Ryan Donnell

Southern California Taco Tour

Enjoy the tastiest tacos SoCal has to offer on this two-day journey from Los Angeles to just north of the border

Start:Cielito Lindo - East L.A.
End:Tacos El Gordo - Chula Vista
2 - 3Days,11Stops,242Miles
Cielito Lindo - East L.A.
Carlosrojas20/Getty Images
Tito's Tacos - Culver City
José Mandojana
El Torazo Mexican Food - Long Beach
José Mandojana
South Coast Collection
Pascal Shirley
Taco Maria - Costa Mesa
Courtesy of Anne Watson/Taco Maria
Original Taco Bell - Irvine
Ahirao Photo/Getty Images
The Inn at Laguna Beach
Pascal Shirley
Miramar Fish Tacos - Oceanside
Grandriver/Getty Images
Roberto's Mexican Food - Del Mar
Natasha Breen/Getty Images
Lucha Libre - San Diego
Waitforlight/Getty Images
Tacos El Gordo - Chula Vista
Claudia Totir/Getty Images
Stop 1

Cielito Lindo - East L.A.

E-23 Olvera St, Los Angeles

For nearly 100 years, the humble taco has captured America’s hearts—and many historians trace its California roots to Cielito Lindo in East Los Angeles. This tiny stand, which opens at 9 a.m., has been serving rolled tacos smothered in avocado sauce since 1934. Not much has changed since Aurora Guerrero introduced the flavors of her native Zacatecas to Olvera Street. The shop now has running water—for years the family cooked at home and carried the tortillas in by trolley each morning. But the ownership (Guerrero's descendants) and the flavors (muy auténtico) remain the same.

Stop 2

Tito's Tacos - Culver City

11222 Washington Pl, Culver City

This Culver City institution serves mid-century, Cali-Mex vibes right down to the iceberg lettuce. Forget everything you may have heard about hard-shelled tacos; Tito’s version will make you a crunchy convert. Skip the tamales and burritos and go right for the namesake topped with shreds of orange cheese and served with a large cup of red salsa. The restaurant’s proximity to LAX makes it a first stop/last stop for many die-hard fans traveling to and from Los Angeles. As Tito’s catchy jingle boasts, “The only thing better than a Tito’s taco is two.”

Stop 3

El Torazo Mexican Food - Long Beach

2801 E 10th St, Long Beach

Taste the classics at the family-run El Torazo Mexican Food in Long Beach. For a mere $1.99, hungry diners can choose their own meat—chorizo, barbacoa, or pollo—to fill the aptly named Mexican Taco. Hit up the complimentary salsa bar to pile your tortilla high with bright flavors like pickled carrots, fresh cilantro, onions, and lime. Settle in with an ice-cold tamarind soda or a Michelada served with a spiced and salted rim. Extra room? Order the carne asada fries.

Plan your visit

SPOTLIGHT

South Coast Collection

3303 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa

South Coast Collection (a.k.a. SOCO Costa Mesa) defines the ultimate design and culinary experience in Orange County. SOCO is home to more than 70 curated restaurants, showrooms, and stores sure to inspire decorators, designers, chefs, and creative minds. Within this Costa Mesa retail destination, you'll find a group of shops called The OC MIX, one of the most acclaimed shopping and food halls in Southern California.

Stop 5

Taco Maria - Costa Mesa

3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa

Among the high-end boutiques of Costa Mesa’s South Coast Collection, diners can experience the taco’s easy transition from fast food to haute cuisine. At Taco María, three-time James Beard semifinalist Carlos Salgado serves inspired gems like sturgeon with scallion aioli, cabbage, and grapes. His commitment to perfection runs deep; he even processes masa in house from heirloom corn grown in Mexico. To enjoy a wider breadth of Salgado’s talents, reserve a table for the prix-fixe dinner where four inventive savory courses are served with an optional wine pairing. It was this meal that inspired the late-great Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold to name Taco María his 2018 Restaurant of the Year.

Stop 6

Original Taco Bell - Irvine

Irvine

Irvine is home to the headquarters of the one, the only, Taco Bell. Gaze in wonder at the glass walls behind which such dishes as the Wild Naked Chicken Chalupa were invented. Taco Bell periodically opens up his headquarters for private tours and even dinners at its test kitchen, but since these insider opportunities are few and far between, it’s best to call ahead. That said, anyone driving by can take a selfie in front of the original Taco Bell restaurant, which the company transported 45 miles to this location after its closing in 2015.

Plan your visit

Stop 8

Miramar Fish Tacos - Oceanside

41 Douglas Dr, Oceanside

San Diego is most famous for two tasty treats: Crunchy, battered fish tacos and world-class beer. The county has more microbreweries than any other in the United States. It’s no surprise that these two SoCal specialties taste even better together. At Miramar Fish Tacos and Beer in Oceanside, wash down your Baja-style meal with a local cerveza. The strip mall location might not be much to look at, but the humble exterior belies the delicious oasis within. Don’t miss the zingy ceviche, made fresh each morning, and the fried rock shrimp, smothered in a tangy hot sauce.

Stop 9

Roberto's Mexican Food - Del Mar

3704, 2206 Carmel Valley Rd, Del Mar

Rolled tacos with guacamole—crispy, a bit greasy, covered in the glorious green stuff—are a Southern California staple. The patio at the Del Mar Roberto’s Mexican Food is the perfect place to try this treat. Roberto’s legacy began in 1964 when Roberto Robledo’s family started a tortilla business. The base was so tasty, locals asked for the works, and the rest is San Diego history. If you’ve had one too many ground-beef-filled delights, go work off your meal with a hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve just a few miles away.

Stop 10

Lucha Libre - San Diego

1810 W Washington St, San Diego

Enjoy punchy personality at the flagship Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood, or one of the two outposts in North Park and Carlsbad (about 35 miles north of downtown). No matter which Lucha you choose, you’ll be in for an aesthetically overwhelming and tasty treat. In the spirit of Mexican “free fighting,” the walls are painted in neons and metallics and the menu is cheeky with wrestling-themed dishes. Think Undefeated Seafood Taco (blackened mahi or shrimp) or Knockout Fries (topped with chicken or steak, bacon, melted cheese, and more). Snag the Champion’s Booth, complete with bright gold upholstery and velvet ropes, and don’t forget your Mexican wrestling mask. You’ll get a discount for wearing it while you order.

Stop 11

Tacos El Gordo - Chula Vista

3265 Palm Ave, San Diego

At Tacos El Gordo, try authentic eats close to the Mexican border (there are three California locations in south San Diego County, including two in Chula Vista). The adobada (spicy pork) is a life-changer, but with El Gordo’s commitment to fresh meats and perfectly balanced tacos, why not push your tastebuds’ comfort zone? Try the creamy pork stomach, the densely flavorful tripe, or the savory lengua (beef tongue). All tacos are finished with dynamite salsas made from scratch daily and bright garnishes like char-grilled scallions and tangy jalapeños.

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Road Trip Snapshot

Learn more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

STOP 1Cielito Lindo - East L.A.
E-23 Olvera St, Los Angeles
STOP 2Tito's Tacos - Culver City
11222 Washington Pl, Culver City
STOP 3El Torazo Mexican Food - Long Beach
2801 E 10th St, Long Beach
STOP 5Taco Maria - Costa Mesa
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa
STOP 6Original Taco Bell - Irvine
Irvine
STOP 8Miramar Fish Tacos - Oceanside
41 Douglas Dr, Oceanside
STOP 9Roberto's Mexican Food - Del Mar
3704, 2206 Carmel Valley Rd, Del Mar
STOP 10Lucha Libre - San Diego
1810 W Washington St, San Diego
STOP 11Tacos El Gordo - Chula Vista
3265 Palm Ave, San Diego

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