Authentic al pastor
Our 10 favorite places in San Diego County that serve pork tacos made in the traditional style, with slow-cooked meat sliced off the spit
By Carlos Rico
One of the art forms in taco-making is preparing and cooking al pastor.
The traditional way is to marinate pork with a combination of ingredients, including guajillo chiles, achiote paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, vinegar, salt, pepper and pineapple juice, and cook and serve it off of a vertical rotisserie spit called a “trompo.”
It’s not that common to see al pastor sliced off the spit in San Diego County, because it requires one dedicated person to constantly watch and rotate the slow-cooked, marinated pork so that it is tender and doesn’t burn, according to cooks and chefs I talked to at local taco shops. But there are some shops selling authentic tacos al pastor like you can find in Mexico. I found over 15 places and tried them all.
This guide highlights my top 10 based on flavor, presentation and authenticity. I only included places serving tacos off a trompo, which you can see at each location. One thing to note is that the terms al pastor and adobada are used interchangeably on taco shop menus. Adobada refers to the way the meat is marinated, while al pastor refers to the way it is cooked and served.
Check out my list and let me know your favorite spot for tacos al pastor.
Al Pastor Town
Al Pastor Town in National City might be the best-kept secret for tacos in San Diego County. Located inside Don John Market, a small convenience store, Al Pastor Town’s family-owned business is serving up four versions of al pastor tacos.
It has the traditional al pastor rojo, marinated with a citrus blend of achiote; al pastor negro with a burnt chawa chili paste marinade imported from Yucatan, Mexico; al pastor verde with a nut blend marinade; and al pastor rosa with a pink pine nut marinade. All tacos are topped with mashed avocado, red onions and cilantro.
The tacos are held together by a full-sized tortilla because of the sizable amount of tender meat. The owner and chef says Al Pastor Town is going for more of an artisanal style of taco, with ingredients being imported by family members from various parts of central and southern Mexico.
There are only three places to sit at a countertop in front of the indoor taco stand, so feel free to eat standing up or take them to go. Don John Market has its own small parking lot, but there is also street parking adjacent to the convenience store.
Al Pastor Town offers 50 percent off all its al pastor tacos on Tuesdays from 4 to 9 p.m. (The regular price is $3.) This place is open every day from noon to 9 p.m.
431 N. Highland Ave. A,
National City. (858) 599-7436, alpastortown.com
The best place for tacos al pastor in Oceanside is Los Tacos, especially on Tuesdays, because it has $2 tacos from 5 to 10 p.m.
Its al pastor taco comes with slices of pineapple, guacamole, cilantro and raw onions on a handmade tortilla. Los Tacos also has a self-serve salsa bar to make your tacos as spicy as you want.
Los Tacos is in a shopping center off state Route 78, with lots of parking options and indoor and outdoor seating. It also offers catering options for private events.
2183 Vista Way, Suite B-9, Oceanside. goodtacos.com
The only food truck to make my list is Mr. Adobada in Chula Vista. This taco truck has been stationary in a parking lot on the corner of H Street and Broadway since the first half of 2020.
The truck’s adobada taco is a little on the spicier side, with thin slices of marinated pork, cilantro, raw onions, avocado sauce and green salsa. Make sure you have an extra napkin available, because you might get a runny nose, but in a good way. That’s how you know salsa is good.
Tacos are also served with limes and slices of radish, meant to eat after your meal to cleanse your palate and stomach.
Tacos are $2 on Tuesdays. This spot is open every day from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with outdoor seating.
625 H St., Chula Vista. instagram.com /mr.adobada
Rancho Bernardo offers one of the best places to find tacos al pastor in the suburbs at Tacos Asadero. The tacos have thin cuts of marinated pork that taste juicy with a small kick of spiciness.
They come with double tortillas, cilantro, avocado crema salsa and raw onions for $3.50.
Tacos Asadero also sells bottles of Mexican soda and Michoacán-style ice cream frozen pops. There is indoor and outdoor seating at this taco shop, which is in a shopping center with parking spots.
15721 Bernardo Heights Parkway,
San Diego. tacosasadero.com
Tacos El Gallo
The best deal on tacos in San Diego County is at Tacos El Gallo in El Cajon. It’s a simple taco shop with a small kitchen counter where you order and a handful of tables.
What is not basic is its flavorful tacos al pastor. Every day, you can get $1 street-size tacos, which include guacamole, spicy red salsa, cilantro, raw onions and handmade tortillas.
Tacos El Gallo also has a variety of bottled Mexican sodas, including various Jarritos flavors, Sangría Señorial and apple soda. This taco shop also has its own parking lot.
569 N. Second St., El Cajon.(619) 499-5500.
Tacos El Guero
If you find yourself near San Ysidro and are craving tacos al pastor, you will want to visit Tacos El Guero. Its adobada taco is one of the most popular menu items, and for good reason.
The pork is juicy and thinly sliced off the spit with a guacamole crema sauce, raw onion and cilantro. The taco is constructed with double tortillas and enough meat to create two tacos. There is also a salsa bar to add as much green and red salsa as you want. The adobada taco costs $3.50, or $2.50 on Tuesdays.
Tacos El Guero is in a strip mall with indoor and outdoor seating. It is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
2036 Dairy Mart Road No. 126,
San Diego. (619) 662-4660, ordertacoselgueroca.com
Tacos El Trompo
One of the best Taco Tuesday deals is at Tacos El Trompo: At all four of its locations, you can get $1.50 adobada tacos.
Its tacos come with guacamole, cilantro, raw onions and a lime slice. The adobada tacos are juicy, but not greasy, and on the smaller side, so be prepared to order multiple for a full meal.
Tacos El Trompo has a self-serve salsa bar and sells Mexican beer at its Chula Vista location. Other locations can be found in National City and Barrio Logan.
3819 Mission Blvd., San Diego. eltrompotacos.com
The Taco Stand
With five locations across the county, the Taco Stand is a great option for wherever you are craving tacos al pastor.
What makes its al pastor taco stand out is slices of pineapple and creamy guacamole salsa that sit on a corn tortilla that is handmade in the shop. The marinated pork is savory and juicy with a little heat. The taco is also topped with raw onions and cilantro.
If you get adventurous, you can order the Al Pastor Volcan. It’s a secret menu item that is a tostada with a bed of melted cheese, white onions, cilantro, green sauce and al pastor pork.
Each location has a self-serve salsa bar and an open kitchen where you can see your taco being prepared.
The La Jolla location, which opened in 2013, is the Taco Stand’s longest-operating location. The other four are in Encinitas, North Park, Kearny Mesa and downtown San Diego.
621 Pearl St., La Jolla. (858) 551-6666, letstaco.com
Taquería Los Chuchys
What started as a taco catering company in 1997 is now home to arguably the best al pastor taco in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Taquería Los Chuchys has been slicing up tacos downtown since July 2019.
The al pastor is thinly sliced and juicy, tastes of authentic adobada marinated flavor, and sits on a cooked-to-order, handmade corn tortilla. The tacos are topped with a non-spicy avocado sauce, cilantro and raw onions. These tacos are on the smaller side, so prepare to order multiple.
This taco shop has a self-serve salsa bar and a large outdoor patio area and sells bottled Mexican sodas and beer. You can get three tacos for the price of two on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Taquería Los Chuchys offers catering.
543 Fourth Ave., San Diego. (619) 326-8385, taquizasloschuchys.com
TJ Tacos offers al pastor tacos off the spit with plenty of meat and double tortillas. Tacos also come with raw onions, cilantro, avocado sauce and mild salsa.
There is a specific line for adobada tacos where you can see the chef cooking up the pork. You order first, then you take your tacos and pay. There is also a salsa bar with limes and radishes.
TJ Tacos has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and is good for large groups. It has its own parking lot and a drive-thru. Plus, there is free Wi-Fi here (the password is on your receipt) in case you wanted to make this place your office for the day.
802 E. Valley Parkway, Escondido. tj-tacos.com