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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 LA
End:Tacos El Gordo - Chula Vista
2 - 3Days,11Stops,242Miles
Cielito Lindo - East LA
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 LA

E-23 Olvera St, Los Angeles

For nearly 100 years, the humble taco has captured America’s hearts and many historians trace its Californian roots to Cielito Lindo in East Los Angeles. This tiny stall, which opens at 9 am, has been serving rolled tacos smothered in avocado sauce since 1934. Not much has changed since Aurora Guerrero introduced the flavours 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 on a tram each morning. But the owners (Guerrero's descendants) and the flavours (muy auténtico) remain the same.

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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 straight 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 travelling to and from Los Angeles. As Tito’s catchy jingle boasts, 'The only thing better than a Tito’s taco is two'.

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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. Visit the complimentary salsa bar to pile your tortilla high with tempting flavours such as pickled carrots, fresh coriander, onions and lime. Settle in with an ice-cold tamarind soda or a Michelada served with a spiced and salted rim. Feeling extra hungry? Order the carne asada fries.

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SPOTLIGHT

South Coast Collection

3303 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa

South Coast Collection (aka 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 semi-finalist Carlos Salgado serves inspired gems such as sturgeon with spring onion aioli, cabbage and grapes. His commitment to perfection runs deep; he even produces the masa (the dough) in house from heirloom maize grown in Mexico. To enjoy a wider breadth of Salgado’s talents, reserve a table for the prix fixe dinner where four inventive savoury 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.

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Stop 6

Original Taco Bell - Irvine

Irvine

Irvine is home to the headquarters of the one and only, Taco Bell. Gaze in wonder at the glass walls behind which dishes such as, the Wild Naked Chicken Chalupa were invented. Taco Bell periodically opens up its 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 closure in 2015.

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    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 specialities taste even better together. At Miramar Fish Tacos and Beer in Oceanside, wash down your Baja-style meal with a local cerveza. The small parade of shops 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 prawns, 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, and covered in the glorious green stuff—are a Southern California staple. The patio at Del Mar's 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 minced beef filled delights, go and work off your meal with a walk 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 neighbourhood or one of the two outposts in North Park and Carlsbad (about 35 miles north of the city centre). 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 full of 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 dishes 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 flavourful tripe or the savoury lengua (beef tongue). All tacos are finished with dynamite salsas made from scratch daily and bright garnishes like chargrilled spring onions and tangy jalapeños.

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    Road Trip Snapshot

    Find out 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 LA
    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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