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Hop the Trolley for a San Diego Taco Tour

Great plates await as you ride the rails to Mexican-food favorites

San Diego is heaven for taco lovers, and taking the San Diego Trolley is an awesome way to indulge in these tortilla-wrapped taste treats. And with an adult day pass costing as little as $6 through the Pronto app, the trolley also offers a low-cost way to see the sights and taste the bites that help make San Diego a unique destination — where every day can be a Taco Trolley day!

If tacos and trolleys are how you roll — or just sound like a great way to spend the day — here’s a sample itinerary to help you add some San Diego taco magic to your travels.

patio of Javiers

STOP 1 – University Town Center

The UTC station, part of the UC San Diego Blue Line Extension that has extended the system from La Jolla to the border, is a great place to launch your taco adventures. The station not only offers easy access to some of the region’s best shopping at the Westfield UTC mall, but it’s also home to Javier’s, the upscale Mexican restaurant that showcases exquisite cross-border cuisine and one of the largest selections of fine tequilas on the West Coast. Along with its sumptuous seafood and grill specialties, Javier’s features a suite of gourmet tacos from camaron to carne, plus a full dozen varieties of margaritas.

a plate of two tacos and a side of rice and beans

STOP 2 – Old Town

A quick ride south from UTC brings you to the Old Town Trolley Station, gateway to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park — and to something approaching taco nirvana. Start at Cafe Coyote, an Old Town favorite whose specialties include margarita tacos piled with sautéed shrimp, cabbage, salsa fresca and jalapeno white sauce. Or head over to the two great restaurants at the convivial Casa Guadalajara and check out this venerable restaurant’s creative taco takes, from crispy shrimp and mango to “The Best No Fish Tacos,” made with seasoned zucchini. Be sure to visit the Old Town Urban Market, an outdoor dining and entertainment center that’s home to a pair of taco purveyors: Flor’s Farm to Table, whose menu includes crunchy potato tacos with cabbage/cilantro mis and spicy pickled onions; and Elote, with its numerous filling and topping choices (including the namesake Mexican grilled corn). Finally, there’s Tahona Bar, whose amazing array of mezcals, tequilas and cocktails are matched by impressive taco options ranging from creative vegetarian (the Taco Green Goodness) to carnivorously adventurous (chicken & rabbit al pastor, anyone?).

interior of lucha libre restaurant

STOP 3 – Washington Street

The very next trolley station is the Washington Street stop, where just up the hill sits Lucha Libre Taco Shop. The restaurant’s décor is inspired by the bright colors and distinctive masks of Mexican wrestling. And the menu features such dishes as the “Surfin’ California” taco (with steak, shrimp, fries, pico, cheese, avocado and “secret" chipotle sauce), and the birria quesa taco, with beef birria, melted cheese, onions, cilantro and salsa muerta. Call ahead to reserve the “Champ’s Booth,” a gloriously gaudy gold-vinyl booth complete with its own special menu.

a plate that has one taco with macaroni and meat on it

STOP 4 – County Center/Little Italy

A couple of stops south on the Blue Line is the County Center/Little Italy station. Hop off and take a quick walk to the bustling Little Italy Food Hall, just off the landmark Piazza della Famiglia. Among the half-dozen food purveyors here is the must-try Not Not Tacos, run by celebrity chef Sam "The Cooking Guy” Zien. This eatery’s wildly inventive lineup of tacos includes such entries as Korean Short Rib, Izzy’s Pastrami and the Smokey Pork + Mac. Then, if you’ve got a little room left, venture over to King and Queen Cantina, a hip, art-filled place that sits right in the heart of lively Little Italy. Its eclectic menu features all kinds of specialty tacos — some with an Asian twist, such as the Korean tacos (roasted pork belly with chile soy sauce, chopped mango and more). Or try Mr. Tempo’s Favorite: Grilled tacos with beans, queso and asada, topped with pickled onions and other delicacies. 

a plate of 5 small tacos with a slice of lime in the center

STOP 5 – Santa Fe Depot (and transfer to Green Line)

One stop down is the historic Santa Fe Depot, a Spanish Colonial Revival landmark opened in 1915. Catch a transfer here to the Green Line for a quick trip to the Seaport Village station. A short walk from there is the picturesque Old Police Headquarters, which houses Puesto at the Headquarters. The restaurant chain, which started in San Diego, takes an innovative and contemporary approach to authentic Mexican cuisine. Puesto sources its ingredients locally and regionally for its Mexico City-inspired tacos. The filet mignon taco is a standout, prepared with a handmade blue-corn tortilla, Puesto’s signature crispy melted cheese, avocado and spicy pistachio serrano salsa. For vegetarians, the Verduras taco is also a great pick, with crispy melted cheese, rajas, tatume squash, papas, corn and tomato, nopales, avocado, jalapeño and zucchini.

interior of blind burro restaurant

STOP 6 – Gaslamp Quarter

Two stops away on the Green Line, trolley riders will find themselves in the heart of the action at the Gaslamp Quarter station. This historic downtown neighborhood is known for its eclectic and electric night life — and for serving as a gateway to Petco Park, the stunning home of the San Diego Padres. If you attend a game there, you’ll discover multiple taco options among the generous food offerings — including the delicious, shrimp-centric Track Taco at Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill. Just steps away from Petco is The Blind Burro, whose taco offerings include coffee-rubbed salmon, cilantro-lime grilled shrimp and vegetarian crispy spiced cauliflower. An even closer option — in fact, practically next to the trolley station — is Baja Rick’s Cantina, which will tempt your taco-seeking taste buds with such specialties as butter poached lobster tacos, piled with sautéed lobster, angel hair cabbage, fire roasted corn, pico de gallo and “boom boom sauce.”

interior of blind burro restaurant

STOP 7 – 12th and Imperial (and transfer back to the Blue Line)

One stop away from the Gaslamp is the 12th & Imperial station, which reconnects with the Blue Line. And a short ride on the Blue Line will transport taco lovers to historic Barrio Logan, officially designated a California Cultural District. Just past Chicano Park, which features more than 80 murals detailing the struggles and beauty of the Mexican-American community, is ¡SALUD! on Logan Avenue. Featured on the Travel Channel, the former taco truck is known for its authentic tacos, tattoo-inspired wall art and pinstriped car hoods. The restaurant’s menu pays homage to the street food of Northern Mexico with its own Chicano flair. The carne asada taco or “classic street taco” is a rite of passage here, with marinated steak on a handmade corn tortilla, topped with guacamole, onions and cilantro. And no visit to the neighborhood is complete without a pilgrimage to Las Cuatro Milpas, a Barrio Logan institution; nothing fancy here, just simple tacos (regular or rolled) with a matchless homemade flavor.

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