10 Mexican Restaurants That Serve up Casual Eats in San Diego



If you can't get to Mexico, finding a Mexican restaurant in San Diego is the next best thing. We're a border town, after all, so it's not surprising that Mexican food is done well here–primarily in family-run taco shops. Mexico is a country with hundreds of regional cuisines so keep in mind that in San Diego you are most likely to find tacos, burritos and "3 rolled with guac", which is what the locals call a standard taquito order.

Old Town San Diego is famous for Mexican food and for being the birthplace of California. While some might argue the food isn't authentic enough, eating here is a must-do when visiting the historic area. Try Cafe Coyote for the handmade tortillas pounded and grilled daily on the patio.

Puesto brings a colorful, casual dining experience that's unlike any other in county. Specializing in Mexican street food made with locally-sourced ingredients and sustainable seafood, this restaurant has been busy since its opening. There are two locations now: one in La Jolla and the other downtown at The Headquarters.

Lolita's Restaurants are casual taco shops located across the county with favorite orders including tacos and carne asada chips. Because it's probably the location visitors to San Diego will frequent most, we mention the East Village restaurant in downtown San Diego.

Pair whatever entree you choose with a fish bowl-sized margarita, if you wish.



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Cafe Coyote
Photo courtesy of Henri Louis Hirschfeld


 

From tortillas to tamales to salsa, Coyote Cafe makes everything from scratch every day, on the premises. Start the day with a Breakfast Margarita, chilaquiles, menudo, or a chile relleno omelette. For lunch, try the chile verde, a quesadilla, tortilla soup, or a taco salad. If your appetite is massive by dinnertime, this is the place to go. Hearty portions of traditional and gringo favorites arrive steaming and flavorful: tamales, tequila-lime shrimp, carnitas, California burritos (huge tortilla stuffed with carne asada, cheese and French fries!), and enchiladas. They have good margaritas, a decent selection of tequila, pitchers of sangria, and ice cold cerveza, too.


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Tacos el Gordo is run by a family who has been in the restaurant business for over 40 years. The tacos has been lauded as the best in the United States by a national publication and locals tend to agree. They're Tijuana street style tacos which means the tortillas are on the smaller side but they are packed full with ingredients. Try the al pastor, adobada, and chorizo tacos (among others). Quesadillas, sopes, mulas and other favorites are on offer, too. Plan a little extra time to find parking as there isn't street parking or a big lot at the restaurant.


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Puesto, located in downtown La Jolla, is an upscale fast-casual eatery that serves authentic Mexican food made from whole, wonderful ingredients. All meals are made to order and are uniquely curated based on the diner's tastes and desire. The menu focuses on a variety of Guisados (grilled foods) that include fish, shrimp, chicken al pastor, carne asada and gourmet Mexican vegetarian items like zucchini flower, corn truffle and soy chorizo potatoes. Guisados can be mixed and matched and are served in tacos with stone ground corn tortillas that are layered with crispy hot cheese, Guisado Bowls and Salad Bowls. There is now patio dining in addition online reservations.


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Lolita's opened their first location over 20 years ago in Chula Vista. Since then, this family-owned and operated business has expanded to 5 locations including this one in East Village near PETCO park and the Convention Center. Locals love the hearty favorites such as carne asada fries, carne asada burrio, Tsunami burrito (shrimp and carne asada mix) as well as the tacos. Hot sauces are firey and flavorful. Note that portions are big so prepare to go home full or share. It's casual and quick so either order and take it to go or sit down in the restaurant to eat.


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Ponce's Mexican Restaurant in the Kensington neighborhood is owned and operated by the Meza family for over 40 years. It's loved for fantastic Mexican food but also for overall community spirit as the restaurant supports local organizations and prides itself on being a good to employees. It's tough to isolate just a few items because the entire menu is good, but try the chicken enchiladas, carnitas, green salsa, and flan. People even rave about the rice and beans. Due to popularity, the restaurant can get quite busy but they do take reservations for parties of 6 or more. Ponce's has a special children's menu and can cater your next event.


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The Taco Stand is one of the best places to grab a casual taco in La Jolla. It's a family-run business inspired by taco stands in Tijuana. Tortillas are handmade, meats are top-of-the-line and ingredients fresh as possible. Do not forget to finish a meal with a proper Mexican popsicle or a Rosarito-style churro. The grilled corn on the cob topped with mayo, parmesan cheese and chili powder is also fantastic. Vegetarians can choose the nopal cactus taco. Order at the counter and take your meal to-go or try to score one of the handful of tables inside or outside.


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Go to Luche Libre Taco Shop for authentic Mexican food including awesome tacos and burritos served in a colorful space that represents the traditional wrestling its named for. If you've ever craved a proper Tijuana dog (or "TJ" dog), this is a place to try one. It's a beef hot dog wrapped with bacon and topped with condiments and fajita-like vegetables. They also serve breakfast tacos, a huevos rancheros burrito and more to serve as your first meal of the day. Pricing is considered reasonable for the amount of food you get but arrive wearing a Lucha mask to receive a discount.


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If you're looking for Mexican food in the Gaslamp, La Puerta is your place. La Puerta is famous for street tacos that can only be made better by pairing them with a freshly-squeezed margarita (no mixes here). Over 100, 100% blue agave tequilas are on offer complete with tasting notes to help diners select which is right for them. Happy hour runs daily from 3:00pm-7:00pm (3:00pm to close on Mondays) and again late night from 10:00pm to close, usually with 1/2 drinks and appetizers like the carne asada fries. After 3:00pm you must be 21 years and older to enter. The kitchen is open until 1:00am so stop by for late-night eats. Brunch is also an option with $3 mimosas!


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Oscar's Mexican Seafood is a very popular seafood-based Mexican food eatery in San Diego. A hole-in-the-wall near a smoke shop and a dive bar, this gem is casual with a to-go atmosphere and very little seating. The tacos, which can be upgraded to a burrito for just $1 more, are worth the wait--and there is often a wait. Portions are huge with the tacos heaving with meat, cheese and avocados. Double the avocados if you like for just 50 cents and grab an agua fresca with free refills. Parking is usually O.K. on the street if not a beach-going weekend.


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Barrio Logan isn't really one of San Diego's tourist hot spots but some locals argue that Las Cuatro Milpas is the one place to take out-of-town guests for Mexican food. There is almost always a line that can take up to an hour at lunch. The menu is small as it's a you-get-what-they-serve type of place. That's just fine with locals who have been eating here for over 20 years with some driving miles and miles for a Las Cuatro Milpas fix. Menu items usually include tamales, tacos, burritos, rice and beans with delicious homemade tortillas. The only meats are pork, chicken and chorizo.


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Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie

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