Brace yourselves: We have officially entered the era of the $5 taco.
The undisputed emblem of San Diego’s regional cuisine, tacos have even more clout than barbeque in Texas or wings in Buffalo, because the fact is, we border the very country from which this beloved snack food hails.
It’s no surprise then, that its down-home to delicacy transformation has some taco enthusiasts blinking twice at menu prices that double and even triple the cost of what you’ll find in Barrio Logan or in Chula Vista - as close as you’re going to get to Mexico without leaving the states. This, along with the farm to table buzzwords to match, seem out of place given the taco’s humble roots.
It wasn’t until recent years that inventive, or “fancy,” tacos began gaining traction as a trend in the local food scene. Trailblazers like El Agave, Romesco, Mama Testa and City Tacos have all done their part to elevate our perception of the dish, and set the stage for the imminent explosion of gourmet tacos in San Diego.
Would you pay $5 for a single taco?
Um, no. I can see Mexico from here.
Sure, but it better be tasty.
I’m not a fan of tacos at all.
98 total votes.
No matter what your stance may be on the gussying up of street food, or what constitutes “authentic,” if that even matters when something tastes great, the bottom line is, there’s no such thing as having too many tasty choices. Between the newly minted Bracero Cocina de Raiz and Galaxy Taco and your more traditional intuitions like Tacos El Gordo and TJ Oyster Bar, there’s a stuffed tortilla for every occasion and budget. Now that’s reason for a fiesta.
Now try this: New artisanal tacos at El Agave Restaurant and Tequileria
Last month, El Agave announced via social media its new lineup of artisanal tacos, and the mouthwatering photographic evidence made it impossible to stay away from touristy Old Town. If you’re a local who hasn’t yet been, the restaurant and “tequila museum” is quite fancy, with floor to ceiling dark wood, and display cases as far as the eye can see filled with over 2,500 labels to sip and savor. Like anywhere else in San Diego, flip flops are welcome, but don’t be surprised if you see some suits.
With three tacos in each order and no mix-and-matching allowed, it’s best to sit in the bar with a group of friends so you can try a bit of everything. Tacos are exquisitely prepared here, and a feast for senses - so get your eyeballs and stomachs ready.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the taco de pulpo al pastor: tender chunks of octopus grilled with intense achiote seasoning, served in a corn tortilla with pineapple, red onion, beets, guacamole and cilantro pesto ($14). Duck “carnitas” tacos come with spinach flour tortillas loaded with tender, roasted meat, fig and chile de arbol marmalade and carrot cream ($14); and, what would a San Diego institution be without a fish taco, anyway? The grilled local sea bass in adobo is simply dressed with cabbage, beets and cream.
It may not be your everyday taco joint, but these impressive preparations are an indulgence you won’t regret. Be warned, however, that the new artisan tacos are only served during lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
2304 San Diego Ave., Old Town. (619) 220-0692 or elagave.com
National Tequila Day is July 24. Check out one of these eight bars in San Diego and let the celebration begin.
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.