If you grew up in the United States, I’m sure you learned about the Mexican War and know that California once belonged to Mexico.
San Diego epitomizes the thin line between Mexico and the U.S, sharing a border with Tijuana in the Mexican state of Baja California.
Mexican influences in California are part of the state’s identity and can be felt in every aspect of San Diego, from the colonial Spanish architecture in the buildings around the iconic Balboa Park to the names of famous beaches like La Jolla and Coronado.
Mexican food restaurants in San Diego supply favorites from every region, using the freshest California-grade ingredients in festive atmospheres from fancy bistros to fast-casual taco stands.
If you’re looking for the best Mexican food in San Diego, check out the following list of excellent restaurants to get your fix of margaritas, tacos, dips, and more.
1857 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113
Las Cuatro Milpas is an institution in San Diego, founded by Petra and Natividad Estudillo in 1933 as a simple, yet delicious Mexican eatery.
Nearly 90 years later, Las Cuatro Milpas remains a Barrio Logan staple for casual and authentic Mexican food with lines consistently around the block to order heaping plates of tacos, burritos, tamales, and more.
There’s a small eating area and you order food from a menu above the counter.
They make some of the best homemade flour tortillas you’ll ever taste.
The prices are low, and they will become your go-to spot for authentic tamales and hearty breakfast tacos.
With two locations in Mission Valley and The Headquarters, Puesto is a stylish, upscale Mexican eatery founded by a group of first-generation Mexican Americans who use the recipes they grew up eating along with their modern American cultural know-how.
The spaces of both restaurants are beautiful contemporary spaces with incredible art and a fusion of Mexican and American design.
The food is as stunning as the space, with accolades in Forbes, Eater, Zagat, and more notable publications.
They have an excellent happy hour from 3-5 at both locations with discounted prices on their amazing Margaritas, draft beers, and wine.
I recommend going for taco Tuesday where you get 2.50$ off any taco plus cheap beer.
My favorite taco was the Quesabirria, a crispy melted cheese taco with braised short rib, Jalisco salsa, pickled radish, and guacamole.
If you’re looking for the ultimate taqueria experience, look no further than The Taco Stand, which is basically what “taqueria” means in English.
The Taco Stand is a fast-casual American take on the world’s favorite Mexican street food.
They started in La Jolla and have expanded to locations in downtown San Diego, Encinitas, and North Park.
Salsas, guacamole, corn tortillas, and fresh garnishes are made in-house daily, and you can always see the chefs grilling sizzling meats and fish in the open kitchen.
There’s also a selection of Mexican beers, sodas, and tropical popsicles if you need a post-taco palate cleanser.
My favorite taco at The Taco Stand is their authentic tacos al pastor with rotisserie marinated pork, cilantro, onions, cilantro sauce, and pineapple.
1290 F St, San Diego, CA 92101
Located in San Diego’s East Village, Lola 55 offers a contemporary California take on Mexican food in a bright, airy dining space filled with lush green plants and a beautifully tiled cocktail bar.
Lola 55’s inventive food and beautifully presented plates and cocktails have won a Michelin plate award.
Their menu showcases California’s bounty, with fresh produce combinations in tacos, sauces, and side dishes.
There are also incredible vegan options like Squash Blossom Relleno with housemade beet soyrizo, almond “cream cheese”, poblano salsa, potato chicharrones, and cilantro.
Meat lovers will enjoy the smoked carnitas tacos with pork shoulder confit, crisped maciza, shaved tomatillo, avocado mousse, and pickled red onions.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is a casual, local Mexican Seafood eatery with locations in the North Pacific Beach, Pacific Beach, and Hillcrest neighborhoods.
Specializing in coastal Mexican favorites, they use the freshest catches of fish and shellfish to make no-frills hearty tacos, seafood cocktails, and more at an affordable price.
Their menú combines California cuisine with Mexican specialties, often using Asian flavors for glazes and dipping sauces.
Their vast menu features ceviche, tacos, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), appetizers, and grilled fish entrees.
I went for an enormous torta called the Fisherman’s Torta with spicy shrimp, scallops, grilled and smoked fish topped with cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado, and cheese.
3695 India St, San Diego, CA 92103
Another San Diego institution, El Indio Mexican Restaurant is a family-owned and run business that started when Ralph Pesqueira Sr. opened a tortilla factory in 1940 and made little taquitos for the community as an extra hustle.
His side hustle became the main event and El Indio soon garnered city-wide and national acclaim for its authentic Sonoran-style Mexican food that’s still found at the same Five Points location.
You can still watch corn and flour tortillas made on the same tortilla machine that Ralph Pesqueria built 81 years ago.
They’re some of the tastiest in town and used to make their super crispy tortilla chips.
The corn masa used in the corn tortillas also makes some of the best tamales I’ve ever had. They make beef, chicken, pork, and veggie tamales with different salsas or chili beans on top.
They also have dozens of other Mexican favorites like tostadas, enchiladas, chimichangas, nachos, quesadillas, and tacos.
4410 Bonita Rd, Bonita, CA 91902
TJ Oyster Bar is a Baja California-style fish taco and seafood bar with a flagship location in Bonita and two other locations in Chula Vista.
Each different Oyster Bar has a friendly, casual local vibe with varying degrees of trendiness. Regardless of décor, you’ll get fast, friendly service and fish tacos that have been praised by Zagat and the San Diego Tribune.
Since they are first and foremost an oyster bar, I highly recommend starting with an order of fried oysters.
I also loved their octopus cocktail with tomato, onions, cilantro, and plenty of lime.
Their tacos are all seafood from fish to oyster to shrimp diabla. I loved their selection of ceviche-topped tostadas as well.
520 Broadway, Chula Vista, CA 91910
Meaning “here is Texcoco”, this regional Mexican food restaurant is named for the small central Mexican town of Texcoco located outside of Mexico City that is home to one of the world’s favorite Mexican dishes, Barbacoa.
Located in Chula Vista, Aqui es Texcoco is owned and run by a Texcoco native whose authentic recipe of this labor-intensive form of Mexican lamb barbeque has been featured on Food Network, the Travel Channel, and countless culinary publications.
The thing to get is lamb barbacoa, but there are plenty of other lamb products like tacos, flautas, broths, and quesadillas.
You can also get Chapulines or fried grasshoppers as a starter.
2265 Flower Ave # D, San Diego, CA 92154
Located in Nestor, minutes away from the Tijuana border, Fernandez Restaurant is a breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot specializing in Birria tacos.
Owned and operated by Chef Ed Fernandez, Fernandez Restaurant is a casual, family-friendly restaurant that uses the freshest beef and produce to make the most authentic birria beef stew you’ll taste this side of the border.
Birria is a spicy beef stew that you can eat as a soup with fresh tortillas and garnish or in tacos.
Perhaps the best version of birria is the quesatacos which are chile-soaked handmade corn tortillas fried and stuffed with birria and melted cheese and garnished with onions and cilantro.
310A E 8th St, National City, CA 91950
As you might have guessed by the name, this National City neighborhood café and eatery is female-owned and run with hot pink walls upon which you’ll see saucy odes to women written in Spanish.
The cute, if not edgy, appearance of the coffee shop is enticing, and the delicious coffee drinks, Mexican pastries, and fresh burritos live up to the hype.
Fresh burritos sell out by midday, so you’ll want to get your burritos early whether you want to have a hearty breakfast or save them for lunch.
They also sell classic Mexican pastries and sweetbreads like conchas and doughy croissants called cuernitos.
2414 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Tahona Bar is a beautiful, upscale Mezcal bar and contemporary Mexican food bistro inside a renovated Hacienda in San Diego’s Old Town.
Their over 120 types of Mezcal spawns many Mezcal tasting events and fancy dinners that pair different mezcal with seasonal multi-course meals.
There’s even a hidden Speakeasy in the back of Tahona Bar to continue the party after a decadent meal.
Whether you like to sip mezcal in its purest form or enjoy its smokiness mixed into a fresh cocktail, Tahona Bar is the place to go to get a top-quality education in Mexico’s most revered spirit.
I sipped a mezcal while enjoying a mole flight with Mole Negro, Mole Coloradito, Mole Pipian for dipping deliciously savory potato flautas with hoja santa and Oaxacan cheese.
2304 San Diego Ave # B, San Diego, CA 92110
Located in Mission Hills, a quick drive from Old Town San Diego State Park, El Agave Restaurant and Tequileria is a tequila museum and high-end Mexican food restaurant in one enormous and beautifully designed wooden space.
Their food and tequila selection along with a lively, refined, and festive atmosphere has won San Diego Tribune’s vote for best Mexican food in San Diego.
Since they’re a Tequileria, the drink to get is the margarita, and you won’t find a more top-shelf selection anywhere else.
My favorite appetizers were the Tlacoyos de Huitlacoche, savory corn masa cakes with corn truffle, salsa verde, queso fresco, onion, and cilantro.
Their sea bass ajo y achiote with garlic chipotle sauce and potato puree was incredible.
560 Fourth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
La Puerta is a fun and trendy cocktail, taco house, and music venue with locations in downtown San Diego and Mission Hills.
Their atmosphere always has great music playing, delicious cocktails made with fresh juices, and all the Mexican and American comfort food favorites from burgers to tacos to enormous burritos.
Their tequila and mezcal selection is vast, impressive, and cheap, while their specialty cocktails are fresh and delicious.
I loved the Nowhere Fast cocktail with Corralejo reposado tequila, apricot, peach, and lime.
They make some of my favorite made-to-order guacamole with serrano peppers, pico de gallo, panela cheese, cilantro, and lime with chips fresh out of the frier.
2461 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Owned and operated by renowned restaurateurs Lehn and Ritch Goetz, Café Coyote is a family-friendly Mexican restaurant inside a colonial Spanish-style hacienda in San Diego’s Old Town walking district.
Its festive atmosphere adorned with authentic vibrantly colored textiles and paper cutouts along with a theatrical display of indigenously dressed women preparing tortillas by hand are just a few reasons Café Coyote is consistently voted best Mexican for 20 of its 30 years in San Diego.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 364 days of the year, Café Coyote’s menu is enormous, with amazing selections of sizzling fajitas, burritos, taco plates, enchiladas, soups, and more.
I loved their traditional chile Rellenos, two poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, egg battered and fried with ranchero sauce, and fresh flour tortillas.
4105 Taylor St, San Diego, CA 92110
Located between Presidio Park and Old Town San Diego State Historic Park in Old Town San Diego, Casa Guadalajara is another beloved San Diego institution, founded in 1996.
Its stunning dining space is inside an old Spanish colonial-style terracotta-roofed building with a lovely outdoor patio surrounded by flowers, cacti, and palm trees.
There’s always a mariachi band belting out ballads and traditional Mexican music to serenade your meal.
The menu is an impressive combination of Mexican classics with American takes.
I went with their signature Guadalajara Chimichanga, a large flour tortilla filled with your choice of chicken, beef, or picadillo, rice, and beans then deep-fried and topped with salsa Roja, cheese, and sour cream and served with rice and beans.