Taco Road Trip 2011
August 3, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Looking for the best hole-in-the-wall taco shops/trucks in the greater San Francisco Bay area.

I'll be taking a trip up to Berkley next month for a family gathering. I plan to drive up from San Diego and make it a taco road trip, starting in Orange County. I'm good on places in OC/LA, and there aren't many options on the drive up, so that part is easy. But we'll be spending 2-3 days in the Bay Area, and I'm not familiar with tacos up there at all. Yelp and Chowhound have given me some good tips, but I'd like to hear for locals.

My working research map is linked below.

Obviously we wouldn't be able to get to all of those, but I want to have solid options researched before we leave. I'm figuring 2-4 places a day, and about 4-5 days to pull off the whole thing. That gives us lots of time for sight seeing and photos as well.

Can I get a sanity check on this please? Places on the list that are crap? Great taco shops I missed? Neighborhoods there to avoid? Local tips I seem to be oblivious to?

What I'm looking for here is great tacos rather than great Mexican food. If I can't get a meal and a drink for less than $5 it's likely not in the sweet spot here. Trucks are good, Places that might not speak English are fine.
posted by y6y6y6 to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Hey there sir. I salute your noble endeavour.

For San Mateo, you have Charlie's Taqueria, which I have not tried--the most popular place by far is Pancho Villa on B Street (same owner as the SF Pancho Villa). Further down B Street, a whole block is known as Burrito Alley, where you'll find La Cumbre and La Pinata (which has great Salvadoran pupusas), among others.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:15 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Bay Area is a big place. Where specifically do you want to find great tacos?

I'm more of a burrito guy, but some places I would recommend checking out would be:

Taqueria Los Dos Compadres in Campbell. Get the Pastor. I'm told it's more of a southern Mexico style, saucy with pineapple. This is the only place I go specifically to eat tacos:

Taqueria Santa Cruz. Barbeque pork is good, although maybe not special. Try the pink (habanero) salsa (in small quantities unless you're hardcore):

Mountain View has Burrito Corner with Los Altos, La Bamba and La Castena. These are on the corner of Old Middlefield and North Regnstorff. I like Chili Colorado at La Bamba the best, although it's not bad at La Bamba either. Each taqueria has its own followers. Here's the link to Los Altos (the others are catty-corner):

If you're into the fusion taco truck thing, give MoGo a try. They do Korean/taco fusion food:

Best of luck with your worthy endeavor!
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 3:37 PM on August 3, 2011

"The Bay Area is a big place. Where specifically do you want to find great tacos?"

Anywhere. Figure anything south of Napa and west of Concord. And we're driving from and back to San Diego, so all parts South.

People always tell me I'm insane, as it can't be done when I lay out my food adventures. But I always get it done. The working goal is 12 greater Bay Area taco place minimum in three days.

I'm figuring the biggest problem will be drive time, parking, and traffic.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:47 PM on August 3, 2011

In Oakland, Taqueria Sinaloa. If you want mariscos go to the truck at the back of the lot; if you're looking for the standards (pollo, carnitas, al pastor, lengua, tripitas, cabeza) you can go to either truck but (IMO) the one at the front of the lot is better.

The El Ojo de Agua truck is generally considered to have some of the best licuados around.

The atole at Tamales Mi Lupita is so, so good. One of those "if I died by drowning in this, I'd die happy" things.

The California Taco Trucks blog hasn't been updated in some time (he moved to Germany), but has good info in the archives.

Have a fantastic and delicious trip!
posted by Lexica at 3:48 PM on August 3, 2011

Best cheap seafood tostadas on my side of the town (and be advised I live in the heart of the Mexican-American community in San Jose) are found at La Costa on Alum Rock Road, right off 101 as you're driving home. Mmmm, tostadas de camarones y pulpo. Mmmmmm. Pretty good meat tacos too but the ceviche is a must-not-miss.
posted by jamaro at 3:56 PM on August 3, 2011

Seconding Kafkaesque. I cannot adequately describe how much I love Pancho Villas in San Mateo. There food is excellent, their service is excellent, and their quantities are generous. And their quality is very consistent; I have never had a bad anything there. Personal favorites: their grilled salmon burritos, grilled salmon tacos, and their chicken and avocado salad (my new favorite dish).

La Cumbre in San Mateo is also very good -- their pollo asado is incredible.
posted by mosk at 4:38 PM on August 3, 2011

Gah - "their". My kingdom for an Edit button.
posted by mosk at 4:39 PM on August 3, 2011

Hmm...... It occurs to me folks might want to follow all this in real time. I'll be posting it all on Google+ as we go. I've added a link to my g+ profile on my MeFi account page.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:53 PM on August 3, 2011

Well south of SF: I see you have Chapala Market in Morro Bay, but there's another tasty location just down the street: Taco Temple. It's above your $5 sweet spot, but if you're looking for tasty seafood tacos with mango salsa, I'd say it's worth the extra money.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:01 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Taco Temple". How could I not go to that. Hell yes. And Morro bay is one of my all time favorite photo places. We can fit in two taco shops.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:05 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, no La Taqueria on your map? Go for the crispy.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:06 PM on August 3, 2011

Yes to La Taqueria. This is the kind of question that chowhound loves. Probably worth reading through the last few threads on there or asking a new question. The Mission is certainly full of tacos, but what makes a good taco, much less a best taco, is the thing of endless discussion and duels at dawn.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:31 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hector's is famous round these parts. If you're in Watsonville, give it a shot:

And I know this doesn't fit your criteria for a cheep hole in the wall, but at least it's Mexican food. Try Jalisco in Watsonville:


Order the combo fajitas and get some quacamole. They're unusually good imho. The margueritas are good too. Heck, even the beans and rice are great. It's nothing like Chili's.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 5:40 PM on August 3, 2011

You must, must, must get the tacos al pastor at Taqueria Cancun in the Mission. My god, I'd step on a plane right now if it could get me there for dinner.
posted by googly at 5:41 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely don't miss Oakland's Fruitvale. I recommend El Grullo for carnitas (High st and Foothill). Also hand-churned ice cream at Nieves de Cinco de Mayo. If you haven't found it yet on Chowhound, here's the Oakland taco truck map. Might be somewhat out of date, because sometimes the trucks move.

If I were you on a taco hunt, I would skip the City and spend 2 days in Fruitvale. I've eaten much Mexican food in both cities, and there are greater numbers of cheap taco shops and trucks in Oakland, all with their specialties. (Though if you're doing the City, I think Cancun's outrageously salty and greasy chorizo is my favorite, especially with their green salsa.)

Plus then you can fit in a huarache de tinga from La Torta Loca. :)
posted by oneirodynia at 6:19 PM on August 3, 2011

This is from 2007 so some of these might be out of date, but you and Inhuman Eating Machine sound like kindred spirits. He mentions a few trucks that have already been recommended, plus some others.
posted by apricot at 7:02 PM on August 3, 2011

If you go Highway 1 up the coast, stop here in what passes for downtown Pescadero:


It's a gas station and convenience store for Butano State Park, and looks highly disreputable. They'll make you awesome carne asada tacos while you wait, and you won't be sorry.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 7:06 PM on August 3, 2011

Starting from the south and working my way north:

You probably won't be close enough stop by Tito's Tacos in Culver City but they are well known enough that you should if only so you can say that you did. I find the tacos over-hyped and under-flavored but they are an institution.

I haven't been in a long time but the best fish tacos in the San Fernando valley were available at El Taco Llama. They have several locations.

In Ventura you need to stop at Taqueria La Hermita which is right off of the freeway. The tacos there are small, tasty and cheap so get at least 5. Go with the lengua and asada.

Lilly's tacos in Santa Barbara is ok but last time I was there the meat was dry and I found a few hairs so I haven't returned

I wouldn't normally recommend La Super-Rica because of the price and long waits but that would be a better choice instead of Lilly's. It's without a doubt the most well known taco stand in Santa Barbara, famous for being Julia Childs' favorite when she lived down the street. The best thing about the place is that they essentially make the tortillas when you place your order and those handmade tortillas live up to the hype.

If you get to Super Rica and the wait is too long keep going to Altamirano Mexican Restaurant and order the shrimp tacos.

In the unlikely even that you end up in Hollister go to El Grullense Jal. They also have a branch in Gilroy right off the freeway and the yelpians seem to like it so it might be worth a try.

In case you are bored of tacos in SF and want something different then I would strongly urge you in the most forceful way possible to stop at Kasa. It's chicken tikka masala (or other stuff), onions, and chutney wrapped in a paratha, like a burrito, and served with a side of cucumber mint raita. Wash it down with a mango lassi and you will be be glad you went there.
posted by euphorb at 7:16 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only tacos in SF that are even close to being as good as tacos are in LA can be found at El Tesoro on Geary between Larkin and Hyde. It is located inside a small grocery store called Mid City Foods.

Don't waste your time on the Mission's wildly overrated fare. Get out to Fruitvale and hit up some trucks.
posted by outlaw of averages at 12:45 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, I know what I'm doing next time I'm in SF. OP, not for the derail, but could you share your similar lists for OC/LA and San Diego? Or at least your top-5's or something like that? I will gladly burn my weekly question if you'd prefer to do it that way.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:42 AM on August 4, 2011

Kung-Fu Tacos, taco truck, check 'em out!
posted by allpaws at 7:07 AM on August 4, 2011

"could you share your similar lists for OC/LA and San Diego?"

Here's is my updated list of taco shops in the San Diego area. I don't have one yet for LA.
San Diego taco map
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2011

In addition to the excellent La CosteƱa and La Bamba in Mountain View, I humbly suggest downtown Mountain View's Taqueria Los Charros. There is also the amazing Mex to Go in Menlo Park.

Our norcal taquerias are actually more famous for our burritos.
posted by chairface at 11:12 AM on August 4, 2011

Friday nights at Fort Mason there is a big gathering of various food trucks. Ample parking and a beautiful view, to boot.
posted by squasher at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2011

The Great Taco Hunt is the definitive site for LA area taco reviews, although it has a somewhat of a west side bias.
posted by outlaw of averages at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2011

I can verify that Taqueria Guadalajara (on your list) is very very good, super authentic, vast portions. yum :)
posted by supermedusa at 4:28 PM on August 10, 2011

Okay. Out the door and on the way. Liveblogging the trip at my Google+ link in my profile.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:14 AM on September 3, 2011

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