On October 13, 2023, a camera crew flew into San Diego to film an episode of “United Plates of America”. San Diego was selected to be the location to showcase the best tacos in America. What a fitting opportunity for San Diego to shine, because if it’s something that we really know how to do, it’s making great tacos.
No matter where you travel or what restaurant you go to in San Diego, you’ll find a taco on the menu. Everything from breakfast tacos to dessert tacos. Tacos with meat, and tacos with vegetables. Tacos that are generously stuffed, and intricate craft street tacos. Without a doubt, San Diego knows how to make amazing tacos. When invited by “United Plates of America” to be the guest host for the best taco episode, I was asked to select three places that really encapsulate how amazing our tacos are.
Now in its sixth season, United States of America has traveled around the world devoting each episode to the best dishes in that city. For episode nine, they chose to showcase San Diego: “exploring San Diego’s innovative taco scene, tasting creative and contemporary taco creations that push the boundaries of traditional Mexican cuisine.” The show features their Emmy award-winning host, Gary Takle.
First stop: Birria El Rey
I first took Gary to Birria El Rey in Golden Hill. The story about Birria El Rey is all about people, and amazing food. When faced with the pandemic and a pregnant wife, Cristian Marin Vazquez started serving the most unbelievable birria tacos from a food trailer.
Word traveled fast, and people traveled from all over San Diego just to enjoy their tacos. Today, the food truck has expanded to a small brick-and-mortar eatery and is getting ready to move to a newer, much larger restaurant.
What to order at Birria El Rey
Go hungry, as the aroma will have you wanting to order “one of each”. I’d highly recommend the quesataco (corn tortilla, melted cheese, shredded beef birria, onion, and cilantro), quesabirria (flour tortilla, melted cheese, shredded beef birria, onion and cilantro) and birriaramen (ramen noodles, shredded beef birria with broth, onion and cilantro).
I’m willing to bet you that after your first bite, you’ll understand exactly why they made it on my list of the top three places to get a taco in San Diego.
Second stop: City Tacos
I was excited to take Gary to City Tacos next. They now have eight locations in San Diego, and I respect them immensely for focusing on a taco, and all the creative ways they fill it. They are a huge San Diego success story, and owner Gerry Torres has a passion for tacos that is absolutely infectious.
When you look at the menu, deciding which tacos to get can be a daunting task, as everything on the menu sounds amazing. It’s the sort of place where you want to order one of each.
What to order at City Tacos
On my first visit, one of the customers recommended I tried the taco with the strawberry- it’s called the pescado – and it’s still one of my favorites on the menu – golden fried mahi-mahi with cabbage, tomato, pickled red onions, habanero & strawberries drizzled with cilantro, chipotle aioli and micro greens.
Although you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, be sure to also try the Mexicali (grilled angus-steak, onions & poblano peppers over melted asadero cheese & mashed potatoes, finished with a crema fresca and cotija cheese sprinkle). Getting three tacos will definitely fill you up. Pro tip: their different salsas range from mild to hot and they are spectacular.
Third stop: The Craft Taco Truck
Finally, I took Gary to The Craft Taco Truck. Eddie Tomayo opened their food truck during the pandemic and focused on preparing and serving every taco like it was an A5 Wagyu dish. They gained immediate popularity, and quickly changed their strategy from moving locations every day, to a single location. Parking outside New English Brewing gave them the perfect pairing of craft tacos with craft beer.
It would not be uncommon to see a line of people waiting for the truck to arrive. Most recently, they opened a restaurant just steps away, called Craft Taco at SOVA
What to order at The Craft Taco Truck
My favorite has to be the baja poke taco, with ahi poke, shoyu, sesame oil, and furikaki. The taco is served on a blue corn tortilla which they make fresh daily.
Two other must-try items are the caesar salad, and the California burrito (carne asada, fries, pico de gallo, jack cheese, crema, guacamole).