Grub Guide

Tortilla Triumphs: 35 Knockout San Francisco Tacos
The carnitas taco at Taqueria San Francisco.

Tacos are the original California street food. As such, some of the best ones you’re going to eat in the Bay Area come from trucks, and not even the trucks that roll into your Off the Grids or SoMa Streat Food Park. We’re talking the trucks that park in potholed parking lots in East Oakland where only the hardest of hardcore foodinistas dare go — that is if they don’t live in the neighborhood. That’s not to say we don’t have some pretty awesome tacos in San Francisco proper, both from trucks and from more gringo-friendly, fancy-pants restaurants. We do. But allow us to offer you a checklist of the better examples around the Bay, so you don’t have to waste your time with lesser taquerias, and inferior al pastor.

And when you’re done here, check out the most noteworthy tacos in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.

Related: The 50 Best Burgers in San Francisco

What to Order: Camaron al pastor 235 Church Street; 415-552-5700; (See the Listing) The thing that everyone took note of when this slightly upscaled taqueria debuted in 2009 was the filet mignon tacos, which come with a slab of beef on each. For our money, we’d go for the shrimp tacos with a version of al pastor spice, topped with grilled pineapple.
What to Order: Baja fish tacos 2824 Jones Street; 415-606-9349; (See the Listing) Plucky British ex-pat Suzanne Acevedo knows her way around a fryer, and she runs this endearing fish-and-chips stand out of a trailer near Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll want to try her fish and chips, of course, but equally good are her fish tacos, served on corn tortillas, with cabbage, cilantro, and her version of Baja sauce (a sour cream-mayonnaise mixture with pickled jalapenos, chili, and lime). The batter is a little more fish-and-chips-like and doughier than your quintessential fish taco, but still full of flavor, and we’re fans of that Baja sauce over a basket of chips too.
What to Order: Beer-marinated carne asada tacos 2020 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-926-6300; (See the Website)  The taco fillings change often at this new Berkeley Mexican spot, and chef Matt Gandin (formerly at Delfina) uses the best of seasonal produce in his California-Oaxacan fare. Our favorite are his carne asada tacos, marinated in beer long enough that you can taste the hops through the very steak-like meat, served on house-made tortillas and topped with diced nopales, and chipotle salsa.
What to Order: Any of the tacos 739 Bridgeway, Sausalito; 415-331-7400; (See the Website) TV chef and cookbook author Joanne Weir just opened this place on Sausalito’s main drag this past spring with the help of restaurateur Larry Mindel. Reviews have been mixed for some of the dishes, but most everyone agrees the tacos (and the margaritas) are solid, especially the seared California sea bass pictured here, and the vegetarian option, with wild mushrooms, pickled onions, and queso fresco. Added bonus: Some amazing salsas.
What to Order: Pescado tacos 510 Union Street; 415-395-0939; (See the Listing) Hot damn, these things are hot. The fish tacos at North Beach’s only real Mexican option are not the fried, Baja style you’re used to, but are instead made with chili-rubbed snapper filets (or another market fish) that are quick-seared in oil forming a spicy crust. They’re usually perfectly cooked, topped with house tomatillo salsa and cabbage, and they come with a major chili kick that should bring tears to your eyes.
136 Church Street; 415-621-3428; (See the Listing) What to Order: Al pastor Some of the better pastor in the city can be found at El Castillito on Church (we did not compare it to the other Castillito locations, only one or two of which are related to this one). It’s richly spiced and liberally salted, but not overly saucy. Also pretty good here is the chicken, which unlike most taquerias gets well marinated and seasoned also, and comes out not unlike the pastor.
What to Order: Carnitas 2950 24th Street and 2779 Mission Street; 415-826-4870; (See the Listings) Farolito is really more of a burrito house, but their tacos can be surprisingly good. They make a solid (if salty) carne asada taco, but our favorite is their carnitas, which is tender and rich and almost as good Taqueria San Francisco’s.
What to Order: Al pastor or chicharrones tacos Truck parked at 23rd and Treat Street Local taco hounds know to go a little out of their way for the tacos from this truck, which has been in residence for a number of years just a block off of Taco Central, a.k.a. 24th Street. They make a unique version of the chicharrones taco, braising the pork rinds in a tomato-based sauced before serving them, soft, in the taco. But our favorite was their pastor, which ranks high among the pastors we tasted.
What to Order: Carnitas Truck parked at International Boulevard and 42nd Avenue, Oakland The taco specialists at this truck, which is always parked way up International in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, make a mean and delicious carnitas taco for a mere $1.50. It’s super moist, well seasoned, and just about perfect with a squeeze of lime. Be warned, there’s no seating, and it’s not a block that feels that comfortable to stand outside on for extended periods.
What to Order: Goat tacos, or carnitas Truck typically parked on Bryant Street between 6th and 7th. And here we have the go-to lunch option for everyone on jury duty at the courthouse across the street, but they’re also one of the better taco-truck operators in the city. They make some phenomenal, tender braised-goat tacos, the likes of which you don’t see often enough in these parts. And it doesn’t hurt that they’re salsa verde is great, and their carnitas and chorizo are both worth ordering too.
What to Order: Head straight for the al pastor Truck parked near the intersection of Fruitvale Avenue and San Leandro Street, Oakland. The competition for the best al pastor among the East Oakland trucks is pretty fierce, and while El Novillo’s may not be our hands-down favorite, it is really well spiced, tender, and definitely high on our list.
What to Order: Lengua Two trucks, one at 18th and Harrison, and one at the Best Buy on Division El Tonayense is possibly the most celebrated truck operator in S.F., and they make some of our favorite lengua — it’s super tender, excellently beefy, and superior to carne asada in every way, as it should be. Topped with their excellent salsa verde, it’s a stellar taco. But other people are going to tell you their pastor is awesome too, and they do some stuff you don’t see everywhere like sesos (brains) and beef-neck tacos.
What to Order: Al pastor, all the way Truck parked at International Boulevard and 44th Avenue, Oakland OK. This is it. Our favorite of all the pastor tacos we tried was at this truck. The meat was richly seasoned, redolent of cloves, chiles, and cinnamon, and it was hard not to want to eat a dozen of them. The carnitas here weren’t half bad either, and fried to a nice crispiness around the edges before serving. But man, that’s some pastor.
What to Order: Uncle’s Chicken Curry Tacos Pop-up only, but opening permanently later this year at 2141 Mission Street; (See the Listing) Preeti Mistry’s brick-and-mortar location for her popular Juhu Beach Club pop-up may not be open yet, but hopefully you can try these India-meets-Mexico creations sooner rather than later. It’s well spiced curried chicken topped with pickled red cabbage, raita, and cilantro, and stuffed in a tortilla. What’s not to love?
What to Order: Roast duck tacos Various locations; (See their Twitter) Kung Fu Tacos took the Korean taco trend and went a more Chinese direction with it. They make a variety of options, including mu shu veggies and char siu pork, but the best thing by far is the roast duck, liberally sauced with hoisin and topped with mango salsa. 
2312 Market Street; 415-796-2818; (See the Listing) What to Order: Fish tacos We’re going to assert right here that this underrated little taqueria in the Castro makes the best fish tacos in the city. There. What sets them apart, you ask? They’re battered in a well seasoned cornmeal mixture that, when perfectly fried to a dark crisp, forms a uniquely crunchy yet not-too-thick shell around the fish filets that’s unlike any other fish taco we’ve had. Also, their version of Baja sauce is delicious and acidic, cutting through the fat just so. Run, don’t walk.
What to Order: Al pastor 2884 24th Street; 415-647-1500; (See the Listing) La Palma supplies half the Mission with their fresh tortillas, so naturally it’s the tortillas at this place that are a standout feature — especially the thicker, rough-hewn, handmade ones that cost a little extra on the taco menu. Probably the best of their meats is their spicy, juicy al pastor. Under normal circumstances it might seem overly sauced, but paired with the extra heft of those handmade tortillas, you’ll be glad for the extra liquid, which is all the better for sopping.
What to Order: Carne asada taco with cheese 2889 Mission Street; 415-285-7117; (See the Listing) While not a “classic” taco in the truest sense, authenticity-wise, La Taqueria serves the most classic and quintessential Mission-style taco. It’s an overstuffed behemoth with a double shell (soft and crispy with cheese in between), beans, meat, and salsa, and you only really need to eat one. Meat-wise, the carne asada is pretty decent here, but the meat is almost beside the point in these things. Drunk food at its best.
What to Order: Pulled pork tacos 3600 16th Street at Market/Noe; 415-431-3111; (See the Listing) The bar food at this Castro watering hole is surprisingly good, especially the tacos. More people should know to order them (and the fried-chicken sliders), and we recommend the pulled pork tacos above the others.  Chef Dominique Garcia clearly takes care with what she does in the tiny bar kitchen, and these tacos come topped with pickled onions, chipotle aioli, and crunchy red cabbage.
What to Order: Goat tacos (pictured) or duck-leg “carnitas” 2317 Chestnut Street; 415-346-8494; (See the Listing) The Marina’s go-to gringo-Mexican spot does everything pretty well, and the minty salsa that comes with the chips will be your first clue. They use good meat, like flavorful but not-at-all gamey young goat from Marin Sun Farms on their cabrito tacos — when we had them recently the meat sat atop mashed taro, but the accompaniments change seasonally. And the delicious duck-leg carnitas tacos with avocado and strawberry-chile chutney are a definite must-order, too.
What to Order: Shrimp tacos Trucks parked in the Goodwill parking lot at International and 30th, Oakland. Mi Grullense operates two trucks opposite each other in the same parking lot — owner Enrique Galindo, who hails from El Grullo, Mexico, launched the second truck because the first one got too busy and wait times were getting too long, but the number-two truck began specializing in seafood a few years back. They make an excellent ceviche tostada, but we really loved their simple shrimp tacos, topped with a citrus-y salsa verde and a splash of spicy red salsa too.
What to Order: Any of the tacos Ferry Building and 24 Willie Mays Plaza; 415-399-0814; (See the Listings) Traci Des Jardins’s upscale taqueria concept succeeds on both the flavor and quality fronts, and of the four taco options — Baja fish, carnitas, carne asada, and vegetarian — the carnitas is our favorite. But the others, especially the fish, all stand up to the better taquerias and trucks in town, albeit with better ingredients.
What to Order: “Real” Korean tacos 499 Dolores Street; 415-431-6268; (See the Listing) Offered only on the lunch menu and when they make Ferry Building or food-fest appearances, Namu Gaji’s “real” Korean tacos are, of course, a cheeky play on the Korean-taco trend launched by Kogi in L.A. Korean-American chef Dennis Lee uses delicious braised kalbi short-rib meat, tops it with kimchee “salsa” and kimchee remoulade, and in place of the tortilla he uses a sheet of seaweed for a wrapper. They may not hold together as well as a regular taco, but they’re damned tasty. Photo: Alanna Hale/?Alanna Hale
1500 Broadway and 3115 Fillmore Street; 415-409-8226; (See the Listings here and here) What to Order: Any taco, “Nick’s way” Jonathan Kauffman once called Tacko “the WASPiest taco shop in town,” and that’s an easy enough critique given its dual focus on tacos and Nantucket-style lobster rolls. But owner Nick Fasanella still does a great version of the dual-tortilla’d, Mission-style taco with both soft and hard shells, stuffed with excellent house-made guacamole. [Note: Fasanella is no longer associated with Nick’s Crispy Tacos, however the tacos at all three spots remain pretty similar.]
What to Order: Carnitas 306 Broderick and 1224 9th Avenue; 415-437-0303; (See the Listings) It’s a DIY taco situation with this dish, with hot corn tortillas on the side, but this could be the finest carnitas in town. Co-chefs Gonzalo Guzman and Jose Ramos braise this incredible hunk of pork in beer, orange juice, and cinnamon, and the resulting dish, paired with tasty pickled carrots and salsa, is what carnitas always should be but rarely is. Photo: Alanna Hale/Alanna Hale
What to Order: Carnitas de pato (duck confit) tacos 317 Connecticut Street; 415-695-0147; (See the Listing) Restaurateur Jocelyn Bulow (Chez Maman, Chez Papa) opened this French-i-fied taqueria in Potrero Hill a couple years back and immediately caught some press attention for putting duck confit on a taco. But others have done it, including Michael Mina, and the ones they do here, topped with a little sour cream, are well worth it if you’re in the ‘hood.
What to Order: The ‘Original’ Fish Taco® 5614 Bay Street, Emeryville; 510-420-0450; (See the Website) Yeah, it’s a chain. But seriously, those fish tacos are amazing. Much like In-N-Out had to be on our best burgers list, Rubio’s belongs on here, both for the fish tacos and their perfectly respectable “street tacos.” They may not the best of the best, but they are way up there as far as what we can get here in Northern California. 
What to Order: Fish tacos 3205 Oak Knoll Drive, Redwood City, with other locations in Palo Alto; 650-364-8226; (See the Website) There are also great fish tacos to be had down on the Peninsula, and they’re at this place. What sets these apart is the chunking of the fish, fried in big hunks rather than a single, Baja-style filet. But the batter is good, the fry is correct, and these are more than worth a detour, and pretty enormous, too.
What to Order: Korean BBQ pork taco Various locations; (See their Twitter) Seoul on Wheels was quick to pick up the Korean taco torch up here around the Bay back in 2007, and they’ve been at it ever since. Their bulgogi and chicken tacos are pretty good, but the spicy pork is really where it’s at, topped with sour cream and gochujang.
What to Order: Beef short-rib tacos 741 Valencia Street and 2031 Chestnut Street; 415-626-1344; (See the Listings) The haters who tried to sound alarm bells when this upscale, gringo taqueria expanded from the Marina to the Mission were quickly quelled when they tasted a few of these tacos. Not every filling is created equal, but the short-rib tacos are worth the price of admission in our opinion, as is the delicious, minty salsa and house-made chips. Photo: Alanna Hale/?Alanna Hale
What to Order: Al pastor tacos with avocado 2288 Mission Street, 3211 Mission Street, and 1003 Market Street; 415-864-6773; (See the Listings) The East Bay trucks may beat out Cancun with their al pastor, but without having to leave the city we have been big fans of Cancun’s version for years. It’s chile-spicy and tangy without too much distraction from other spices, and complex without hitting us over the head with the cinnamon. Also, this Mission institution makes great salsa, and serves some of the best tacos (and burritos) around.
What to Order: Especial taco with pastor and shrimp 3036 16th Street; 415-861-3708; (See the Listing) It may be a nightmare if you keep kosher, but Los Coyotes was one of the only spots we found that freely mixes shrimp and meat in an “especial” version of the taco. Pork and shrimp have always been popularly combined in Asian dumplings, and the combo works equally well with some salsa verde and cilantro in a taco.
What to Order: Carnitas taco 2794 24th Street; 415-641-1770; (See the Listing) The place looks like nothing special, not unlike the rest of 24th Street, but within this hole in the wall they make some damn fine carnitas that stands up to the more yupp-ified version you’ll find at Nopalito. It’s chunky, moist, super tender, and is served in generous chunks topped with excellent salsa in a taco that costs two dollars. 
What to Order: Any of the tacos 3033 24th Street; 415-826-8116; (See the Listing) Benu chef Corey Lee has said that Vallarta’s tacos “are just as good as the ones you can find at the mercados in Mexico” and we’d have to agree. Pretty much all the meats are great, and this is where you should go if you want to have your first experience with lengua (tongue) or trippa (tripe) in a taco. They’re served from a grill/steam table set up near the door (pictured), the tortillas are fresh, they’re all $1.50, and there’s a salsa bar for topping them as you see fit.
What to Order: Any of the tacos 1916 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland; 510-986-0151; (See the Website) This is the taqueria offshoot of longtime Temescal upscale Mexican place Doña Tomas, and their tacos are some of the best in Oakland that don’t come from a truck. We’re especially fond of the “vampiro” tacos, which are just al pastor on a fried-cheese tortilla, as well as the well marinated chicken tacos, and the chile verde.
Tortilla Triumphs: 35 Knockout San Francisco Tacos