Best Mexican Food in San Diego
If we’re talking culinary attractions, Mexican food is San Diego’s main calling card. While inexpensive fish tacos and French fry-stuffed burritos are readily available around here, San Diego has much more to offer when it comes to traditional Mexican cuisine. Tacos using freshly pounded heirloom corn tortillas, tangy ceviches, succulent lamb barbacoa, and redolent mole and carnitas are just the beginning. Whether you’re walking up to a food truck or tucking into a loaded plate, you’re guaranteed a good—and seriously authentic—meal. We’ve scoured the streets to bring you the best Mexican Food in San Diego.
Read on for our complete San Diego travel guide.
- Courtesy City Tacosrestaurant
“Make Salsa Not War,” reads a neon sign inside the Encinitas outpost of City Tacos, a wildly popular fast-casual taqueria chain in San Diego that blends street-style taste with hipster vibes. Tacos form the core of the menu, and the interpretations here are mostly classic with some gourmet twists (think fried leeks and cilantro drizzled strawberries). We love the Borrego (pulled lamb with wild mushrooms), the Chile Relleno (with gooey Oaxacan cheese), and the Birria de Res (inspired by the traditional beef stew).
- Paula Lunarestaurant
Death by Tequila
Inspired by his location—blocks from one of Southern California’s best stretches of beach and a short drive from Mexico’s Baja peninsula—“Top Chef” alum Angelo Sosa has created a coastal-cool vibe of tacos, tostadas, and ceviche that combine local produce and seafood. And in a city where $1 tacos and no-frills burritos have ruled for decades, his approach to modern Mexican with quality ingredients is long overdue. But Sosa, a former East Coaster, isn’t trying to disrupt a community as tight-knit as Encinitas. On Death By Tequila’s website they proudly state all the local vendors they’ve partnered with, from the farms where he sources produce to the ceramic maker who crafted the plates and leatherworker who made the menu covers.
Las Cuatro Milpas
Your options won’t be plentiful at this Barrio Logan spot, but you won’t really care. Want proof? There’s always a line outside the no-frills, cash-only taqueria, so use that time to figure out what you want. If we may make a recommendation: go with the rolled tacos slathered in sour cream and cheese, or the rice and beans with chorizo served with two flour tortillas.
- Courtesy Tacos El Gordorestaurant
Tacos El Gordo
This is a taqueria with rules. The first mandate: Order, then pay. The second: What you order dictates the line in which you stand. You better be prepared to wait long as an hour, especially for Tacos El Gordo’s famous adobada meat. Besides the adobada, the menu is short, with just a handful of taco varieties—carne asada, lengua, and chorizo among them—along with quesadillas, tostadas, sopes, and mulas. Note that everything is street-style, meaning portions are small; the average diner will probably need at least three tacos to make a meal of it.
- Courtesy Galaxy Tacorestaurant
Located in a less-trafficked section of tony La Jolla, this colorful, sunny restaurant is known for its upscale take on Mexican street food—you can add uni to your guacamole, and the Tres Leches cake is made of sweet potato. The drink list is heavy on Mexican products, like mezcals, tequilas, as well the still somewhat novel Tijuana-brewed craft beer. The vibe is light enough for happy hour with friends, but still polished enough for date night, a work lunch, or a family meal.
- Courtesy Lola 55restaurant
Thanks to its high-low approach, Lola 55 is a beautiful taqueria that works for celebrations and Wednesday lunches alike. Executive chef Andrew Bent—whose resume includes Chez Panisse—executes a well-edited menu emphasizing a less-is-more philosophy. The main event is tacos, served individually and with fillings like achiote pork belly, local fish–stuffed jalapeño, or housemade beet soyrizo. Simple sides include pozole verde and beans. Desserts are similarly edited down—the most notable of which is the crowd-favorite churros.
Mariscos Nine Seas Seafood
It may look like every other marisco food truck in San Diego, of which there are about a million, and it may be permanently parked at a Target Express. But this restaurant on wheels serves some of the city’s best (and cheapest) Mexican food, where tacos come in at just under $2—each. Come your turn, get an order of fried shrimp tacos, plus the tostadas—crunchy corn tortillas topped with tangy, lime-doused seafood chunks, and find some curb to park it on.
- Courtesy Karina’s Ceviches & Morerestaurant
Karina’s Ceviches & More
The newest outpost from San Diego’s family-run Karina’s empire, located on busy India Street near the airport, is a modern, fast-casual restaurant that operates more like your average food stand. Order at the to-go window, and once you’ve claimed your goods, head out onto the small outdoor patio. The menu features the classics, like the fish taco, carnitas burrito, and signature ceviche—a spicy blend of shrimp, avocado, cilantro, and cucumber. But the stand-out is the bacon-wrapped shrimp taco: cream cheese and Serrano pepper-stuffed shrimp, wrapped in bacon that are fried and finished with a spicy mango sauce.
- Victor Camposrestaurant
Aqui es Texcoco
This strip mall spot may have the easy feel (and more-or-less nonexistent decor) of a fast-casual joint, but its dining experience and cleanliness clock the same cred as a sit-down restaurant. Don’t be food-shy here. Order as many of their fabulous dishes as possible right away, and worry later about how much your stomach can actually hold. Put in an order for of the house specialty, lamb barbacoa: it’s a staple in the rural Mexican town of Texcoco. There’s an entire menu page dedicated to the restaurant’s other tender, perfectly cooked meats, which also happen to be halal.
There’s much to choose from at Fernandez Restaurant. You may get some tacos and mulitas as appetizers, including the crowd-favorite Quesotaco Extremo—a housemade tortilla fried, packed with cheese and velvety beef, and splashed with their famous birria broth. But the reason people start lining up here as early as 9 a.m. is for the birria, made with luscious, slow-cooked meat that, on Fridays, can be accented with lengua, or beef tongue. There are a handful of birria spots nearby, but none have the same warm, enveloping, ultra-homemade taste.
- Cesar Armando Rodriguez Medranorestaurant
TJ Oyster Bar
San Diego locals love to debate who serves the best fish tacos in town, and for many, TJ Oyster Bar is their pick. The concept is simple—Baja-style seafood—and you can taste it in a variety of ways, from the tacos and tostadas to he zingy aguachiles and cilantro- and onion-garnished soups. Some of the more popular items include the smoked tuna tostada, spicy shrimp tacos, and tuna fries. Order a few (or more) plates and taste away—if you can find a seat.
- Courtesy Puestorestaurant
This bright, bustling restaurant is located in The Headquarters at Seaport Village, a former downtown police command post-turned-outdoor marketplace. Puesto’s kitchen turns out modern takes on Mexican street food. You’ll see it in their tacos, which range from traditional carnitas to zucchini with nopales (a type of cactus), in addition to snacks like chicharrónes and ceviche. The drinks menu is decidedly Mexican, and includes tequila and mezcal, plus beers and wines from Valle de Guadalupe.
- Courtesy El Indiorestaurant
The counter service at El Indio might make the place look like a fast food joint—but the vibe at this family-run Mexican restaurant is decidedly warm. Some say El Indio invented the taquito (the restaurant more judiciously claims they helped popularize the “little taco”). Veracity aside, theirs are worth trying. The crispy rolled tacos come in beef, chicken, or potato and can be topped with cheese, guacamole, or both. If that doesn’t tickle you, there’s an extensive menu of other dishes: enchiladas, tamales, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, chimichangas, beans and rice, and so on.