Want to find the best California Burrito? Check out San Diego's top 10 burrito joints. Californians love burritos and the variety of burrito changes from city to city, even if the essence remains the same. For example, the burrito culture in San Diego is very different from that of San Francisco.
Table of Contents
What is a California Burrito?
Features of California Burrito
10. Lolita's Mexican Food
A Burrito is a Mexican dish that mainly consists of a flour tortilla which is folded in a cylindrical shape and filled with many stuff ranging from vegetables to meat to rice and cooked beans. They are a great source of protein and one can make it the way one prefers, making it a healthy as well as a delicious dish. So along with the pristine sea beaches, awesome weather you must also come to San Diego for its stellar burritos and try out one or more places in this list of San Diego's top 10 burritos.
What is a California Burrito?
California is a haven for burrito lovers. The Californian version of this favorite traditional dish has become a major hit. One cannot be sure of the origin of the California burrito but locals claim that it first appeared in the 1980s in a local taco shop. A California burrito can be a simple affair like the simplistic carne asada burrito but it can also have many more ingredients like French fries, cheese, onion, guacamole, sour cream or pico de gallo. One might gawk at the mention of French fries inside a burrito, but you have to taste to believe how wonderful this Californian addition really is. There is another version of burrito called the Mission Burrito which originated in California and is a more elaborate way of making and serving burritos.
Features of California Burrito
California is a big state and burritos change their style and ingredients based on the city. In its most simple form, a California burrito is all about meat, cheese, and salsa wrapped in the tortilla base. Some versions would incorporate French fries in it to give it a crunchy texture which is unique for a burrito. Other ingredients can also be added for the extra punch and flavor like cilantro, guacamole, cheese, and sour cream. Then there is Mission Burrito which is an extravaganza and a premium quality burrito and has become a nationwide favorite. The specialty of Mission burrito is its quality and the fact that the flour tortilla is press-steamed which makes it very flexible and it would not break easily. This is then filled with the customer’s choice or standard ingredients like rice, beans, salsa, and meat. On top of it, customers can also choose a “super” which could include avocado, shredded lettuce or more cheese.
The California burrito in San Diego is slightly different with a twist and unique flavor. The two staples of Mexican cuisine are the backbone of San Diego’s burrito culture, namely carne asada and California Burritos. Carna Asada means beef in Spanish and this is what the main ingredient of this burrito is. The thinly sliced meat is marinated in lots of spices and grilled before filling it into the fresh tortillas. The California burrito in San Diego would not usually contain rice and beans as the natives here think that these are merely fillers and prefer their burritos without these ingredients. In a nutshell, a California Burrito is a carb-loaded colossus which the San Diego people simply love.
1. El Zarape Taco Shop
A family-owned restaurant that has the touch of love and care that a family makes its food with, on top of being authentic Mexican. Their food is made traditionally but has some of their proprietary blends which make them a class apart. It is a no-frills taco shop that serves delicious carne asada and other Mexican grubs in healthy portions. It can look like a fast food shop but when you taste its fresh and no grease food it will give you the feel of home style food. It is a small place but always busy owing to its fantastic rolled tacos. One of the favorites of customers here is the Carne Asada Chimichanga and jack cheese quesadilla. With comfortable interiors, friendly staff and great Mexican food like Carnita’s tortas, green salsa, and chicken tacos, this place will definitely make you visit it again and again.
2. El Zarape
This is the real deal for a mission style burrito and probably San Diego's top 10 burritos in terms of variety. A cozy place where the menu options are offbeat from the regular fillings that one finds elsewhere. It has lobster and other seafood in their burritos. Their Cali-Mex menu options include shrimp, scallop, salmon, mahi-mahi, and calamari on top of the regular meat burritos. You can be sure at this place that the fish will be as fresh as can be and the vegetables would be bright and colorful. The chicken and beef would have their gristle taken out and you only have succulent and juicy meat inside your burritos. Most burritos here have a side serving of shredded cabbage, jack cheese, tomato, and cream. The meat is slow cooked to get the most nutrients and best taste. One must try their lobster, scallop, and shredded beef or shrimp burritos. They also serve some amazing and inexpensive soups. The Aloha burrito is a rare item in their menu. They also have discounts on their food menu on certain days of the week, so you could take that opportunity to get your family and friends to enjoy this burrito bonanza. Vegetarians can also have a lot of choices at this place.
3. La Puerta
Located in the Gaslamp area of San Diego, it is one of the few and among San Diego's top 10 burritos. The motto of this place is Tacos, Tunes, and Tequila which tells you exactly what the feel of the place is. You would want to come here not just for the mouth-watering food but the whole experience and atmosphere. The deep colors of the furniture, light bulbs hanging from the top, dim-lit throughout, the aura is a mood enhancer which also affects your food experience. This place is high on hospitality and famous for its Sinaloa inspired family recipes. This recipe requires that food is made from scratch without any artificial and ingredients which are supposed to enhance the taste. They believe that the freshest ingredients and top-notch recipes do not require any of the artificiality to make their food delicious. So instead of limeade, the chef would use fresh lime squeezed in your dishes and drinks. It has the largest collection of small batch tequila and mezcal and has frequent happy hours and reverse happy hours. To make it easy for you to select from their menu, we would recommend ordering the Guac and Surf’n’Turf Burrito with Arranchera steak, gourmet tacos, one-pound Burritos Tradicionales, or one-pound Burritos Especiales, Tijuana Caesar (a classic with lettuce, cotija, spicy croutons along with their house-made Caesar dressing), which are favorites with many here. You could order a 3-course meal or street style tacos in this sleek place.
4. Taco Surf
Strategically located near the pacific beach, Taco and Surf will surely count in San Diego's top 10 burritos. If you are visiting the beach and searching for a legendary burrito, this place is where you should be. Get a classic carne asada with cheese, French fries, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes and enjoy a walk down the boardwalk. The meat used is fresh and not sitting on the shelf after being cooked. They use top sirloin and food here is always cooked to order. Some other delicious food served here would be tortilla soup with its stimulating aroma. Its cute surfboard décor and pleasant ambiance will give you great vibes. You can enjoy a beach breakfast here as its breakfast burrito is as good as it gets. Another reason for this place to feature in San Diego's top 10 burritos is that it was voted as the “Best rolled tacos” in San Diego Magazine.
5. Nico's Mexican Food
This is beach restaurant which will add fun and flavor to your beach get-away with its delicious tacos, burritos, nachos and many other knickknacks. Right at the Ocean beach you find a Mexican food joint which has been rated as number 1 best California burritos in San Diego by Thrillist and number 2 in best burrito in the country by The Daily Meal, so this should definitely be high on your list of places to go while looking for burritos. This has been a long-time staple for the local surfers as well at the Ocean beach. Here you would get one of the best Carna Asada fries and Surf and Turf Burrito along the entire coast of California. You must order its crispy bacon breakfast or the breakfast burrito with green salsa as they are the best. Their hallmark though is California Burrito and the place is warm and cozy with friendly staff. It’s a non-fancy shop which means business and gives you the real deal with huge portions full of meat. Their Sabroso burrito (Carna Asada with shrimp) is amazing and the best burrito on their menu. Other meals recommended from the menu would be Cong and Surf burritos, rolled and mini tacos which are super delicious. Their nachos are equally amazing along with some great choices for vegetable burritos. This is a hole in the wall kind of place with incredible food where burritos are rained on by green sauce which comes to you at a great price.
6. Don Carlos Taco Shop
For some people burritos are not fun if they are not “wet”, so those who like it this way should definitely stop at Don Carlos to get their bite of burrito topped with their house enchilada sauce. It serves all 3 meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner with a car parking really near the place. The favorite burrito here is the La Jolla made with pollo asada, salsa, fries, sour cream and lots of cheese. It also has great choices for vegans with fillings like soyrizo, harvest veggie, pumpkin spice or pina colada. The nachos here are huge and they have some awesome Chimacahga. This place has every possible combination or burrito, taco, quesadilla and with its outdoor seating, it is a great choice for a stopover while visiting the La Jolla area.
7. JV's Mexican Food
A quaint Mexican joint, with an alluring extensive menu, that includes some burritos which are revered. A favorite place in Morena area of San Diego, this place has more than 15 different kinds of Burritos. But the one which takes the cake is the Surf N Turf Burrito with its fillings of shrimp, carne asada, rice, salsa, and guacamole. This burrito is super special as it is double wrapped in 2 tortillas which makes sure your burrito does not fall apart while you munch on it and is quite filling. There are many other specials in the restaurant like the Mariachi burrito with beans, rice, cheese, and jalapeno poppers. Then there is Sonora Quesadilla and breakfast Burrito Grande which is amazingly delicious. You can choose whatever you want here and it cannot go wrong with your choice as each of them is as good as another.
8. La Playa Taco Shop
A cheerful, festive place on the mission beach with private parking available which is a great bonus as finding parking space in this area could be difficult. It is a family run restaurant. Undoubtedly one of the best places on mission beach which serves Mexican food. This place is mainly known for its superb fish tacos which are their best item on the menu. Soft, fresh, meaty and flaky fish is mixed in savory batter which is cooked to perfection giving it a golden color, crispy texture full of flavor. Another popular choice here is the carnitas which has smoky and juicy meat with a hint of crunchiness. You could feast on the chicken enchilada here, one of the best around this place. Its super nachos are another thing to try and savor. They have homemade tortillas which are incredible. One must also try their superb Al Pastor Burrito or egg breakfast burrito. There is always the quintessential CA Burrito with which one can never go wrong. This taqueria serves generous portions so you could have a full meal with just one burrito. This place is just a few steps from the beach so one would not want to miss eating here, while on the mission beach.
9. Kono's Cafe
Surf themed interior, oceanfront location, amazing food are some of the things which define this snug place located right in the heart of pacific beach, next to crystal pier. It serves high quality breakfast all through the day which is inexpensive. You can make out its popularity by looking at the locals lining up outside this place every day to have a hearty breakfast which only this place can offer. Their burritos are wonderful with bacon, potato, and other fillings. They serve enormous portions which is coupled with low price making this place a hit. Apart from being the best in breakfast burritos, Kono’s café also boasts of the best breakfast sandwiches in this region. You can even have eggless meals as they provide egg-beaters as an option. It looks like a no frill place with a huge lineup of customers, but do not let the line deter you from entering it as it gets moving very fast. The wait is totally worth it as Kono's has a seating area that hangs over the pacific beach, so while you enjoy your breakfast you can watch the gorgeous sea with the surfers, you might also find a seal or a whale if it is in season. A casual place which even late risers can come in for their breakfast since it is served all through the day.
10. Lolita's Mexican Food
Decently cheap and a good variety of items on the menu, Lolita is a great place to be for Mexican food or healthy food. Burritos are a good size with all solid rice, solid meats, rolled tacos and chicken tacos have guacamole, tasted fresh with a bit of chunks of avocado in it. Lolita opens all day from breakfast to dinner. You could enjoy a decent selection of beer at night. Apart from Lolita's burrito, crispy chicken taco is also a dish you cannot miss.
No one can say for sure who invented these deliciously wrapped burritos known as “California Burritos”, though the name is deceptive since it is uniquely local to San Diego with a few variations served in other cities. There are many stories around its origin. Journalist Gustavo Arellano, who wrote the book on Mexican-American food, believes the California burrito originated from a ’Berto's taco shop. While there is this owner of a corner grocery store called El Faro, who claims that he invented the “super burrito” by adding rice, guacamole, and sour cream to the traditional meat, bean, and cheese burrito. But all in San Francisco agree that burritos gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s and are still a blockbuster meal choice in the bay area.