La Taqueria, El Farolito, Papalote, oh my! So which taqueria makes the best tacos in San Francisco? Well, I’m glad you asked.
In fact, there is only one great debate as far as San Francisco residents are concerned. Households are divided, friends are at an impasse, and the “best of San Francisco” lists always seem to inspire harsh rebuttal. Seriously. Ask anyone who eats tacos on the regular, and you’ll get a different answer.
I’ve held my own opinions too, but I decided that I had to sort things out once and for all. So just before leaving San Francisco, I recruited my best friend to go taco tasting throughout the Mission District. With no booze, no price sensitivities, and no established biases to sway our opinion, we went on a taco tour to settle which taqueria makes the best tacos in San Francisco.
Listen, I’m not here to end the taqueria rivalry. I truly believe there is a time and a place for any taco (even Taco Bell) and a taco for every taste. So instead of playing favorites, we ate at some of the best tacos at the best taquerias in San Francisco, and gave them superlatives (the high school yearbook kind). You headed on a mission for the best tacos in San Francisco? Here’s what we came up with.
The Very Best Tacos in San Francisco
La Taqueria I “The Bucket List Taco” I Mission and 25th
La Taqueria is best identified by its iconic white store front and crazy long lines. It has consistently been rated as the best taqueria in San Francisco, and subsequently, the crowds have followed. I mean, how could a taqueria called “the taqueria” be subpar? If you go to San Francisco without eating here, you will probably be chastised.
The Taco: Pulled chicken, soft flour tortilla, Spanish rice, pinto beans, and pico de gallo ($4)
Review: Yeah, well, we didn’t think La Taqueria is the best taqueria in San Francisco. With soft tortillas, not-crispy chicken, and a whole lot of other stuff, we say this taco has crossed well into burrito territory. Stand in line to eat here if you must have the La Taqueria experience, but we’d recommend going for the burrito instead.
El Farolito I “The Drunk Taco” I Mission and 24th
El Farolito is the beacon of hope beaming yellow just outside of the 24th and Mission BART Station. Before dining at El Farolito you should ask yourself: how many cans of Tecate did I have tonight? If you are prepared for a rough mañana, El Farolito is definitely your spot.
The Taco: Carne asada, soft tortilla, cilantro, onions, and salsa ($2.95)
The Review: The greasy and delicious quesadillas of El Farolito have long been our favorite late night food, but were their tacos up for the daytime challenge? Oh yeah. We found that their meat was great and the taco was perfectly simple. Perhaps it was a bit greasy for a Monday lunch, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again.
Papalote I “The Taco for People who are Scared of Street Food” I 24th and Valencia
Papalote is everything that other Mission taquerias are not. The shop is modern with updated menus, veggie options, and even a credit card reader for the cash-phobic. Let’s put it this way. Papalote is the kind of place you go after you already went to the gym but want to eat half of a burrito bowl with light sour cream. And, damn, if they don’t do it well.
The Taco: Chicken mole, soft tortillas, pico de gallo, and lettuce ($8.75 for 2)
The Review: We couldn’t help but love it. Our street food loving selves wanted to hate that salsa and the fresh ingredients, but we just couldn’t. Papalote is the spot to go if you want to get a taste of tacos in the Mission but don’t want the grease hangover later.
Taqueria Guadalajara I “The Underrated Taco” I 24th and Shotwell
Guadalajara made its way onto this list by some Yelp! miracle. To be honest, we had never even eaten here before. It’s got some pretty cool murals painted on the walls, but the relatively nondescript storefront meant we passed it plenty of times without thinking much about it.
The Taco: Pollo Asada, soft tortilla, cilantro, onions, and salsa ($3.10)
The Review: Our tacos at Guadalajara were salty and heavenly. Between taco bites, we exclaimed how “we couldn’t believe we hadn’t eaten here before”. The ambiance was pretty great, their salsa bar was excellent, and their taco was unanimously our favorite. Welcome to the list, underdog!
La Palma I “The It’s All About the Tortilla Taco” I 24th and Florida
Established in 1953, La Palma is classic San Francisco. Not only is La Palma a taqueria, but it’s also a one-stop-shop for all authentic Mexican food.
The Taco: Carnitas, soft tortilla, cilantro, onions, and salsa ($2.99)
The Review: La Palma makes their tortillas, salsas, and pickled vegetables in house. Ordering a taco from here made us realize that a taco on just any old tortilla won’t do. If you want a fresh and authentic taco in a classic San Francisco establishment, La Palma is the way to go.
Taqueria Vallarta I “The Line at El Farolito is too Long Taco” I 24th and Balmy
Holy salsa bar! With unusual menu offerings and a serious salsa bar, you can pretty much create the taco of your dreams at Taqueria Vallarta. You might find yourself here right around 2:15am when the line at El Farolito is too long but you’re really jonesing for a taco.
The Taco: Barbacoa, soft tortilla, onions, cilantro, and all kinds of salsa
The Review: Did we mention they have great salsa? We’re serious about salsas and spent half the time just dressing the tacos to our liking. While Taqueria Vallarta tends to be a late night spot, these tacos turned out to be pretty solid at any time of day.
Taqueria Cancún | “The Great Compromise Taco” | Mission and 19th
Settled several blocks away from the other taquerias featured on this list, Taqueria Cancun is the kind of place you go when everyone is loitering at Dolores and starting to get hangry. It’s either very conveniently located or not at all, but hey! How far would you travel for a perfect taco?
The Taco: Lengua, soft tortilla, cilantro, onions, salsa, and lime
The Review: Perhaps Taqueria Cancún has created the perfect taco in every way. Their taco was neither greasy nor healthy. It was just simple, authentic, and awesome. If you can only order up on of these best tacos in San Francisco, we’d say the tacos from Taqueria Cancun are the safest pick (though maybe not with the lengua). You’ll make it “super” if you know what’s best for you.
General Taco Tips
- Many spots in the Mission are cash only. Bring some dollars along to avoid the hefty ATM fee!
- For an extra cost, you can make just about anything “super” with avocado, sour cream, and cheese.
- Go to the popular taquerias during off hours to avoid incredibly long lines.
San Francisco Food Tour
If you’d like a guide to show you around the neighborhoods of San Francisco, check out the Flavors and Murals of the Mission tour with Urban Adventures! I used to lead ’em myself when we were living in San Francisco! If you found this list helpful, click below to get to the Urban Adventures site and book a food tour. It will help support our blog at no cost to you!
Headed to San Francisco? Don’t miss our other posts!
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- What the hell is the Musée Mecanique?
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