I haven’t counted lately, but there are probably well over 150 taquerias listed on my TACO PAGE and that is a LOT of information for all but the die-hard taco-freaks. I get emails, texts, DM’s almost daily, “HELP I’M IN _________ WHERE’S THE BEST TACOS??” Everyone wants a short-list. I’ve never made a TOP-10 or Top-ANYTHING taco list–my good friends KNOW where my loyalties lie–but this question comes up so often, I thought I might ATTEMPT condense the list into manageable chunks town-to-town, roughly South-to-North across the core of the Central Coast, up through the 101, with some meanderings over on the 1.
LILLY’S TACOS I’m making Lilly’s number one of the plethora in Santa Barbara because it is easy-to-find, consistent and VERY GOOD. Lots of seating, excellent salsas, fast service… all that. No, I’ve never had a good taco on Milpas Street. Burritos… ceviche… Julia Child… sure, but not tacos. Yes, I feel your glare. Go to that place if you like, but don’t expect real tacos. However, I am going to add another for the more adventurous:
MI FIESTA MARKET 4 in the back of a tiny grocería on Haley up almost to Milpas. Not gringo-friendly, awkward seating, limited English and menu. Worth it.
TACOS EL TIZON of course. True rotisserie al pastor and a blistering range of salsas.
No, I’m not even going to give you a runner-up in this town. Florianos is bullshit for the rice-n-beans burrito crowd.
ANGELES DE PUEBLA is my current favorite in this ever-changing section of town–anything, say… below the Inn I call “south”. Real rotisserie al pastor and the only down-side is it is a sit-down restaurant, which usually spells doom for decent tacos. But go with it and you will be blown away. Runner up? Ohhh boy. Probably have to go with:
VALLARTA SUPERMARKET because believe it or not, the tacos they crank out at these supermarkets are really REALLY good.
With Romo’s taking a massive recent dive into horribleness, I do not currently have a recommendation for good tacos in Guadalupe. This town has always been a fairly-fluid patchwork of taquerias, so–just like little places like Chualar or Gonzales up north–pop into someplace new and there’s a good chance you will not be disappointed.
EL OAXAQUENO has to win the toss right now in this area just PACKED with taquerias–every corner, every street, tucked down in neighborhoods, at the back of every store, I’ll bet there 40 taquerias in North SM and I have eaten at all of them. And, you’re gonna want a backup, which is going to be hard because there are so many almost equal. How about:
LAS BRISAS somewhat anchors the taco-scene on West Main in Santa Maria. Big, open, great salsa, true rotisserie al pastor and tacos ALWAYS over-stuffed (order one less than you normally would), OK, one more for the adventurous:
MERCADO Y CARNICERIA SU MESA way over in the dirt-lot and tractor-land of Blosser and West Main, where white people are as rare as current tags and there is an eatery LITERALLY every other door. Buckle-up, buttercup. Mercado is worth it.
A couple places in old-town have closed in the past few years, leaving a huge gap in all things “tacos” in Nipomo. LA PLACITA MARKET over on the far East side is all that is left worth eating.
LA TAPATIA absolute no brainer, no contest, do not pass Go, end of conversation. THE best tacos anywhere on the central coast and no, the al pastor is not actual rotisserie–they are the marinated style–but OHHHH MAN. This is the one down at the corner of Hwy 1 proper, not the one on 13th Street. And no, you are not getting an Oceano back-up: Don’t even talk to me about Chacho’s and Efren’s. They are far, far, FAR distant seconds catering to people who order quesadillas and nachos.
TAQUERIA GUERRERO does a decent job. Good quality, consistent, great salsas, easy location. There are no other tacos worth eating in Grover City.
There are no tacos worth eating in Arroyo Grande.
There are no tacos worth eating in Pismo Beach. I mean–if you’re just absolutely DESPERATE, EL MIRADOR will do in a pinch down on the tourist strip next to Pancho’s Surf Shop. They’ve been there for decades, the people-watching from the front 2 tables is SPECTACULAR and the tacos aren’t *horrible*. You will not find al pastor on the pictures-for-tourists menu. They call it “Marinated Pork”.
There are no tacos worth eating in Avila Beach.
SAN LUIS OBISPO:
There are no tacos worth eating in San Luis Obispo. OH WAIT!!! That recently changed!!!
TACOS EL TIZON now reigns supreme in what has long been the biggest waste-land of appropriate tacos on the Central Coast.
Also, the new SANTA CRUZ EXPRESS is actual rotisserie al pastor and quite good. This is NOT the Taqueria Santa Cruz on Monterey Street. COMPLETELY different food, for some reason–and not recommended for purists.
There are no tacos worth eating in Los Osos. OK, I suppose LOS OSOS MEXICAN MARKET can get a mention because there ARE 5 or 6 places to get tacos in town and if you are way out there in the middle of nowhere, it wins by default.
MORRO DELI inside the Sinclair gas station is literally the only thing even vaguely palatable in this town of at least 8 or 9 Mexican spots. And there are some BAD ones out there.
TAQUERIA DON JOSE has to get the nod in a vast field of mediocrity. Easily stands out among Atascadero’s plentiful also-rans. Second choice? Oh boy. It gets pretty sad after Don Jose.
GARCIA’S MEXICAN is good, but it reminds me of Chacho’s in Oceano: full of white people all the time and the restaurant clearly caters to their palate. Salsas are dumb. They WILL put guacamole on your tacos unless you remember to tell them not to.
LA REYNA MARKET hands down easy choice. Yes, there are a lot of taco-joints in Paso. Yes, you will hear several trotted out every time white-dude wants to talk about tacos. Don’t be fooled. I’d rather eat my shorts than Los Robles Cafe again, and Orale suffers from demographic. Need a back-up in Paso:
JALAPENO CITY is a far far cry from La Reyna, but it’s not HORRID.
CAYUCOS GAS MINI MART DELI The gas station, duh. If you know, you know. No explanation necessary. And now everybody knows. And no! Ruddell’s and the Temple are not on this list! That is not accidental.
There are no tacos worth eating in Cambria. OK, so if you are all the way up in Cambria and just HAVE to have tacos, you can play Are-They-Open-Roulette with BONI’S TACOS just be sure and take cash. No indoor seating. I’d sooner drive back to Cayucos, honestly.
You’re going to have to stick to downtown–yes, the old part over on the east side. RESTAURANTE EL SINALOENSE is a colorful, crowded little spot and the tacos are GOOD. They come with a little smear of beans in them under the al pastor, just like some hardcore Oaxacan places.
LOS GRULLENSES Big place, busy, lots of seating, practically UNDER the 101 and 99% of the queries I get for Salinas is from travelers-thru. OK, but there’s another barely a block away:
RESTAURANTE EL OAXAQUENO for the more adventurous, not very gringo-friendly, seating is rough, literally NO English spoken, and it gets a little rowdy during fútbol. They make their own sauce in a squeeze-bottle: ONLY USE ONE DROP.
There’s 200 miles of tacos. Obviously, there are a few more in this area–and I’ve been to most of them. This is just a hot-list of the majors and the FULL TAQUERIA LIST can always be referenced.
I don’t wanna taco bout it anymore. And before you comment “OMG HAVE YOU BEEN TO_________?” go to THE FULL TAQUERIA LIST and see if it is there. Because yes, I’ve been there. If your favorite taqueria is somehow miraculously NOT on that list, I’d LOVE to hear about it.