HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >


Taco Shops are the signature cuisine of Southern California.

  • 5

Hear that? It's the sound of a gauntlet hitting the table, splashing fat from the roast and spilt mead.

I believe taco shops (especially drive-thru ((which is an accepted spelling))) are as naturally evolving cuisine as those historic foods of different regions worldwide.

Obviously, it borrows from our *amigos sud* as it's basis, but as argued elsewhere in this board, has few roots to authentic Mexico. It's border food, and that means both sides.

The cuisine evolved from a framework of very specific demands. It has to be produced quickly and cheaply, without the scale of operations offered to major fast food chains. It has to be cooked by employees not regaled for their creative ideas, but for their mad skilz in fast delivery.

It's my belief the popularity of the burrito is based similarly to the sandwich- all nutritional value in the palm of one's hand. And cheap.

The overwhelming majority of taco shop clientele care little for premium ingredients, in fact, many prefer the cheapest possible, including fried potatoes. If guacamole is on offer, it is expected to be thinned, runny and clearly full of ingredients other than those in a quality product. The food needed to be spicy for the Mexican palate from which it was derived, but that level of spice and heat has now become common enough that it's changed America's perception of seasonings. Witness the bottle of Siracha on many tables in town- especially diners. While Siracha is marketed witht he implication that it's Asian in origin, it was actually made in Los Angeles. But Americans, even in diners, now crave that level of heat. Certainly (anticipating contretemps from my fellow 'hounds) there have been plenty of other regions, specifically Cajun, that have offered "hot" food.

Thus, my premise. The limitations naturally distill into the taco shop cuisine. The tail wagged the dog into a new genre of food- think about it. How many taco shops were around 100 years ago? Even 50 years? Taco shops are truly cuisine moderne.

When I travel for any period, I enjoy returning to my favorite drive-thrus for my comfort food, and I have no latin in my background. Look at the posts on this board from those craving tortillas after decamping San Diego for cities that offer much better choices in fine dining.

I offer you, fellow 'hounds:

Taco shops are the singularly authentic regional food of Southern California, and Northern Baja.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. In some ways true, but remember that San Diego taco shops differ from those in LA and Orange County. The taco shop isn't a Southern California thing, its a San Diego thing, akin to the pizzeria in New York and the cheese steak joint in Philly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jmtreg

      I respectfully disagree- while popular in San DIego, T.J. had them and LA. So while my heart is in San Diego, I can't claim it as local.

      Another thought- the proliferation of the taco shop was, like McD and others, driven by the automobile.

      Yes, that was a pun.

    2. Yet, ironically, the burrito is the signature item at a taco shop. There is black math involved somewhere.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        I always thought it was tacos "rollados" with the guac blop on top.

        1. re: Josh

          Yes, but remember, our "burrito" has tacoish elements, like "no rice!!!" (save for seafood burritos, I guess). The burraco? Turrito? Tacito?