This story is eleventh in a series. Zach will be posting a new story on Mexican food in San Diego every Thursday until he leaves Southern California for the San Francisco Bay, where he will continue to write and edit for The Eaten Path.
You’d think I would have gotten sick of tacos by now.
You’d be making a really stupid assumptions. Come on now. I live in San Diego, the suburban carniceria, and I’ve yet to scratch the surface of what this city has to offer in foldable tortilla fare.
Despite my inexperience, I’ve already begun comparing the taco shops I’ve visited, wondering which tacos are the best in San Diego. In other words, I’m making some pretty stupid assumptions myself, disregarding thousands of worthy taquerias from Tijuana to Oceanside in my mental awards ceremony. Ranking restaurants is already a pretty futile practice, and crowning the king of tacos in San Diego is that much more difficult. Each shop does some types of carne better than others, and all of them suffer from the invariable variable of inconsistency.
In other words, you probably shouldn’t listen to me when I emphatically insist that the best tacos in San Diego can be found at Tacos El Gordo.
I’m telling no secrets. Tacos El Gordo is already the talk of taco town, which is troubling, since I’ve been told that (1) the Tacos El Gordo establishments in Tijuana are much better than those in San Diego and (2) there are much better tacos in Tijuana than Tacos El Gordo. That’s another story, about chain restaurants from south of the border and people giving a little too much credit to an invisible line in the ground.
Mexico aside, the reasons behind Tacos El Gordo’s S.D. supremacy are clear to me, and they start with how these places are run. Functionality comes first. You order your tacos at stations; one person mans the stews, another mans the al pastor, and another the grill. They efficiently hand over your tacos, which you gather on a tray to bring to the cashier. Sure, it’s an impersonal process and the interiors of these taquerias look like they were converted from McDonald’s, but the tacos themselves don’t suffer, and neither does your tummy.
Of course, it all begins and ends with the adobada taco, and Tacos El Gordo’s tacos de adobada are challenged by only El Paisa’s. They are also a perfect example of the taqueria inconsistences that even this place must succumb to, evidenced by the photos above. These pictures were taken on different days and they feature different types of slices from different sections of the porkily inverted cone.
Still, Tacos El Gordo optimizes. In both cases, the pork was tasty, rich, spicy and tender, but these tacos don’t depend entirely on how good the meat tasted that hour of that day. This may sound like a put down for a carne-based business, but after trying a couple of those tacos, overloaded in a mix of cilantro and two salsas chosen specifically for adobada, you’ll know why S.D.’s usual flare for simpler comida Mexicana is so forgivably absent.
Tacos El Gordo serves the tacos with the sauce unless you specify otherwise. I let them, because if left to my own devices, I tend to gravitate to any salsa colored verde, even if it isn’t the best sauce for the job.
But even I could have told you that carne asada should be served with guacamole, the law of Tijuana. Unfortunately in this case, it might be one of the reasons that the asada tacos are some of my least favorites at Tacos El Gordo. While the other salsitas are delicious, the guacamole is lacking and hardly takes up the slack when the asada’s been sitting out too long.
A taqueria says something when its carne asada highlights the bottom tier of taco options. It’s a case of having had better tacos de asada elsewhere, which is also why I’m not the biggest fan of Tacos El Gordo’s taco de tripa. They’re served with some nice, tangy orange sauce and they’re quite tasty themselves, but they’re outdone by the tripa tacos at La Fachada.
I also prefer La Fachada’s cabeza tacos, but that shouldn’t take anything away from El Gordo’s sultry second prize winners. Nor should the suadero’s similarities to cabeza at El Gordo suggest that the suadero tacos aren’t worthy, because they are perhaps my favorite here. Soft, flaky beef shoulder, just like the offal, is stewed for hours, and suadero truly shines when it’s in stew form.
That isn’t to say that Tacos El Gordo’s suadero taco is the best taco in San Diego. I’d never visit Chula Vista or National City without ordering at least one adobada taco, and I can’t imagine myself walking into a taco shop without cabeza on my mind. Tacos El Gordo serves the best tacos in San Diego because an order of tacos rarely involves a number less than three, and variety is the picante of life. The taco de suadero is just one more quality choice, and Tacos El Gordo has more kinds of carne-based amazing than anywhere else.
Tacos El Gordo
689 H St.
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Zach’s San Diego Countdown
Week 1 – Super Cocina
Week 2 – Los ‘Bertos
Week 3 – El Tio Alberto
Week 4 – Ranas Mexico City Cuisine
Week 5 – La Fachada
Week 6 – Aqui es Texcoco
Week 7 – La Playa Taco Shop
Week 8 – Las Cuatros Milpas
Week 9 – Tacos El Paisa
Week 10 – Tacos Yaqui
Week 11 – Tacos El Gordo
Week 12 – Mariscos El Pescador
Week 13 – Rudy’s Taco Shop