Did you know that America’s Finest City is also the birthplace of the California burrito? In fact, burritos in general are an American spin-off of the Mexican culinary technique of rolling ingredients in tortillas. Nobody knows for sure how or when the California burrito came into being in San Diego, but a few of the city’s original taco shops first started adding it to their menus in the early 1990s.
So what’s a California burrito? It starts with a large, soft flour tortilla filled with carne asada, French fries, and cheese. Each taco shop will have a variation of that basic recipe – maybe sour cream, guacamole, or salsa fresca.
The large flour tortillas are an American version of Mexico’s smaller corn and regional wheat flour tortillas. You’ll often see Yelp posters photographing their forearms next to the burrito for scale – they’re that big. The addition of fries to create the California burrito is all San Diego, and it represents the first time fries were available in taco shops. Thanks to the California burrito, you can now get carne asada fries too.
If you asked second generation family-owned taco shop owners like Ricardo Robledo of Roberto’s Mexican Food, or Joaquin Farfan, Jr. of Lolita’s Taco Shop, they’d tell you they’re uncertain who was first, but they’re confident they were among them. One thing they agree on is that the California burrito is the hands-down favorite of Gen Xers and Millennials, whereas Baby Boomers seldom stray from the original carne asada burrito.
We’ve rounded up six of the best restaurants in San Diego to try your first California burrito. While you’d think it’s hard to go wrong wrapping up carne asada, French fries, cheese, and a bit of sour cream in a soft and warm tortilla, these taco shops have set the standard. The California burrito is a must for your San Diego vacation bucket list!
Roberto’s Mexican Food
One of the originals, Roberto’s Mexican Food opened their first taco shop in a suburb of San Diego in 1963. Today, there are five San Diego Roberto’s in an empire of 65 locations. If that doesn’t say good Mexican food, what does? They were definitely one of the first on the scene with California burritos, so this is a solid choice for your first experience. This classic is filled with beef steak, French fries, salsa Mexicana, and cheddar cheese.
7710 Hazard Center Drive, 619-491-0059 (Multiple locations)
Lolita’s Taco Shop
Nothing says ‘merica better than baseball and burritos. More specifically, Padres baseball and California burritos. You’ll find Lolita’s Taco Shop across the street from Petco Park in East Village. Their first taco shop opened in Chula Vista over five decades ago, and was quite possibly the first to popularize the California burrito. They make their carne asada from Black Angus beef, and then add French fries, cheddar cheese, and sour cream, so you know their California burrito is good!
202 Park Boulevard, 619-269-6055 (Multiple locations)
Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop
Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop may not have been one of the first San Diego taco shops, but it quickly became one of the best. They deviated from the classic California burrito to create the Surfin’ California burrito, which landed them on an episode of Man vs. Food, it’s that impressive. They do, however, have their version of the classic California burrito too with your choice of steak, chicken, or pork adobada, jack cheese, fries, sour cream and pico de gallo. You also get the added bonus of the Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) décor.
1810 W Washington Street, 619-296-8226 (Two locations)
Colima’s Mexican Food
Only a taco shop that’s open 24/7 is likely to see a late-night limo in the drive-thru. Colima’s Mexican Food in North Park is that taco shop. The neighborhood is a craft brew hub in San Diego, especially along the 30th Street corridor, so of course there’s no better way to end a lively night on the town than with a California burrito as long as your forearm. Like many a good taco shop, don’t expect to be dazzled by the décor. Save that for the burrito.
2303 University Avenue, 619-297-2715
Taco Surf Taco Shop
Taco Surf Taco Shop is another of San Diego’s veteran taco shops having opened in 1987. Local lore has it that surfers played a role in San Diego’s proliferation of the California burrito with their voracious appetites and a suggestion that fries would be good on a carne asada burrito. Whether that happened or not, Taco Surf Taco Shop would make you think so with owner Sam McLarty’s impressive collection of classic surfboards. A California burrito here starts with carne asada, pollo asado, carnitas, or grilled chicken, and you “build your own” to finish it off.
4657 Mission Boulevard, 858-272-3877
Nico’s Taco Shop
Nico’s Taco Shop is a mere two blocks from one of San Diego’s most popular surf spots in Ocean Beach, so it’s not surprising that the most in-demand item on the menu is the California burrito. In a city where it’s rumored surfers practically invented California burritos, who else would you ask about the “best” but surfers? Thrillest surveyed San Diego surfers for taco shops with the best California burritos in San Diego and Nico’s came out on top. Nico’s was also #2 on The Daily Meal’s “America’s 35 Best Burritos 2015” list. Their California burritos pack carne asada, French fries, cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato inside a soft flour tortilla that is surprisingly not as big as your arm.
4918 Newport Avenue, 619-223-0230 (Multiple locations)
Of course, the “best” can often mean your neighborhood favorite, so if you’re an old pro at comparing California burritos in San Diego, feel free to tell us what your “best” is in the comments below.