By Frank Sabatini, Jr. / Photos by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan
Favorite taco shops are like opinions - everybody's got one. Arguments as to which one is the absolute best usually take place over the Styrofoam containers and crinkly yellow wrapping paper that hold the hot Mexican goodness inside.
So pull up a plastic chair, grab a paper cup of complimentary jalapen?o carrots and get ready to discuss whether these Más Alto Diez (Top 10) San Diego taco shops are better than your Número Uno.
La Posta De Acapulco's
3980 Third Ave., Hillcrest
The painted windows fronting this boxy walkup spell out the menu under harsh fluorescent lighting, which can be sobering after a night of uptown Jäger bombs. With some neck-craning required, customers voice their orders through a small, square portal while sneaking (or avoiding) peeks at tortilla chips bobbing in molten lard. Memorable menu items include potato rolled tacos, juicy carne asada and garlic-spiked refried beans, but it's the shop's five-alarm cilantro salsa verde that proves the most difficult to forget, especially the next day.
Tommys Tex Mex
4145 Voltaire St., Ocean Beach
Despite its name, this taco shop doesn't sell chili or fajitas. In fact, its only connection to Tex Mex traces back to the original owner, a Texas-born surfer named Tommy, who started cranking out traditional Mexican food wrapped in thick, made-to-order flour tortillas. When he sold the shop to a new owner several years ago, Tommy was benevolent enough to pass on his recipes, including the one for his delectable tortillas. There are only four tables inside, so consider taking the order to go and scarfing while soaking in the views from Sunset cliffs.
Las Cuatro Milpas
1875 Logan Ave., Barrio Logan
The homemade tamales and pork tacos sweating with fat at Las Cuatro Milpas are worth the snaking lines that typically start forming when the shop opens at 9 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Tortillas are also made on-site and sell for less than $3 a dozen, should you wish to try to duplicate these fiercely authentic tacos at home. Considering that several experienced abuelas (grandmothers) rule this spirited kitchen, however, chances are high you won't come close.
Gloria's Taco Shop
1233 28th St., Golden Hill
The front window boldly advertises a shrimp cocktail, which tastes just as fancy-pants as any served in fine dining restaurants, provided you don't mind eating it from a paper cup. The fresh crustaceans reappear in hefty burritos, and Diablo-style (extra spicy) on plates brimming with rice and beans. Fish tacos are grilled rather than fried. for a serious grease fix, try the carne asada chimichanga (deep-fried burrito) and chase it with a week's worth of Lipitor.
Juanitas Taco Shop
290 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Despite the metal bars covering its windows, Juanitas is neither a check-cashing operation nor a pawn shop, but rather a beloved repository of some of the best good-and-greasy Mexican grub in North county. If you're still a stranger to al pastor ("steak of pork" marinated in chilies and fruit juice), you've come to the right doorstep. The menu also highlights the usual suspects, with pollo asado tacos, California burritos and carne asada fries leading the pack.
Papas & Tacos Mexican Food
2239 First Ave., Bankers Hill
Nestled between a laundromat and a bar, this Bankers hill hideaway exudes an authentic ambiance enhanced by odd figurines mixed into the décor, and Mexican soap operas blaring. Tender papas (potatoes) dominate the California and breakfast burritos, while less-Americanized dishes like nopalitos (fried cactus) and chicharones (pork rinds) offer adventurous alternatives to staples like chicken tacos and chili rellenos.
1460 India St., Little Italy
This walkup taqueria outdates many of the Italian kitchens lining Little Italy's main drag. The secrets to its more than three decades of success are super-cheap rolled tacos, weighty California burritos and speedy service during peak hours. Be prepared to eat on the run, however, as seating comes in the form of nearby window ledges or a small park with a water fountain across the street.
Oscar's Mexican Seafood
703 Turquoise St., Pacific Beach
The dorm-sized interior of this north PB haunt leads many regulars to devour their smoked marlin fish tacos curbside or fumble through little cups of fish stew while standing on the sidelines. Beef is basically a footnote amid the shop's menu of seafood options, showing up only in the surf-n-turf taco. The crowd-favorite Seafood Taco Especial reveals an oceanic treasure chest of smoked fish, spicy shrimp and scallops accented with fresh cilantro and cabbage. Oscar's is easy to miss when hunger directs your driving speed, so look for a sea-blue mural marking a sidewall. (Oscar's now has a second location: inside the kitchen at Bar West, on Hornblend Street, in PB. barwestsd.com)
JV's Mexican Food
1112 Morena Blvd., Linda Vista
Jv's array of menu choices, many of which are written clumsily on neon-colored sheets of paper tacked to the wall, can be dizzying. The makeshift signs highlight copious specials such as mole bowls, tilapia plates and tortas filled with, um, corned beef and eggs, of all things. The burritos stuffed with machaca, carnitas or shrimp are so big, they could pass as newborns if blankets were thrown over them.
20 25th St., Logan Heights
Prepare to feel catapulted into Tijuana as you approach La Fachada's shocking turquoise exterior and parking-lot grill piled with sweet onions and fiery chili peppers. The eatery slings beef tongue tacos, chicken sopes and exceptional pork gorditas. English is rarely spoken here, but menu-pointing is embraced.