Going Mexican Food Crazy in San Diego

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush

This is probably the most difficult post I’ve ever had to write.  Okay, I’m being a bit hyperbolic here.  But seriously, being a Mexican-food-obsessed Californian who’s living in Southeast Asia is freaking hard.

I’m the person who has to sample every single Mexican restaurant she comes across in Southeast Asia regardless of the fact that I know I’m going to be disappointed.  I’ve had nachos in Vietnam that were made with wonton crisps instead of tortilla chips.  I’ve eaten quesadillas in the Philippines that were made with quick melt cheese instead of real cheddar.  I’ve ordered guacamole in Indonesia that was made from neon green powder instead of real avocado.

Mexican food in Southeast Asia is just a mess, yet I can’t resist it!

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush
These tacos in Bali were actually pretty good!

For those who don’t know, San Diego is located on the border with Mexico, so there is lots and lots of great Mexican food there.  As a half-Mexican who hails from San Diego my love for Mexican food runs deep.  So obviously during my month-long visit to my hometown this summer I made sure to stop off at as many of my favorite old Mexican food haunts as I could.

Disclaimer:  My apologies for not having photos of all of these places.  After 11 consecutive months in Southeast Asia, I was so excited to be eating real Southern Californian Mexican food that I forgot about taking photos of some of my food until I was halfway through my meal.  Bad, bad blogger!

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego:

El Pueblo

When most Californians return home from a trip abroad their first stop is typically In-n-Out Burger.  And trust me, I was tempted.  But when my mom picked me up at LAX I informed her that our first stop would be at El Pueblo, one of my go-to Mexican food restaurants in San Diego.  Given the late hour, I knew that this 24-hour restaurant would be open.  And because it’s located near my former home in Encinitas it was a no brainer.

Seriously I was so excited to eat my first bean and cheese burrito (with a side of real guacamole!) that I completely forgot to take a picture.  I apologize because it was a thing of beauty.  I love El Pueblo because it’s cheap, good and fast.  And it was exactly what I needed after traveling nearly 24 hours from Asia to the US.


When I made plans to see my dad and stepmom it went without saying that dinner at Fidel’s was a must.  While I typically frequent cheap, hole-in-the-wall Mexican food places, Fidel’s is one of the few sit down Mexican restaurants I go to.

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush

It’s actually really touristy but I’ve frequented this place since I was a little kid and dinner there is a longstanding family tradition.  They have tons of traditional Mexican dishes from huevos rancheros to nopales (cactus) to carnitas to chile rellenos.

All of the portions are insanely huge, which means I always have leftovers for the next day.  Because I’m a vegetarian, I tend to order the tostada suprema which is loaded with beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream and tons of lettuce.  And of course I always request an extra bowl of salsa which I pour onto it.  So good!

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush


During my second week in the States I traveled to Colorado to visit my sister.  Per usual she requested that I hand deliver her a burrito from our favorite burrito place in Del Mar, Nico’s Taco Shop.  And because I’m such a good sister, I obliged.

I have literally been going to this place since I was a tiny, tiny human.  My grandparents used to live down the street from it, I used to dine there with friends in high school and my family always orders take out from there during holidays and big family gatherings.  Let’s just say Nico’s and I have a long history.

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush
Is it just me or is there something pornographic about this image?

So per tradition, my dad and I went there the night before my flight in order to gorge ourselves on get my sister a burrito.  I always order a bean and cheese burrito with salsa fresca and guacamole.  My order never changes and it never gets old.  But they also have killer beef and chicken taquitos (ah, the pre-vegetarian days), carne asada burritos and bacon-filled breakfast burritos.

Bull Taco

Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed with Mexican food I am.  So when I made plans to meet up with one of my best friends from high school, we did the same thing we always do.  We walked to the beach from her house in Encinitas, pretended to be healthy and exercise but instead beelined it to a Mexican restaurant.

Encinitas is a mellow little beach town that’s literally lined with amazing hole-in-the-wall Mexican places.  When I used to live there I could literally walk to 10 different delicious and cheap restaurants within five minutes.  I had it really good back then.

I’ve sampled a lot of Mexican eateries in Encinitas but the super-trendy Bull Taco was a new one for me.  And I’m so glad I finally tried it.  This place is located right on the beach and with its casual atmosphere it pretty much captures the essence of Encinitas.  You basically order from a window, take a seat on the massive outdoor deck and bask in the California sun.  I will say that the food took an absurdly long time, but with this view it was worth the wait!

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush
Isn’t my former home beautiful?

Bull Taco puts a contemporary spin on traditional Mexican food and serves gourmet concoctions like duck tacos, shrimp curry burritos and tater tot and guacamole quesadillas.

Because I’m a vegetarian I ordered the veggie quesadilla which was loaded with melted cheese, grilled veggies, guacamole and sour cream.  As you can see I went a little crazy pouring salsa on it before I remembered to take a picture.  Now you have an idea of how salsa obsessed I really am…

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush

Rico’s Taco Shop

Oh Rico’s.  There are honestly no words for how much I love and miss this place.  Rico’s Taco Shop became a favorite when I was in high school.  It’s a place I used to go when I would ditch class in high school (sorry mom and dad).  And it became hands down my favorite burrito place when I moved to Encinitas in 2008.  This is another restaurant where I always order the same thing because they literally have the best chile relleno burrito I have ever tasted.

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush
The stuff dreams are made of.

Rico’s is famous among locals for the Justin Burrito – beans, cheese, rice, lettuce, french fries and guacamole, all wrapped in two tortillas.  But really all of the food on their enormous menu is delicious, especially the tostada suprema!

My Favorite Mexican Food Restaurants in San Diego - Travel Lush

This post was written in my apartment in Phnom Penh and I have to say that writing it was pure torture for me!  What foods do you miss the most when you’re abroad?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

15 thoughts on “Going Mexican Food Crazy in San Diego

    1. Yay, Fidel’s!! It’s so fun to have someone who knows the exact restaurant I’m talking about 🙂 Will do. That’s so exciting that you found a good Mexican place in HCMC. I have yet to try any Mexican places in Phnom Penh. Whenever I try they are always closed!

    1. Ha, isn’t that the way it goes? When I was living in Jakarta I wished that we had the selection of good international restaurants they had in Phnom Penh. Now that I’m in Phnom Penh I miss Indonesian food dearly! Definitely try to visit some of these restaurants when you’re in San Diego. They are all amazing!

    1. Haha, we never know how good we have it until it’s gone! I’m so envious of anyone who lives (or has lived) in Mexico. I traveled in Chiapas briefly a while back and had some truly memorable meals. And so much salsa…

    1. I haven’t had a fish taco in so many years, but I agree that San Diego’s fish tacos are amazing! I hope you get to try some of these places when you go back. I highly recommend them all 🙂

  1. Nom! Nom! I love the picture of the Justin Burrito. Mmmmm! I live in Berlin and somehow, even though the city is an international mecca, we don’t seem to have “proper” Mexican restaurants. They’re mostly Tex-Mex and I have no idea why. Having said that, I did get the chance to try out a real Mexican restaurant in LA but I chickened out!

    And why?

    It was our first day on our 30 day road trip in the USA, the menu was in Spanish so I knew it was the real deal, but we got a little scared. What if we ended up with stomach issues? On the first day!! Doesn’t bear thinking about so we had a breakfast “Americano” instead. We never did find the real deal again although I “looked” and sometimes, I regret it LOL!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted…A 5 minute introduction to Warsaw. That’s in Poland didn’t you know!

    1. Believe it or not Tex-Mex is all you can find in most of the US. Actually, most people around the US probably haven’t really tried authentic Mexican because it’s not available and when it is they’re scared too! I’m sure there are some exceptions but Southern California is definitely the place to be to get authentic Mexican food. Ha, don’t worry about chickening out. Plenty of people are scared of eating the real deal. But I assure you that it’s incredible. Next time just go for it 🙂

    1. Pokez! I haven’t been there since high school!! But I do remember it having amazing veg options and enormous portions. Oh what I would give to be eating there right now … San Diego has the best food!!

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