.
No, I didn’t lose a bet, and no, I wasn’t preparing for some sort of voracious eating competition. All I was doing was exploring San Diego.
Oh and --- of course --- I was also taking part in CityBeat’s “Taco Mania” event. Running from Feb 9th-17th, the foodie celebration features $2 taco specials from 21 local restaurants.
I couldn’t say no, and as someone who has been forever chasing that perfect San Diego taco, I knew this would be an ideal opportunity to try out several spots without having a panic attack about the money left in my checking account.
However, before I begin to discuss my taco exploration, let me just say that I know taco talk is serious business in San Diego. Residents are justifiably proud of the city’s immense Mexican food scene, and within that massive cuisine that powers us everyday, there is an unlimited supply of tacos and opinions as well.
Such as this one: Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista and Tacos El Franc in Tijuana are overrated.
I’m just kidding, but think about your reaction to that statement. That emotional and visceral response, about just tacos, is remarkable. And for what it’s worth, I’m sure there is also a small minority of San Diego residents who believe my aforementioned statement is 100% true about El Gordo and El Franc. (In all seriousness though, if you haven’t been to those places, stop reading this and go to them now. Yes, now.)
It’s beautiful to live in a city that feels passionate and near-romantic about tacos, but due to that, there is a never-ending byproduct of negative perspectives and reviews. Legitimacy is a constant topic that is thrown around about the dish, and there’s no shortage of arguments about what is truly Mexican or truly a respectable taco.
This article isn’t about that. Instead, this is a celebration of a handful of taco purveyors in our town. Regardless of their status, location or even their Yelp review, I arbitrarily selected five different locations to visit for Taco Mania.
For better or worse, here's what I found.
Let’s first start with Beerfish in North Park.
Full disclosure: I live in North Park. Seduced by the perpetual smell of brewed beer, I am quite happy to be nestled in this neighborhood. Although I told myself that I wouldn’t visit a Taco Mania location that is in my neck of the woods, I had to make an exception for Beerfish for one simple reason...I had never been there.
I had nothing against them, I just so happened to never visit their spot on Adams Avenue. Which, by the way, is something I loved about Taco Mania: I was forced to visit locations I had never been to beforehand.
As opposed to one of those crowded and over-priced “Taco Fests” that we see promoted throughout the year, this event is doing us a favor by nudging us to the actual locations of these restaurants. Which is awesome when you consider the outdoor area of Beerfish that makes you feel as if you’re at a legit seafood restaurant on a pier.
As for their baja fried fish tacos, they could have easily gone with a one to two ingredient attempt for the $2 price, but instead put their heart and soul into those fish tacos. Well done Beerfish, I regret not visiting you sooner.
Cesar’s award for taco excellence: The best bang for your buck
Address: 2933 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
Next up, I made my way down to South Park Brewing Co where Tacos La Mezcla have posted up with a cozy spot in the brewery.
True story, I drunkenly snacked on one of their tacos last summer during a food truck night in Balboa Park and was nearly knocked out by their ridiculously spicy salsa. In short: I fell in love. I needed more of their salsa and carnitas in my life and almost started to dance once I saw their name on the Taco Mania list.
I thoroughly enjoyed rekindling my love for their carnitas taco with a welcoming brewery vibe going on in the background. My only mistake was not ordering a second one or trying out something from their menu that has yet to let me down.
Cheers to you Tacos La Mezcla, it’s only a matter of time before I once again stumble into your carnitas-filled love.
Following my visit, owner Francisco Moreno was kind enough to reach out to me and give me his thoughts on the event and tacos in general.
"Truly excited for the event. We just recently took over South Park Brewing's kitchen, the timing was perfect to let people know," said Moreno through a direct message online. "It's just great to get other people to come out and try out our food, and we cannot forget about the tasty beer also!
Cesar’s award for taco excellence: The best taco and brewery atmosphere
Address: 1517 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102
Let’s now head downtown where I stepped into a busy Lolita’s location near the ballpark.
Filled with an incessant supply of construction and white-collar workers, the location’s active and bustling atmosphere exemplified the lively quality of the downtown lifestyle.
I had to get the pollo asado taco and before I could even think twice about my meal, it was a pleasant surprise to see them almost immediately deliver my order.
Looking forward, I’ll still have to make my way back for a California burrito on another day. Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen it yet, Lolita’s was featured in a documentary about that exact burrito.
Cesar’s award for taco excellence: The most streamlined service
Address: 202 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
It’s now Saturday morning and we are slowly working our way over to Guava Beach Bar & Grill over in Mission Beach.
With a scattered collection of people who are mostly recollecting their Friday nights, it’s easy to feel a bittersweet hangover that looms over a crowd that is eager to fix their woes with some food.
In all honesty, I have my own undeserved reservations about numerous “grills” attached to a bar but this spot completely exceeded my expectations. I’m a stickler about carnitas and they were able to provide some of the best quality stuff I’ve had in San Diego.
Were it not for more taco adventures, I might have just casually sit there eating carnitas all day while sipping on margaritas.
Eric Christiansen, owner of the Guava Beach Bar & Grill, was also nice enough to respond with his thoughts on the event and San Diego's taco scene.
"We are very excited for the Taco Mania Event! Given the popularity of Tacos in San Diego, and our proximity to Mexico and all of the fabulous cuisine found just south of our border, we embrace anything that can help elevate and bring attention to the taco and all of its illustrious adaptations," said Christiansen through an email conversation.
"We have been serving our grilled Mahi Mahi taco since my business partner Ben and I bought Guava Beach in 2002 and its never left our menu. Since then we've added several versions of the Mahi taco as well as added slow cooked carnitas, adobado, carne asada, grilled shrimp, Ensenada Cod (my personal favorite) and marinated chicken tacos.
We are hoping that this event shows taco aficionados that Old Town is not the only place to enjoy quality tacos and that patrons can both enjoy the beach and get unique and delicious tacos at the same time! Sometimes venturing off the beaten path can lead to amazing discoveries!
For me, the best tacos are served on fresh tortillas. Many spots throughout the county and in particular Old Town, make fresh tortillas daily and that extra effort, in my opinion, separates a good taco from a great taco. Though we do not do this on a daily basis, we DO make and hand press our own delicious corn tortillas every Taco Tuesday. In addition to hand pressed tortillas, great street and regular taco specials, we also offer great deals on our award winning margaritas, quite simply the best accouterment to any taco!"
Cesar’s award for taco excellence: The best hangover food in town
Address: 3714 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
Finally, we end with Tacos Mimi in Pacific Beach.
I had to have at least one surf & turf taco and was relieved to see them adding one to the Taco Mania list. Granted, the carne asada and shrimp filling was great, but the true star of the show was the tortilla. It’s far too easy for numerous taquerias to utilize cheap tortillas, but at Tacos Mimi, it was immediately clear that these were home-made.
Like the tacos over at Lolita’s, there was little-to-no wait time as I sat in their outside and took in the Pacific Beach vibe. Seriously though, you gotta visit just to try their awesome tortillas.
Cesar’s arbitrarily selected award: The best tortillas I’ve had in San Diego
Address: 4508 Cass St #B, San Diego, CA 92109
Taco Mania runs from February 9th through the 17th. For more information check out the official website here