1852 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Few cities in America have a variety of Mexican food as wide as San Diego. There are Baja-style seafood places, Mexico City-style antojitos spots, Sonora-style taco places, and gourmet spots where nary a burrito can be found.
I love all the styles and feel Mexican is one of the top five cuisines in the world.
But, truth be told, the Mexican dish I dream about most often isn’t really Mexican at all: it’s the hard shell, ground beef taco served at Nati’s, an Ocean Beach restaurant open since 1960.
I’ve been going there since I was a kid (my parents went there on their first date) and I try to find non-pot-smoking excuses to go to Ocean Beach so I can get my fix.
Knowing what I know now, I can’t call Nati’s true Mexican food: It’s more like Mexican food the way moms who weren't Mexican used to make. That doesn’t make it bad or inauthentic. It’s just a different type of authentic.
Nati’s is part of a dying breed. San Diego used to have all sorts of Mexican places catering to primarily caucasian tastes with ground beef tacos, beans topped with melted cheese, and crisp, pizza-like quesadillas.
Nati’s style of Mexican food is more Tex-Mex and in the late 1970s, as people became more aware of the variety of Mexican food styles, the local eateries started adding things like fish tacos and carne asada to their menus.
Here’s the deal: If you want to be disappointed at Nati’s, order anything but a combination plate featuring the aforementioned ground beef taco and a cheese enchilada (plus rice and beans).
“Oh, but I want chicken,” you say.
Okay, go somewhere else.
“But I like the old school way that Nati’s looks,” you say. “I like the comforting feeling of being surrounded by senior citizens from Arizona. I just don’t want ground beef.”
Okay, go somewhere else. Or get a bean burrito or maybe a cheese enchilada.
Nati’s has a lot to recommend it — old school charm, real Mexican Coke, the spiciest spicy carrots from here to Ensenada (and they’re free!) — but you have to stick with what works.
Say it with me: ground beef tacos.