14 great Bay Area taquerias, taco trucks to try right now

14 great Bay Area taquerias, taco trucks to try right now

April 25, 2022 Off By iwano@_84

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There isn’t enough space on the internet (and definitely not on our printed pages) to do justice to all the great tacos around the Bay Area, from Concord’s Taco Trail and Oakland’s International Boulevard to longtime taco capitals San Jose and Redwood City, with its high per-capita rate of taquerias.

So we reached out to some experts for recommendations beyond our personal faves. One discussion, with Darlene Tenes, foodie and founder of a Latino lifestyle brand, CasaQ, resulted in so many suggestions from her followers that she has launched a Taco Crew to spend a couple of months eating and determining the best San Jose taco. We’ll report on their findings this summer. In the meantime, here are 14 terrific Bay Area taco spots, from traditional favorites to hot new food trucks and taqueria windows, to try out.

Octopus and house-made chorizo on a scratch-made blue corn tortilla at Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine in San Jose. (Courtesy of Jesus Varguez) 

Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine, San Jose

Co-owners Jesus Varguez and Cenobio Mendoza launched this one-of-a-kind food truck back in September — and it’s blowing up. Chef Varguez, who previously worked at Alexander’s Steakhouse, delves into his Mayan roots with dishes like al pastor “yucateco,” made with recado negro, a dark chile from Mexico’s Yucatan, and finishes the dish with epazote oil and pineapple. Organic tortillas are made from scratch through nixtamalization, the process of soaking corn and grinding it into masa. You’ll find them stuffed with housemade chorizo, octopus, mushrooms and huitlacoche — all tasty, eye-opening food. Opens at 11 am. weekdays at 80 Descanso Drive. Find weekend info and brewery pop-ups at www.instagram.com/prehispanicmxcuisine.

Habibi’s Birria tacos come with a rich, mahogany consomme. (Jessica Yadegaran/Bay Area News Group) 

Habibi’s Birria, Hayward

Tucked into a Grand Petroleum gas station, this Mexi-terranean halal eatery serves its slow-cooked beef birria tacos with sides like tabbouleh and babaganoush. The tacos — 3 for $10 (quesabirra, 3 for $12) — come with a rich mahogany consommé flecked with onions and chiles, perfect for dipping or even slurping with a spoon. Don’t miss the assertive orange sauce made with dried chile de arbol. Habibi’s opened about a year and a half ago, with a second Hayward location already four months old. Take it to go or eat at tables set atop artificial turf. Open from 10 a.m. daily at 138 Jackson St. and 26005 Eden Landing, both in Hayward; www.instagram.com/habibis_birria.

Tacos Los Gemelos, Redwood City

Supple, handmade corn tortillas are a big draw here. The minute you place your order, the cooks slap them on the grill to warm them and give them a bit of char. Make sure to try at least one street taco filled with barbacoa — the shop’s bestseller — and leave off the salsa and lime (trust us on this) until you take a couple of bites. The shredded beef, flavorful and juicy, stands on its own. Soft, tender lengua is another fine choice. These are single-tortilla tacos ($2.75 each), so they are best eaten onsite while they’re hot. The Vargas family, which started making tacos outside their apartment more than 20 years ago, has owned this storefront, with adjacent parking, for about a decade. Open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week (closed Tuesday) at 1630 El Camino Real, Redwood City.

Shrimp tacos are the stars at El Yahualica Tacos in Concord. (Jessica Yadegaran/Bay Area News Group 

El Yahualica, Concord

Located in The Stopping Center, across from Las Montañas Supermarket, Francisco and Liliana Ramos’ 20-year-old family restaurant is beloved for its shrimp tacos. They come in two forms: crispy, breaded Baja-style, with fresh cabbage and a swizzle of Francisco’s assertive chipotle sauce; and grilled, with plump bits of shrimp lightly charred and drizzled with housemade salsa and cilantro. Wash them down with a cantaloupe agua fresca, and consider yourself addicted. Open from 11 a.m. daily at 2699 Monument Blvd., Ste I, Concord.

Tacos Buenrostro, San Jose

Hmmm, a food truck that specializes in to-die-for quesabirria but also offers cabeza, buche, tripas and seven other meat choices and posts a sign that says they’d be happy to customize a meal for you? It’s not surprising when you find out that owners Juan Gabriel Ceja and his niece, Maira Ceja, were both corporate chefs for Bon Appetit who pivoted during the pandemic to this venture. We recommend eating here at one of the tables under the canopy, so you can enjoy your tacos, your free chips and salsa and the habanero-spiked orange sauce with a view of the beautiful Berryessa foothills nearby. Open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and until 4 p.m. Sunday at Piedmont and Sierra roads, San Jose.

El Garage dips its tortillas in beefy consomme before frying them, yielding a rich red color and flavor. (Jessica Yadegaran/Bay Area News Group) 

El Garage, Richmond

El Garage is birria nirvana. This cavernous Richmond eatery specializes in the stewed, fall-off-the-bone beef tacos and was one of the first to bring it to the Bay Area, back when the Montano family was slinging tacos out of a garage on Garvin Avenue. What makes these birria tacos next-level is that the corn tortillas are dipped in birria broth before they are fried, giving them a vibrant red color and extra-rich flavor. Get a generous side of that beefy, nourishing consomme ($4) to go with our pick, the crispy quesabirria tacos (3 for $15), which are stuffed with melty mozzarella and topped with cilantro and onion. Don’t forget the pickled habañero, with a squeeze of lime. Open noon to 7 p.m. at 1428 Macdonald Ave., Richmond; www.elgarage.online.

Two tacos — carnitas and suadero, or brisket — on handmade corn tortillas at Los Carnalitos in Hayward (Jessica Yadegaran/Bay Area News Group) 

Los Carnalitos, Hayward

This family-owned taqueria is tucked into a Target strip mall and lauded for its Mexico City eats, which include carnitas by the pound, huaraches and, of course, tacos. You’ll want those handmade corn tortillas stuffed with tender suadero, or brisket; cochinita de pibil, a slow-roasted Yucatan pork marinated in citrus and wrapped in banana leaves; or vegetarian offerings, like squash blossoms and nopales. Top them with kicky avocado sauce and pickled onions flecked with habañero. The restaurant is homey, with warm dine-in service and a sign that says, “Un taco al dia es la llave de la alegra” (a taco a day is the key to happiness). Opens at 9 a.m. Monday-Saturday at 30200 Industrial Parkway SW, Hayward; https://loscarnalitos.com.

Dia de Pesca, San Jose

You can’t miss this funky cafe on Bascom Avenue with the vibrantly colored planters and umbrellas. Now in its 15th year, Dia de Pesca remains the place to go if you want an amazing seasonal selection of fish and seafood tacos: halibut, salmon, mahi mahi, snapper, tilapia, scallops, crab, ahi tuna, prawns and octopus ($5.35-$5.65); most are available grilled with onions or peppers or breaded and fried and topped with avocado, pico de gallo, tomatillo, chipotle sauce and cabbage. Ceviche and cocteles are big here, too. Take your tacos outside to eat on the patio, one fan says, and you’ll swear you’re in Cabo (except for that Bascom Avenue part). Bonus beverages: Besides sangria, beer and agua fresca, they serve cocktails and a horchata cold brew made with local Barefoot Coffee. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 55 N. Bascom Ave., San Jose; www.diadepesca.net.

Oakland’s Taqueria La Veganza offers flavorful cauliflower tacos and vegan asada made from tofu skin. (Jessica Yadegaran/Bay Area News Group) 

Taqueria La Veganza, Oakland

Located in the back of a convenience store in downtown Oakland, this vegan taqueria and plant-based carnicería specializes in tender, absurdly moist asada, carnitas and chiccharón made from tofu skin and dehydrated soy. Chef-owner Raul Medina wants to be the Impossible Meat for Latinx food, and has already raised $128,000 via WeFunder to get his scratch-made plant carne into bodegas and supermarkets. Until then, grab a taco … or five. The smoky asada, topped with fresh tomatillo salsa, hit all our buttons. The cauliflower is off-the-charts, too. Both are cradled in perfectly blistered, hand-pressed corn tortillas. 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at 597 15th St., Oakland; www.venganzafoods.com.

Suavecito Birria & Tacos, San Mateo

This hip concept comes from four chefs — Emma Villalon, Bulmaro Maldonado, Randy Magpantay and Jeremy Cheng — who decided to put a few new spins on the birria trend. First, they’re using prime-grade beef to add a sublime, tender touch to the crispy, cheesy tacos. The accompanying consomme is a treat, too. It’s rich, not salty, perfect for sipping when you’re through dipping. Their other ideas? PizzaBirria and Birria Grilled Cheese. The former tops dough with birria beef, orange sauce, a jack cheese blend, house pico, onions and cilantro. The latter piles beef and two cheeses on achiote garlic sourdough and gives you a cup of consomme for dipping. This will make you forget all about that O.G. grilled cheese and tomato soup. Note: Suavecito is a takeout and delivery window only. Open Tuesday-Sunday at the commissary kitchen, 1100 S. Amphlett Blvd., San Mateo. Order ahead at www.suavecitosm.com.

One of the seafood towers served at Aguachiles el Tamarindo in Oakland is topped with spicy, raw scallops. (John Metcalfe/Bay Area News Group) (John Metcalfe/Bay Area News Group)

Aguachiles el Tamarindo, Oakland

Aguachiles el Tamarindo specializes in the cuisine of Sinaloa, and that means the fishing boat has arrived at the dock. The deep-fried fish tacos striped with creamy orange sauce ($3.50) are as excellent as any you’ll find in Baja; calorie counters can also get the fish grilled or try smoked marlin ($4.50), a deeply savory tomato-based preparation almost like pulled beef. Shrimp tacos are loaded with seafood, jalapenos and chunks of super-sweet mango, and there’s a whole side of the menu devoted to aguachiles with shrimp, fish and octopus floating in various marinades (limey cucumber, say, or dark Worcestershire). Diners will be rewarded for adventurousness. Though pricey at $17, the towers of seafood and avocado topped with a layer of spicy, raw scallops are amazing. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 3053 International Blvd., Oakland; www.instagram.com/aguachiles_el_tamarindo.

El Grullense #1, Redwood City

You’ll typically find a melting pot of Peninsula residents lined up at the window of this Middlefield Road eatery, the granddaddy of Redwood City taquerias. Founder Rafael Guerrero immigrated from Jalisco to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, then headed north in search of promising new markets for tacos, which he found in Redwood City. In 1987, he opened this first location, which is still owned and operated by family members. Because they do such a brisk business here, the grilling is ongoing and everything is ultra-fresh. Start with the al pastor taco — it’s packed with marinated pork and costs just $2, the lowest price we found in our roundup — and then explore the menu. What differentiates Grullense from other taquerias? It’s the salsa, Guerrero once told Redwood City’s Spectrum. Open daily for indoor dining, takeout and delivery from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. most nights, until 11 on Friday and Saturday.

Tacos el Autlense, Albany