Best not-tacos. If you're looking for a hot, corn-wrapped Mexican classic just like Abuela used to make, this is not the place to go. If, on the other hand, you're open to embracing the taco as just something delicious with something else delicious folded around it, Goa Taco might be just the thing. Goa serves paratha tacos that consist of a flaky, warm piece of Indian flatbread wrapped around fillings like slow-roasted pork belly, five-spice confit duck and paneer cheese with fried chickpeas. Goa uses the highest quality ingredients and hormone free meats and strives to make all its fillings, salsas, sauces and meats in house.
Recommended for Tacos because: Unless you're a taco purist, we promise you're going to love this place. The warm, flaky parathas are just so melt-in-your-mouth magical!
Geneva's expert tip: They serve beer and wine too. Why not make a night of it?
Best al pastor tacos. Marinated pork with just the right kick of acid from small pineapple chunks scattered here and there. This iteration of Cuernavaca Taqueria is a recent addition to popular locations in Oxnard and Ventura. Just two blocks off busy State Street, it's a real find for hungry travelers and a place that locals are likely to keep to themselves. All the tacos here are amazing and the torta cubano is incredible. For a really delightful surprise, order one of their gorditas - they sound heavy but are actually delightfully light masa cakes stuffed with your choice of fillings. The veggie tacos here are tasty too, as are the potato taquitos when they have them. Limited free parking right out front with a great dive bar next door.
Recommended for Tacos because: Cuernavaca is a hidden taco gem in a weird location, even though it's right downtown. Easy to miss if you're not in the know!
Geneva's expert tip: Also try the torta Cubana, veggie taco #1 and pretty much any gordita. And then hop next door for a drink, you know, to soak up all that food.
Best crowd-pleaser tacos. If Mony's was a high school student, it would be voted most popular. We're a little hard-pressed to say that any one of their tacos is a singular standout, but as a whole there's no safer bet for a group of hungry taco lovers. First, you can choose between corn, flour or hard shell tortillas. Then you can pick your meat. Will it be asada, barbacoa, adobada, carnitas, chicarron, chile verde or pollo en mole? All these are less than $2 each. For a small additional charge you can get fish, shrimp, tripas, cabeza, buche, chorizo or lengua. Add to this a fresh salsa bar, convenient location and friendly staff, and you've got a recipe for taco success.
Recommended for Tacos because: Get a plate full of tacos with your choice of tortilla, meat and salsa for less than $10.
Geneva's expert tip: Visit Mony's before or after visiting one of the dozens of nearby wineries. Your head, stomach and liver will thank you.
Best fancy tacos. If you think street tacos are for peasants, skip the lines and head out for an elegant lunch or dinner at Santo Mezcal instead. Just a few blocks from the ocean and steps from local wineries, this restaurant has a gorgeous patio, great cocktails and a taco list that's dressed to impress. Order the tacos de pulps to indulge in tender discs of octopus, sauteed in chili oil and garlic. Or get the rib-eye wrapped in thin, guajillo-infused corn tortillas served with grilled onions, cactus and peppers. The guacamole here is sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and even the mocktails are expertly garnished. Date night worthy tacos, for sure.
Recommended for Tacos because: Santo Mezcal has deluxe tacos packed with gourmet cuts and heaped with freshly made sides.
Geneva's expert tip: Make a reservation on weekend nights. This restaurant is new, hot and busy.
Best truck tacos. Santa Barbara doesn't have a lot of food trucks. But it does have taco trucks. And this is the best one. What sets Tacos Pipeye apart is that it has handmade tortillas, a rare taco truck commodity. And you can get three tacos for just $5. So if we're doing the math correctly, $10 = half a dozen tacos, on homemade tortillas, without the fuss of wearing a nice shirt or anything. You can get all the classics here, like asada and al pastor, as well as some surprises. Try the chorizo con papas or chicharron and add a agua fresca or champurrado for just $2.
Recommended for Tacos because: Homemade tortillas cooked right in front of you. Three tacos for $5. Need we say more?
Geneva's expert tip: If you have room for a non-taco item, try the chorizo quesadilla. It's heart healthy! (Kidding.)
Best fusion tacos. You might think it's a little strange that we're sending you to the batting cages to eat, but bear with us. East Beach Tacos is a small taco shack serving up one of the most inventive taco menus, with a view of aspiring baseballers. You can get fresh tuna poke tacos served in wonton shells, bahn mi-inspired tacos and crispy fried fish and shrimp creations. The menu here isn't limited to tacos. They have a number of other yummy snacks, including the Beach Ball–a seasoned rice ball filled with spicy tuna and sprinkled with sea salt and sesame seeds. But go for the tacos and order the triple play, three tacos of your choice for just $9.
Recommended for Tacos because: Try the ahi poke taco served in a wonton shell with wasabi aioli. You might start wondering why you even bother with cooked fish tacos.
Geneva's expert tip: Parking is a beast here! But don't get discouraged. It's worth it.
Best veggie tacos. Get the #6. You will hear a lot of arguments for and against La Super-Rica, but these stewed rajas tacos on homemade tortillas are not up for debate. You might also want to try the chorizo tacos here, but other than that, deviate from tacos and dig into other specialties instead, from tamales and chilaquiles to gorditas and pozole. This place was famously lauded by the legendary Julia Child as one of her favorite local restaurants. There is no sign, but a line extending from the doorway will let you know that you're at the right spot. Portions are small and prices are fair, so be sure to order a little more than you usually might.
Recommended for Tacos because: Try a rajas tacos that will make you question every other rajas taco you've eaten in your life.
Geneva's expert tip: Worth noting: it's cash only, you order by saying the number of each dish, and beans and rice are not served on the side here.
Best crispy tacos. Get the tacos dorados to enjoy three of the tastiest fried tacos you've ever had. Chicken, carnitas, potato and bean tacos are available, making this a solid option for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Each irregularly shaped beauty is packed with freshly shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, crumbled cotija and topped with a jalapeno spear. An ample salsa bar helps you dress your tacos to perfection. Beans and rice are served on the side. The Guzman family has been serving up delicious tacos and other specialties at El Bajio for more than two decades. Head here for homemade tortillas, great breakfasts and refreshing aguas frescas.
Recommended for Tacos because: If you like crispy tacos - and we don't mean the Taco Bell kind - this is the place to get them!
Geneva's expert tip: Start with a traditional shrimp cocktail served just they way they do it in Baja. Liquidy tomato broth with shrimp and giant chunks of avocado floating in it. So good!
Best fish tacos. At Corazon Cocina, Chef Ramon Velazquez prepares dishes you won't find elsewhere in town, like cauliflower tacos that get a secret sweetness from Medjool dates. But if you like fish tacos, this is the one for you to try. Crispy beer-battered Ling cod topped with crisp cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, fresh salsa and a lime-mayo crema on a hot, homemade corn tortilla. It's giant and filling, bright and flavorful. You can and should add pickled onions from the salsa bar too. The menu changes regularly, but it's guaranteed to surprise and delight your taste buds. Stop in for a quick snack or a more substantial meal. Beer and house-made aguas frescas are available. Located in the Santa Barbara Public Market, Corazon is in easy walking distance to many Santa Barbara shops and attractions.
Recommended for Tacos because: Corazon Cocina serves up traditional Mexican flavors made with the freshest local ingredients. It's one of the best places to eat in town, actually.
Geneva's expert tip: Plan to spend an afternoon at the market. Stop here for lunch, then grab some ice cream, beer or wine at a neighboring stall.
Best street tacos. Go on the weekend so you can get the tripas! Lilly's has arguably the most authentic tacos in Santa Barbara. Unobtrusively tucked in an out-of-the-way shopping center at the oceany end of downtown, Lilly's tacos has been serving up sizzling meats on soft corn tortillas to lines of happy customers for years. There are no chips, no rice and nary a bean in sight... just tacos. For around $2 a pop you can choose from a variety of meats, including asada, adobado and even ojos. Yep, you read that right! Lilly's proudly offers a variety of less-common taco fillings like eyes, tongue and cheek. Order a few, dress them up with salsa and lime, then scarf them down.
Recommended for Tacos because: For the most authentic and most affordable tacos in Santa Barbara, head straight to Lilly's. Now with a location in Goleta too!
Geneva's expert tip: With such reasonable prices, Lilly's is a great place to try a taco that you wouldn't normally consider - like the cabeza or tripas.