If only Terry would come rolling through on his roller skates - this place would be straight out of Reno 911. Ok, maybe not. In fact, definitely not. Truth be told, this is one of the most pleasant and interesting taco stands I've ever come across in San Diego. Rather than walk up to a grimy window with bars over it, you stroll onto a patio filled with tables and umbrellas, and up to the outdoor grill - where meat and vegetables are sizzling away and a pot of beans is simmering. You can see the tortillas being made inside, and you're dazzled by a row of jewel-toned aguas frescas near the cash register.
It's quite a seductive scene, which might surprise you given the location, but it shouldn't. This is the real deal - and as I've learned in my food explorations of San Diego over lo many years - you often have to travel to the source, aka the ethnic neighborhoods of South San Diego, to get it. (It's amazing how many excellent eateries exist in this City that most residents who live North of the 8 know nothing about.)
Though there's a little building with a kitchen on the premises, on the day we were there, all of the cooking was being done at the grill and truck outside on the patio. Alex expressed some concern that the food was not quite as good as it normally is because the usual guy wasn't cooking - but having nothing to compare it to - I was far from disappointed.
We'd already been to South Beach earlier that day (it was a progressive lunch!) so we ordered five tacos to share (hey, they're small!) birria, buche, carnitas, carne asada and adobada. I dug the birria, which Alex insisted was beef, but I insisted was goat or lamb - turns out it was a mixture, so we were both right. Alex had raved about the buche, and it was indeed tasty - though I have texture issues with organ meats. I'm working on it. The carnitas and carne asada were fine, but not mindblowing - I'd go with the adobada or the birria over those - just for a change. The adobada had a spice on it that tasted almost like curry, and the savory and juicy birria is something you can't get just anywhere.
One of the best things about the meal is the huge relish tray they bring to you - with three mahvelous salsas, guacamole, spicy carrots, cucumbers and limes.
There's also a cup of the beans - which are soft and rather soupy, and flavored with strips of peppers - aka rajas. I also had a cantaloupe agua fresca, which though toothachingly sweet, was a perfect cooler for the hot summer day. The aquas frescas are also made the old fashioned way - as is the horchata, which is a bit unusual.
If that weren't enough, the employees are charming, the service is excellent, and the prices eminently affordable. I recommend you put it on your short list now, when you can still sit outside, let an agua fresca to cool you the way it's meant to, and enjoy some tacos made with meats charred on an open grill. It's some of the best outdoor eating San Diego has to offer.
Tacos El Paisa
National Avenue and 31st (not on the website)
San Diego Ca, 92113
not sure about the phone number or hours for the location we visited, but it appears they're open morning noon and night. Check the website for more information.