703 Turquoise Street, Pacific Beach
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Though open less than five years, Oscar’s already feels like a regional classic. Its seafood tacos have always set the standard for the entire city. To begin with, it offers what I consider to be the best north-of-the-border rendition of Baja’s esteemed beer-battered fish taco — a simply delicious deep-fried mahi mahi with cabbage, onion, tomato, and cilantro in a corn tortilla for a mere two bucks. But regulars line up at its PB and Hillcrest locations to order the gamut: fried shrimp, grilled octopus, smoked marlin, grilled fish and mixed tacos involving several fish at once. All good.
3028 University Avenue, North Park
Gerry Torres has spent a lifetime crossing the border, most recently on trips to investigate burgeoning foodie scenes in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and Tijuana. Fittingly, the bicultural founder of City Tacos doesn’t seem content to stand on tradition. His thriving taco counter specializes in boundary-pushing creations, informed as much by his travels as family recipes and contemporary food trends. Taco highlights include a delicate beer-battered chile relleno, lamb with wild mushrooms and fried leeks, and a recent addition featuring seared ahi — each served on a house-made flour or corn tortilla, and every one a step forward for taco kind.
3946 Illinois Street, North Park
A cast-iron comal griddle gives this family restaurant its name, with good reason — its kitchen’s traditional cookware produces the best corn tortillas I’ve ever eaten. These thick, chewy, and flavorful grilled masa beauties make the entire taco lineup memorable. Don’t hesitate to try the cochinitas, adobada, or the smoky asada and nopal cactus combo they call Azteca. Or brave my favorite barbacoa, a surprisingly tender clay pot (olla) stewed goat that may be perfect except for the occasional chunk of bone. Why would I tell you to try a taco with bones in it? Eat carefully to find out.
1302 North Coast Highway 101, Leucadia
Haggo’s Organic Taco
James Haggard, aka Haggo, spent years working in a high-end kitchen, where it drove him crazy to see talented chefs crafting elaborate dishes using commonplace ingredients. So, when he started selling tacos he flipped the script, making simple food with the best ingredients he knew. Currently 95 percent of his ingredients are certified organic — even the cooking oil and impending beer offerings. This almost seems more important to him than whether his deconstructed taco recipes actually taste good. (They do.) Grass-fed flank steak, local fish and organic vegan patties all contribute to tasty, unconventional tacos served on non-GMO corn tortillas.
634 Pearl Street, La Jolla
El Pescador Fish Market
Sometimes a good taco recipe makes mediocre fish taste better. El Pescador, on the other hand, lets a great cut of fish elevate the taco. For four decades now, Sean Shannon’s seafood counter has focused on quality, fresh fish, often local and sometimes line-caught. His ten-dollar grilled-taco pairs default to whichever white fish is in abundance: usually yellowtail, albacore, or, on lucky days, halibut. However, pay market price and you may order a taco made from anything inside the counter. Shannon says the occasional big spender even opts for lobster, resulting in the city’s most expensive taco.
Liticker’s Liquor & Deli
4955 Voltaire Street, Ocean Beach
How utopic is our fish-taco landscape? Even a beach-town liquor store turns in a worthy effort. Some like the fried swai, but I find it best to skip down the menu a bit for the salmon or mahi. These are big, messy tacos, and there’s nothing special about the ingredients or the preparation. But there may be something special about the beer selection in this bottle shop, which frequently includes fine Alpine Beer Company offerings and, if you ask nicely, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. Such excellent pairings definitely make those tacos taste better.
1517 30th Street, South Park
South Park Brewing Company
I can’t say for sure tacos contributed to the proliferation of our brewing scene, but considering the fact fish tacos and beer compose the world’s most divine food-and-beverage pairing, I’m not surprised we’ve become the finest beer city on the planet. This brewery/fish counter freshly opened by Hamilton’s Tavern proprietor Scott Blair combines the two harmoniously, featuring fish tacos galore and a tasty variety of both house-brewed and guest beers on tap. Start with the outstanding street tacos — a trio of small smoked tuna, smoked salmon, and opah birria tacos, and drink generously.