Southern California has become synonymous with over-stuffed burritos and fresh fish tacos. The coastal area sits just north of the Mexican border, so it’s no wonder enchiladas and tamales have made their way onto menus across the SoCal region. In fact, Southern California has become so infatuated with Mexican-style cooking that San Diego created its own rendition: the California burrito, packed with carne asada and french fries.
Sampling food from south of the border is practically a hobby in this part of Cali, so on your next trip here, do as the locals do. Whether you’re planning a vacation in Los Angeles or city hopping down the coast, eating your way through the comida Mexicana is a must.
To lead your taste buds in the right direction, we’ve rounded up some of the top picks for authentic cuisine between San Diego and Los Angeles. We sifted through user reviews and asked locals about their favorite Mexican eateries, from the mom and pops to the trendier interpretations. In no particular order, below you’ll find some of SoCal’s most delicious Mexican restaurants, so grab your fork and dig right in!
Salud!, Barrio Logan
Via Yelp/M M.
You don’t have to cross the border to get your hands on some authentic street tacos. In this south central San Diego neighborhood, Salud! serves up carne asada, al pastor, and fish tacos that taste like they’re straight from the street cart. The homemade corn tortillas and expertly marinated meat create a dangerous combination—the kind that will have you coming back every day for more. After eating your weight in tacos, cruise two blocks north and check out the urban graffiti at Chicano Park.
Via Yelp/Si B.
Come to Colima’s with a hardy appetite, because your plate will be piled seriously high. Located within a few blocks of the scenic Oceanside Pier in San Diego County’s northernmost city, this Mexican hotspot serves massive combo plates, such as enchiladas verdes, carnitas, and camarones rancheros with heaping mounds of rice and beans. And with burritos the size of your forearm, you’ll be stick-a-fork-in-you full by the time you head over to the seaside.
“Tucked next door to the California Surf Museum, this local hangout is known for serving up gigantic burritos…A trip to SoCal wouldn’t be complete without devouring a California burrito, complete with french fries, yes, you read that right, french fries!” -Cerina De Souza, director of marketing and communications at Visit Oceanside
Gracias Madre, West Hollywood
Via Yelp/Monique R.
Throw everything you thought you knew about Mexican food out the window, and feast your eyes (and mouth) on the coconut ceviche tostadas at Gracias Madre. This trendy restaurant, which blends Mexican and Spanish influences, breathes new life into traditional dishes. The menu is 100% organic, plant based, (vegans and vegetarians unite!) but it won’t leave meat eaters wanting. The flautas de papas and gazpacho con aguacate are regal, while the grilled corn cakes will have you asking for seconds. The hip spot is on iconic Santa Monica Boulevard, just northeast of Beverly Hills and south of the Sunset Strip.
El Zarape, University Heights
Via Yelp/Ron L.
Any self-respecting foodie knows that unassuming hole-in-the-walls serve up the best grub, and El Zarape is no exception. Everyone raves about the tacos and burritos at this tiny, affordable restaurant in this hip central San Diego neighborhood, where you can score a fish-battered taco for less than a dollar. It’s some of the best Mexican food in San Diego, so good luck choosing between the scallop enchiladas and the machaca burrito…or what about the shrimp tacos? The joint sits on Park Boulevard, within walking distance of a number of popular bars, making it the perfect pit stop for late-night eats.
Carmelita’s, Laguna Beach
Via Yelp/Marcos H.
Of all the things to do in Orange County, make sure chowing down at Carmelita’s is one of them. Since 1962, the gourmet kitchen has been whipping up traditional recipes from Puebla and Guadalajara, Mexico. The chef gathers local, organic ingredients at the Laguna Beach Farmers Market to create dishes like the pollo a la chipotle and the famous carnitas; the kind that will have you wondering if it’s embarrassing to order another round. Spend the day splashing around Main Beach Park and then make your way up to Carmelita’s for an upscale dinner.
Las Cuatro Milpas, Barrio Logan
Via Yelp/Corita C.
This San Diego neighborhood strikes gold again. When you see the line wrapping around the corner, you’ll know you’ve arrived at “Las Milpas.” Run by third-generation owners, this authentic cafeteria-style Mexican restaurant serves up a simple menu of rolled tacos, burritos, and tamales, which have locals eagerly waiting in hour-long lines. The wait? So worth it. The joint dates back to 1933, and sits in an up-and-coming art community, so explore the urban district after scarfing down some tacos and before heading back to your San Diego hotel.
Pancho’s, Manhattan Beach
Via Yelp/Marissa G.
Step 1: Choose a margarita. Step 2: Order the enchiladas. Step 3: Save room for the fried ice cream. At Pancho’s any choice is an excellent choice, from the chimichanga de pollo to the tostada del mar. Que rico! And as if the fantastic food wasn’t enough, the southwestern LA restaurant offers a side of live music and karaoke on certain nights of the week. Before your delightful food coma sets in, take a walk down to the beach or check out the houses along the Strand.
“This place has never failed me since 2002. Salsa is on point, or maybe it’s the fact that they fry the chips fresh before bringing them to the table. Or maybe it’s the live bands on weekends. No, it’s the food.” –Vivek Khurana, Manhattan Beach local
Fidel’s Little Mexico, Solana Beach
Via Yelp/John S.
For more than 50 years, Fidel’s has been serving up an extensive menu at the three-story restaurant and cantina in this laidback San Diego County beach community—so you know it’s gotta be good. Everyone brags about the chicken and rice soup, but the chile rellano and tostadas deserve their fair share of praise as well. Come on in for a stiff margarita and cheer on the mariachis that serenade Thursday through Sunday. After noshing, venture a mile east and explore the historic downtown district and get some sun at Fletcher Cove Park Beach.
Sabroso! Mexican Grill, Garden Grove
Via Yelp/Gloria M.
Between the legendary flavors at the salsa bar and the chile verde crowd pleaser, it’s no wonder this family-owned business earned a spot on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” The mouth-watering Peruvian-style beans and rice, pork tamales, and chile rellano bring down the house, but the chamorro–slow-cooked beef in red chile–is in a league all of its own. When it comes to scoring some of the best Mexican food in Southern California, follow your nose to this foodie mecca, just four miles south of the House of Mouse, near plenty of Orange County hotels.
Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita, Boyle Heights
Via Yelp/Sharon M.
You may consider yourself the taco king, but until you’ve tried a cemita, you’ve only really dabbled in the Mexican food scene. Up your game at Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita and order the Puebla-style sandwich. Sink your teeth into the crunchy roll, stuffed with juicy carnitas, chiles, avocado, and hand-shredded quesillo and no doubt, you’ll be hooked. It’s outside of many of the city’s main attractions, so just Uber on over—you won’t be disappointed.
Tacos Por Favor, Santa Monica
Via Yelp/Trin H.
East LA’s got nothing on this Westside taco heaven in Santa Monica. When you combine the hard and soft taco menus, you’ve got more than 20 choices, from chorizo cheese to carnitas lengua. It doesn’t stop there though, the list goes on, with all kinds of burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, tostadas, tortas, and even sopas and nachos. With all the epic options, it may take you forever to make your decision, but whatever you order, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up weak in the knees. Once you digest, if you’re looking for things to do in Los Angeles, brave the rides at the nearby Santa Monica Pier or simply succumb to the food coma down at the beach.
La Sirena Grill, Laguna Beach
Via Yelp/Aaron G.
Help save the planet when you eat at La Sirena Grill in this picturesque Orange County beach town. Not only is the comida awesome, but the restaurant is committed to sustainability. Nearly every fan of this spot mentions the fresh ingredients—organic beans, rice, and mixed greens. ¡Muy deliciosos! For something light, graze on the divine avocado lime salad, but if you’re feeling ravenous, the taquitos or enchiladas plate will do the trick. As an added perk, both Laguna Beach locations are within walking distance of the sand and sea.
“We’re loyal to La Sirena Grill’s fish, carne asada, and grilled veggie tacos, and the papaya salsa that covers the blackened wild salmon salad. The menu is super simple and appealing, and you can’t go wrong with a torta or the loaded fajitas that include a cheese-stuffed pasilla chile.” –Sahar Kamali, founder of ocexplore.org
Al and Bea’s Mexican Food, Boyle Heights
Via Yelp/Skrimp G.
It’s not easy for something as plain as a bean and cheese burrito to make you swoon, but at Al and Bea’s, it’s as simple as that. It’s no frills at this East LA Mexican stand, where there’s something admirable about the simplicity of it all. The menu is straightforward—burritos, rolled tacos, taquitos—but what you get is some kind of umami, cheesy, other worldly goodness. Looking to recover from your burrito euphoria? Walk over to the Hollenbeck Park and take a lap around the lake.
Oscars, Pacific Beach
Via Yelp/Daniel K.
When it comes to fish tacos, the locals flock to this Mexican seafood eatery, which has two locations in Pacific Beach, within walking distance of the ocean. Smoked, battered, and grilled fish tacos are the name of the game, but the fresh ceviche is a fan favorite, too. Prefer turf over surf? The seaside shop whips up steak and chorizo burritos, plates, and tortas as well. During your San Diego vacation, order your grub to go and eat it down at the beach with an ocean view.
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, Orange
Via Yelp/Ryan Y.
Gabbi Patrick is an elegant and sophisticated restaurant, where every dish is an expertly crafted masterpiece. The high-end menu fuses indigenous ingredients, such as corn smut and cactus, with a modern approach, resulting in practically too-pretty-to-eat dishes. You can’t go wrong with the shrimp enchiladas and wild mushroom tacos. Top off your decadent meal with an order of the churros, and then take a stroll through the historic structures down the street in Old Towne Orange.
Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant, Dana Point
Via Yelp/Teresa S.
During your Orange County vacation, dine at Olamendi’s with a view of the Pacific Ocean. At this family-owned restaurant, the recipes have been passed down through generations, staying true to their Puebla, Mexico, roots. The restaurant even has an extensive vegan menu with tasty renditions, including the portabello chipotle enchiladas and the beans and quinoa burrito. What’s more, Olamendi’s earns bonus points for serving its own brand of organic tequila.
Ranchos Cocina, Ocean Beach
Via Yelp/Roger M.
Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, meat eater, or something in between, Ranchos Cocina has created a dish with you in mind. And we’re not just talkin’ rice and beans either—you’ll find vegetarian and vegan versions of all kinds of traditionally meat-filled dishes. Sure, this all-inclusive mindset means the menu is pages long, but that just means there’s an entrée (or five!) with your name on it. Afterwards, walk it off on the Ocean Beach Pier, just in time for the sunset.
“What others may lack, Ranchos delivers in spades. Our favorite dishes are the veggie enchilada trio (with lentils, tofu, and avocado), the sweet potato and spinach quesadilla, and the vegan chicken huarache.” –Tim Brown, Ocean Beach local
Mariscos Jalisco, Boyle Heights
Via Yelp/Phong D.
This East LA neighborhood’s eats make the list for a third time, and soon you’ll know why. Two words for you: shrimp tacos. Actually, we’ve got a few more: crunchy, deep-fried, and oh-my-lanta-so-good. This Mexican food truck sets up shop on the corner of Olympic Boulevard, where you can smell its fried seafood tacos blocks away. It’s sacrilegious not to order the shrimp tacos, but the fresh ceviche and seafood cocteles are to die for, too. Chow down and cruise north to Mariachi Plaza, which is similar to Mexico’s Plaza Garibaldi.
Super Cocina, Normal Heights
Of all the things to do in San Diego, heading to Super Cocina belongs at the top of the list. If you’re not careful, you might just walk by this authentic Mexican diner on bustling University Avenue. Keep your eyes peeled for the yellow building, and then sample your choice of home-style soups, stews, and meat dishes before placing your order. Instead of tacos and burritos, you’ll find regional meals on the menu such as mole poblano, pozole rojo, and chile relleno. MTS bus 7 runs from downtown San Diego, stopping just outside this eatery, so it’s easy to get your Mex-food fix.
Via Yelp/Adam L.
What do enfrijoladas, enmoladas, and salsa de carne frita all have in common? They’re all Oaxacan dishes that you must try at central LA’s Guelaguetza. This Oaxacan family-run business sticks to its heritage, serving authentic moles and tlayudas (pizza-like tortillas). You’ll probably order dishes you’ve never heard of, that you’ll soon discover you can’t live without. For some of the best Mexican food in Los Angeles, nosh here and not only expand your tastes, but your cultural knowledge, too, and then hit the streets to further indulge in Koreatown’s international scene.
Lucha Libre, Mission Hills
Via Yelp/Amber A.
With a gold Champion’s Booth and TVs streaming wrestling matches, this isn’t your abuela’s traditional restaurant. Rather, Lucha Libre is a trendy San Diego gourmet taco shop that douses its tacos and burritos with its super-secret chipotle sauce. The surfin’ California burrito, with steak, shrimp, and french fries was featured on “Man Vs. Food,” but the undefeated seafood taco and breakfast TJ dog are winners, too. After devouring your order, head just two miles east and walk off your lunch at the famous Balboa Park.
“It is a vibrant mix of traditional Mexican food with a Californian twist… Oh, and their salsas are second to none.” –Edwin Coronado, Chula Vista local
On your next SoCal adventure, get outside of your Los Angeles hotel or your San Diego abode and start eating your weight in Mexican food. Your taste buds will thank you.
What are you favorite Mexican restaurants in Southern California?