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I'm Writing A Taco Book-Need Help In Santa Barbara, Oxnard, San Diego

Note: As per forum moderators' request, I'm posting this for non-LA taco trucks and taquerias. Hi, I'm going to be writing a taco cookbook for Sasquatch Books. Back in July, I saw the call for a taco writer on Bandini's taco blog and pursued it. So here I am, about to embark on the first of probably three legs of taco research. This trip will take the family and I from the Rogue Valley in Oregon (Dec 22 down I-5) to Santa Barbara (Dec 23 cut over at Kettleman City then south, 24,25,26 in SB), LA (1 or two days), Tecate (1 day), Ensenada (1-2 days), then south to Bahia de los Angeles to visit my sister. I think for LA, I'm looking mostly for westside trucks and taquerias. I can enter either thru the PCH (I remember killer tacos in Oxnard in 92, still there?) or the 101. I know I don't have San Diego on there. It's mainly a time issue. But if there is a super-duper must eat place not far off the 5 I will consider.

The book will basically have about 50 taco recipes, from the standard to gourmet, strange to awesome. The goal is to collect recipes that people can recreate in their homes. I am keeping the field wide open and will cull later, so anything is game, even ram testicles! I've been poring over entries here as well as on the taco blogs, websites, etc. I hope this thread isn't too redundant because there are similar threads. But my mission is to collect (and give full credit to the creators) recipes for killer tacos that will knock your socks off. You know, we all have a place that we drool over just thinking about. (Mine is currently al pastor at the El Gallo truck in Medford, Oregon) I want readers to drool over and swoon for the most awesome tacos on the west coast. (It's not specifically a west coast book, but I'll be hitting SF area, Portland and Seattle later).
I want rocking tortillas, fillings, salsas, condiments, a few drinks, a few desserts. All who contribute recipes will be acknowledged in book with address and/or website.

So if anyone can recommmend places on I-5 south of Merced, Santa Maria area, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard, West LA, San Diego, Tecate, Ensenada, (maybe Tijuana on return) and points south, I would be eternally grateful and definitely place you name in the thank you section. I can hardly believe my good fortune at landing this gig. I'm an SF Peninsula taco head since the mid-80's and I'm thrilled to see tacos taking over the world! Please let me know if I need to be more clear on any points. Cheers!

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  1. Seeing how Mama Testas has been pilloried as of late, I'm somewhat hesitant to suggest this, but they have a taco made from nopales, Oaxaca cheese, and an amazing red chile sauce. They're kind of an upscale taco place in Hillcrest (a San Diego neighborhood) that specializes in tacos from all over Mexico.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      Not only does MT have the taco with nopales, but the mashed potato taco in a crunchy shell is about as good as it gets for fried tacos. The beef version of tacos mojados is usually worth the visit alone. And I'd buy the book just to get the Salsa Escalera recipe.

      Am I the only one that finds it ironic that the OP is not spending much time in San Diego, the town that has a taco shop on almost every corner...the town that pays hommage to carne asada in any form. San Diego the bastion of the rolled taco (aka taquito). Come on, this is a town that lives and dies by the taco...

      Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista is a branch of Tacos El Gordo in Tijuana, how could you leave that out. There are plenty of might fine taco stands in Tijuana.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        I agree. Tacos El Gordo is the best damn taco shop in town and also the most authentic. It's great stuff which shouldn't be missed by any taco enthusiast.

      2. re: Josh

        Don't be afraid to recommend MT's--I still think they're good for what they do.

      3. see the taco truck map:http://www.yumtacos.com/

        but how will you get the recipes? most vendors that I know keep their recipes to themselves....

        I'm not sure I understand how a whirlwind trip like this will impart encyclopedic knowledge.

        1. Rather than Tecate, which is okay in itself, I would think that you would visit one of the great street taco cultures in all of Mexico - Tijuana. Just on Calle Taboada Sanchez you're looking at five or six of the best taco stands in the city starting with Tacos El Gordo and the little stands in the open market next to it.

          There's now a Tacos El Yaqui (original in Rosarita Beach) in Tijuana near the cathedral on Calle Segunda which makes God's own taco itself in the Perrone.

          Just to the north of Ensenada proper on the way out of town, one of the best taco stands in northern Baja, El Trailero, makes a huarache that stands as near blissful.

          Tecate's okay, but that drive to Ensenada is a bit of a dangerous road. Make sure you don't drive it at night!!!

          In Santa Barbara every local will tell you to visit Tacos El Rico while the taxi drivers will tell you to visit the one just up the road (sorry, can't remember the name).

          Honestly, Tijuana's the place for street tacos...

          2 Replies
          1. re: deckape

            Be sure to read the recent post about the taco truck in Taft, California. Kind of out of the way, but in the same area, and a great story about its discovery. Written by Toodie Jane.

            1. re: deckape

              I'll second the TJ street taco scene as supreme, and add the simple, incredible tacos de carne asada at Tacos Guanajuato at the end of Avenida Carranza near Av. Arias Bernal (half in the street, half in a storefront).

            2. Do not miss Santa Rosa's Taco Truck scene.
              When you are coming south on the 101 through Sonoma County, take the 12 West exit Direction Sebastopol. Get off on the first exit which is Dutton Ave and go South until you hit Sebastopol Ave. Starting at 6pm you will have anywhere from 4-5 trucks.
              - La Texanita
              - Delicias Elenitas
              - "Papusa & Sopes" Truck "TSR"
              - Mariscos F Magiy
              - El Navegante de Jalisco

              If you are interested in Tamal Carts at all they are in the Morning along the same stretch approx 4 with champurrado and atole or arroz con leche (drink).

              On the Eastern stretch of the 12 just before the town of Sonoma there is a place called El Cactus tacos - they have (or did have) Tacos Mineros - which are special packet steamed tacos of various fillings originating from the Miner lunches of the Silver mines of N Central Mexico. More trucks are also in this area including "Los Magos."

              If you need more information let me know.

              In regards to SD's Taco Truck scene - I have only seen one in Person - which makes the North County circuit - primarily Fallbrook. In Fallbrook is my favorite Taqueria - which makes the most amazing carnitas tacos I have ever had and barbacoa and costillas de puerco en ranchera and chile rellenos.

              Oddest taco had to have been the Oaxacan Taco de Chauplines (grasshopper) with black beans at a place I found in the Swap meet of Escondido. Which is another place you should look into (On the weekends). Cgfan has had tacos here as well. Id be happy to show you around here.

              My suggestion for the best itinery would be Santa Rosa, Oakland, Salinas, & LA.

              I had for lunch today in Temecula- what I consider to be the best fish tacos in CA - at small Chain of restaurants in the greater LA area called El Taco Nazo or Senor Baja. (there was a split in the family). They also have my favorite taco condiment - deep fried and salt and peppered yellow chile gueros.

              Mama Testas absolutely deserves a place in your book. As does El Gordo.

              3 Replies
              1. re: kare_raisu

                KR - do you have name or directions for the Fallbrook taqueria you like?

                1. re: guide boy

                  Las Brisas on Main. they were one of the few places that stayed open to serve people affected by the fires. let me know if youre in the area

              2. Thats funny... I emailed the contact about collaborating with some recipes... never heard back. Congratulations... that sounds like a very fun project. An absolute musts would be a choice between Birriera La Barca's Goat Birria... and Monte Alban's Goat Barbacoa taco.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Hi Eat_Nopal, where are La Barca and Monte Alban located? I have a feeling goat won't make it past the editor but it will make it past my lips. They never contacted you? Bummer. The editor is pretty busy. I had to go thru some pretty stiff screening to get to this point. Though I'm not the best taco guy, I'm a good overall package for pulling off a book.

                  1. re: taco clandestino

                    "I have a feeling goat won't make it past the editor... "

                    That is disappointing.

                2. Taco trucks in Santa Paula too - Highway 126 between Highway 5 (Santa Clarita) and 101 (Ventura) - this is a sleeper of a sleepy little old California town that is keeping its historic look with very nice and colorful restaurations. Taco truck usually parked at intersection of Main and Harvard at the east end of town.

                  1. What's the name of the place in Santa Barbara thet does the eyeball tacos? Jim Leff went there.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Diana

                      Lila's or something like that. And I don't believe it is actually the eyeball, but rather the muscles around the eye. I have been there and other than the novelty of the body parts and the very cheep prices, this is not a stop worth making for the food. It is located at the south end of Chapala Street before it stops for Highway 101, away from the beach section of Chapala Street which is below Highway 101.

                      1. re: glbtrtr

                        Eyeball tacos are rather common... easy to find all around East L.A, Hungtington Park etc.,

                        1. re: glbtrtr

                          Hi there! About the eyeball taco, I've never eaten at Lili's or there. But eyeball tacos in Mexico are made of the eyeball and everything around them. They are my favorite part of Tacos de Cabeza (Head tacos, Mexico City style). I've seen the taqueros getting the whole part and chopping it. It can be gross but they're my favorite!. I know I'm going off topic...sorry!

                        2. re: Diana

                          Lilly's, anytime my kids can't decide where to eat I tease them that we are going to Lilly's to try the eyeball tacos.
                          There was a New York Times article about a taco road trip last year that featured the eyeball tacos.

                          Check out Santa Barbara posts about El Bajio on Milpas Street, my favorite hard tacos.

                          1. re: Diana

                            I am from Santa Barbara it must be LIlly's Taqueria 310 Chapala Street, Santa Barbara. Its the ojo taco which is cow eye.

                          2. I live in SD but I highly recommend fish tacos at TACOS JR in Tijuana or Rosarito, they are to die for.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Josue

                              There is a little beach side fish taco stand down from the San Quintin Baja, La Quinta motel south of of town. It is located in a vacation trailer park but is also about a 20 minute walk down the beach from La Quinta (La Pinta). Yummy.

                            2. Yes, the SD Chowhound bunch can be a little testy, no doubt about it. We've got a major chip on our collective shoulders from constantly feeling slighted vs. LA and SF. Now that I have carefully read your post and the follow up I think I understand what you are looking for. I would also recommend Mama Testa, I think they might be willing to give you some interesting recipes that could be recreated at home, and will be more accessible than some of the smaller places. You might also try Maritza's in Clairemont, famous for their carne asada, and El Porvenir or Tacos el Gordo, as recommended by others.

                              I hope you have a great trip and enjoy your time in San Diego, however brief it may be!

                              1. Hey TC, you should post your RV favorites on the PNW board. It's just Runnin Rob and me these days. I love to hear your favorites. El Gallo is nice.

                                1. Hi,
                                  I live in Santa Barbara and one of the best places to go if not the best (written up in Rolling Stone, also one of the late Julia Child's favorite) is La Suprica on Milpas. They make their own tortillas and I love the taco with mushrooms in it!
                                  Good Luck and happy eating.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: kupkake

                                    Based on my experience... La Super Rica is a 3rd rate taqueria that would have absolutely no chance of staying in business down south. If you are going to drive out of your way just go to Baja... La Super Rica can be very poorly executed.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      La Superica is great. Lots of happy customers here constantly. This place is a gem. Don't know why eatnopal had such a bad experience here because this is both a local favorite and an out of town must see. Viva the #15 Tocino Special.

                                      1. re: glbtrtr

                                        I also had a very below average experience there. I don't know what the big hoopla is for. I guess they may have some really unhealthy things filled with pork fat that some people enjoy.

                                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        I would agree that most of the tacos at LSR are mediocre at best but they do a few items exceedingly well! Their Posole (red) that is a Sunday only special is better than any East L.A. version that I've had. It comes with a freshly fried Tortilla Hecho a Mano and a Salsa Roja that has a good amount of heat and a vinegar tang, my favorite salsa period! This is a world class dish, you must try it! Some of their other specials are good, Tamal de Verduras y Tamal de Calabeza, Chilaquiles are very very good! On the daily menu the #16 La Super Rica Especial (marinated pork, pasilla chilis & cheese) is good for making your own tacos. Horchata is the best that I've tasted anywhere. The dish that is the melted cheese with chorizo is good if you eat it promptly, it cools into a gross clump. Yea, the tacos ARE mediocre!

                                    2. A friendly reminder, Folks, tacos in Ventura or L.A. counties would be discussed on the L.A. board.


                                      1. When do you plan on releasing your book? Do you know what you'll call it?
                                        I live in Escondido, a suburb of San Diego, and my favorite taco dive is Antonio's. The beef taco is the best.

                                        1. Are you skipping the entire Central Valley area?

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: glazebrookgirl

                                            Seriously, we have some amazing tacos here in Merced!

                                            1. re: JannahC

                                              Jannah, would you name a few locations?

                                              1. re: Jim

                                                Dear Taco Clandestino,

                                                About two years ago the New York Times wrote a great essay on taco stands in california.

                                          2. Research Taco el Gordo, they started in TJ, but have 3 San Diego locations.

                                            You should also touch on the Fish Taco, that Ralph Rubio brought to the mainstream. In college we would have to go to Mexico, and Rubios brought them here.

                                            1. 3 Amigos in Half Moon Bay is one of the best.

                                              And skipping the valley? We got a few great trucks here in Sac area and there are good ones all down the valley.

                                              1. Tacos Salceados (aka La Ermita which is its address), Tijuana

                                                It's all good but leave room for the Shrimp and Strawberry Taco. The place is set up so the entertainment is the tacomakers, who work in an area open to the diners. An amazing experience. I was last there a year or so ago. Make sure it's still there. . .

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: pickypicky

                                                  They closed off the 'taco bar' area but they are still def open

                                                  1. re: kare_raisu

                                                    Thank you for update. Is it truly as amazing as I remember it? Maybe without the "entertainment" it wouldn't be so memorable. . .