8038 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
Albert’s Mexican Food
Albert’s, located in a lowly strip mall, is known for gigantic rolled tacos that are huge and filling. One of the daily specials is usually a burrito with some form of meat and one of these humongous taquitos inside. Both the chicken and shredded beef tacos are meaty with a crispy shell, and shredded lettuce that soaks up the juicy mix of pollo and salsa like a sponge. People who dine in can gorge on pickled carrots until the food arrives.
3627 University Avenue, Normal Heights
Not a traditional taco shop, but anything shoved into a tortilla can be called a taco, right? The menu changes often but is a variety of authentic stews and meats (including goat). The owner must hire moms and tell them to make what they make for their families. Sample what you see and pick what looks good. It’s served on a plate with rice, beans and tortillas for incredibly low prices. You can get stuffed for under $10. It’s a hole in the wall, but a lot of chefs come here for inspiration.
110 West Washington Street, Hillcrest
Easily the best carnitas in San Diego. The pork is tender and juicy and blended with crispy deep-fried bits that add to the flavor. Add some tangy guacamole and some salsa fresca into two corn tortillas and you have a perfect taco. The carne asada also gets high marks, but a lot of places do that well. No one has surpassed El Cuervo’s carnitas yet.
1852 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Nati’s Mexican Restaurant
Want authenticity? Nati’s is pretty much what San Diego Mexican restaurants were like through the Ron Burgundy era. That means ground beef tacos in hard shells and crispy quesadillas. Yeah, they have things like carne asada on the menu. Don’t go there. Stick with what Nati’s has done right for 55 years. This is where my parents went on their first date, and with patio dining near the O.B. Pier, as many chips and carrots as you can stuff in your gullet, and Mexican-style Coke from the tap, can you blame them?
3201 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
El Zarape was a finalist in the Best Burrito in the Country tournament held by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog and got rooked, frankly. But I am a fan of their tacos. Especially their meaty carne asada taco marinated with a touch of heat. The shrimp and scallop tacos justifiably get raves for packing in seafood and not letting their tangy white sauce overwhelm things. Lines get long, so it is best to order by phone ahead of time. I have ordered while in line and ticked off the people ahead of me who figured out what I was doing.
8425 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
Mario’s De La Mesa
Truly a family-run restaurant. The place even looks like it once was someone’s house. The owner’s dad started the place and brought a whole bunch of regional recipes from central Mexico. Those dishes always sound good, but I always get the chicken-taco plate, which show up five minutes after I order them. Crispy on the outside, stuffed with chicken and lettuce, and topped with tangy cheese flakes, it never disappoints. Not feeling the chicken tacos? Try the chile relleno, which is crispy on the outside with lots of runny, gooey cheese inside.
5059 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach
South Beach Bar & Grille
South Beach’s house specialty is the grilled mahi mahi taco marinated in teriyaki sauce in a hot flour tortilla. The combo of salsa fresca and ranch dressing add a spicy, fruity touch to all the seafood tacos. The fried shrimp tacos are crunchy, not greasy and breaded in panko crumbs. A huge beer selection and open windows make it a great place to people-watch while pigging out.