Authentic Mexican Dishes and Where to Find Them in San Diego

By Kayla Webb

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Californians are extremely proud of how abundant and authentic their Mexican food is, often complaining about the lack of Mexican food when living elsewhere.  Only a stone throw away, San Diego, especially, has some of the best Mexican food in California, but there’s more to Mexican food than just a really good burrito or a platter of tacos.  And there’s no denying that much of California’s Mexican food is often takes and twists on traditional Mexican dishes.  If your mouth is watering for the flavors of Mexico, San Diego offers some of the most popular food dishes from the biggest regions in Mexico worth trying by any foodie, beach-bum, or tourist.

THE NORTH

The northern region of Mexico is known for its ranch culture, which has contributed to a boost of cheese production and the development of forty different types of flour tortillas. This led to the invention of the burrito, esteemed in California and the southwestern states of the United States.  Despite the burrito’s popularity in the U.S., grilled beef, machaca (dried meat that has been rehydrated), arrachera (Fajitas), and cabrito (baby goat) are the most popular dishes in this region of Mexico.

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Cafe Coyote

Heralded as one of San Diego’s landmark restuarants, Cafe Coyote has some of the best fajitas in town.  Or if you’re looking for something more casual, Mexican Fiesta is a taco shack with no seating area, but offers a sought after Machaca burrito that combines tradition and innovation.

THE NORTH PACIFIC COAST 

The North Pacific Coast supplies the country with grains, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, chiles, and tequila.  Along with popular seafood dishes made with marlin, swordfish, and octopus, chilorio (pork fried in chile sauce), birria (a stew of beef, mutton, or pork with chili peppers and spices), and pozole (a traditional soup) are common in this region.  In San Diego, Tacos Perla, a vegan/vegetarian restaurant has a chilorio-style taco topped with pickled salsa of radish, parsley, onion, capers, and cinnamon.

 If you’re in the mood for hearty birria, El Paisano and La Fachada are both popular and delicious options.  But if you need to stuff yourself with any and all variations of pozole, Pozoleria Dona Maria has you covered with red, green, or white pozole to choose from.

THE BAJIO

The Bajio region is known for its morisquesta (sausage and rice dish) and carnitas (deep fried pork).  When in San Diego, stop by The Blind Burro offering multiple takes on carnitas.  The Bajio region is also known for its sweet desserts.  Cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), chongos (curds in syrup), arroz con leche (rice pudding), and bunuelos (fritters) will send your taste buds in tizzies.

 Fortunately, San Diego also has some must-stop eateries if you’re craving sugary desserts from the Bajio region.  While Fabrison’s is a French crepery and café, they serve to-die-for Cajeta Banana crepes.  If you’re looking for a dinner with the whole family, Antojitos Colombianos is a great place for an authentic meal and fresh bunuelos for dessert. With multiple locations in the San Diego area, Panchitas Bakery has over 160 varieties of breads, pastries, cookies, and other desserts and will definitely meet your sweet tooth cravings.

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Panchita’s Bakery

THE SOUTH PACIFIC COAST 

Mole is the most popular dish from the south pacific coast region of Mexico.  With seven mole varieties, including Negro (black), Amarillo (yellow), Coloradito (little red), Mancha Manteles (table cloth stainer), Chichilo (smoky stew), Rojo (red), and Verde (green), your stomach won’t be able to make a decision on just one mole sauce.  The up-scale El Agave Tequileria has perfected how to offer variety.  Serving nine mole dishes including a majority from the south pacific coast region, and over 2,000 tequilas to accompany each dish, El Agave Tequileria might be where you dine out if you’re craving a chocolatey main dish.

THE SOUTH

Heavily influenced by Mayan culture and the cultures of the Caribbean Islands, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the southern region of Mexico is also a mixture of flavors.  The most popular dish in this region is Conchinita pibil (foods and various meats wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a pit oven).  You can also find fruits in your salsa here and many coastal fish dishes, like coconut flavored fish and lagoon snails.  While in San Diego, check out Oscar’s Mexican Seafood for fresh seafood reminisce of the coast variety from the southern region.  If you haven’t tried Conchinita pibil, El Borrego serves some must-try Conchinita pibil in San Diego as well.

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Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

THE GULF 

The Gulf of Mexico is a mixture of indigenous and Spanish culture.  Popular dishes include a variety of crab, crayfish, and seafood dishes like Huachinango a la Veracruzana (red snapper prepared with light tomato sauce seasoned with bay leaves, onions, capers, olives, and sweet yellow peppers) and pollo encacahuatado (chicken in peanut sauce).  Ortega’s Bistro serves an excellent banana crusted Huachinango (a plantain crusted grilled pacific snapper served with roasted tomoato arbol sauce, seasonal vegetables, and homemade flour tortillas).  Or stop by El Agave Tequileria, which not only serves Huachinango a la Veracruzana, but also a scrumptious Pescado a la Veracruzana (a Chilean sea bass fillet served on a bed of Agave rice with traditional sauce).

CENTRAL MEXICO

Central Mexico is influenced by many foreign countries along with many other regions in Mexico.  Known for its street food, taco stands, and tortas shops, central Mexico has renowned barbacoa, carnitas, mole, and tacos.  In San Diego, El Borrego Restaurant serves a variety of barbacoa, including barbacoa tacos.  Or check out Lucha Libre Taco Shop for an endless selection of tacos.

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Lucha Libre Taco Shop

Of course this list is not all-inclusive.  While in San Diego, don’t forget your passport!  You never know when a spontaneous day-trip down to Mexico to discover the delicacies and dishes for yourself might suit your fancy.

About the Author: Kayla Webb is an English Literature and Creative Writing major at Seattle Pacific University.  After traveling abroad to Spain and Morocco as a freshmen in college, she hasn’t been able to stop dreaming about faraway places and planning a million possible trips around the world.  When she’s not in California, she lives as a blanket burrito in Seattle, creates Instagram captions for the pictures she would take in faraway places, and befriends dogs.

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