Out of all of Mexico’s cultural contributions to the world — chocolate, tequila, Frida Kahlo — the simple yet satisfying taco might be the greatest gift.
Tacos can be as basic as a few morsels of marinated meat sprinkled with cilantro and diced onions atop a corn tortilla — or as elaborate as a gold flake-infused tortilla stuffed with Kobe beef, lobster and black truffle brie cheese.
In anticipation of National Taco Day on Oct. 4, a horde of hungry Tribune staffers went in search of the tastiest tacos in San Luis Obispo County. Here’s what we found.
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$2.15 mini, $3.25 regular
Find the iconic taco al pastor — marinated pork grilled on a trompo, or vertical roaster, shaved and served on a soft corn tortilla with accompaniments such as grilled pineapple, cilantro, onions and an excellent homemade salsa — at Boni’s Tacos walkups in Cambria. (On weekdays, you can find Boni’s in Cambria’s Tin Village, while their taco truck is parked at the Main Street end of Burton Drive on weekends.) Boni’s also has carne asada steak, chicken and chile verde (pork in green sauce) tacos, so take your pick. — Kathe Tanner
$2.25 to $2.50
Chacho’s has been a hot spot in Oceano since 1981. Restaurant founder Max “Chacho” Pimentel Sr., who started Chacho’s with his wife, Pauline, passed away in 2014, but his family has kept alive its tradition of tasty Mexican food made with soft, rich homemade flour tortillas. The straightforward al pastor pork taco with cilantro, onion and red salsa (not too spicy) is my favorite pick for a quick bite, but the popular carnitas taco is also delectable. — Nick Wilson
Efren’s Mexican Restaurant
$1.80 to $1.99
Comfortable booth seating, along with tables, and colorful wall murals are the backdrop for munching tacos at Efren’s, where you’ll need to prepare your palate for some spice. The green sauce will smack the roof of your mouth. The tacos are on the small side but about as cheap as they come. Sixteen taco choices fill the menu — everything from lengua (cow tongue), cabeza (cow head), and tripas (intestines) to your standard chicken, steak and pork. Adventurous in the past with the lengua and cabeza, I stuck with the staples this time and found the chicken at the top of my list. Just have a drink waiting by your side. — Nick Wilson
Foremost Wine Co.
Looking for an upscale snack?
Foremost Wine Co. just dropped my favorite taco from the menu — fancy-yet-filling crispy potato tacos drizzled with chipotle aioli and piled with shaved cabbage and pickled onions — but new executive chef Andrew Cross has a worthy substitute: mouthwatering Korean street tacos with hanger steak bulgogi, kimchi and miso cucumber. Believe me, these barbecued beauties will find their way to my belly soon. — Sarah Linn
$2.50 small, $3.50 large
Garcia’s may be better known for its burritos, but all those mouth-watering meats also star in their tacos, served in heaping portions on double corn tortillas. The menu features at least a dozen different varieties of beef, chicken and pork. I have a hard time prying myself away from the carne asada, but when I do, it’s always for the slower-cooked preparations like carnitas. My new favorite, however, is the luscious beef Colorado taco, which is spooned over rice to soak up the fragrant red sauce and then topped with melted cheese. — Joe Tarica
Los Robles Café
$2.25 to $2.50, $8.95 for three fish tacos
Great service and authentic tacos featuring tender and flavorful marinated meat and well-seasoned veggies are in store at this casual café. These traditional tacos are very savory yet simple. In the summer, I like to order takeout and walk to nearby Downtown City Park to munch al pastor tacos and listen to live music. — Gina Grieb
$4 each, four for $14, 10 for $30
With 10 tacos to choose from — including spicy ground lamb, paprika-garlic shrimp and tomato-pepper tofu — you’ll never run out of options at Luna Red. My husband loves the “juicy, meaty, savory goodness” of the braised beef short rib, while I prefer the simplicity of cumin black beans sprinkled with queso fresco and drizzled with piri-piri hot sauce.
Served with a fruity, ruby-hued sangria, these appetizer-sized tacos are the perfect happy-hour snack. — Sarah Linn
$4 to $6
There’s a long line most weekends at Ruddell’s — and for good reason. Large chunks of meat smoked to perfection in house are paired with a unique combination that includes carrots, apples, celery, green onions, lettuce, and a cumin and brown mustard aioli. There’s something about apples and cumin mixed with smoky chunks of pink salmon that’s simply magic.
Other options, all delectable, include shrimp, albacore, ahi, pork loin, and chicken. And with the ocean right across the street to stare at, the wait goes fast. — Monica Vaughan
101 D St., Cayucos | 805-995-5028 or www.smokerjim.com
This small café offers big flavor with a tempeh taco that’s well known to travel bloggers and locals. The tempeh and quinoa are perfectly seasoned in-house for a nutty flavor that even carnivores will find rich and filling. Add creamy cilantro dressing and house-made salsa, plus spring mix, fresh veggies, avocado and sesame seeds on a wheat and corn tortilla, and you’ve got a meal that not only vegans will devour. The tortilla, by the way, is one of the best around. — Monica Vaughan
$4.50 to $9.95
Why not opt for a side of taco with your cup of award-winning clam chowder? Splash Café offers three options for cod tacos served on soft corn tortillas: baja, classic or the surprise flavor factory, Thai. This taco is unlike anything else. The coconut curry sauce, cashews, basil, carrots, tomato and cilantro make a refreshing remix. Other meat options include chicken, shrimp, carnitas, salmon, ahi and tri tip. — Monica Vaughan
$7.50 to $26
You might think the kitchen got your order wrong when you see the Baja taco plate for the first time. A large portion of grilled or fried cod rests on what looks like a full salad. But after a few bites with a fork, you’ll find the tortillas with melted cheese at the bottom. Assemble your tacos the way you like using the mango salsa and house sauce served on the side. The price ($14.95) might scare away some, but the leftovers easily serve as a second meal.
Not in the mood for cod? Try specialty tacos such as crab cakes, calamari and scallops, or stick to traditional options including carne asada and chile verde pork. — Monica Vaughan
2680 Main St., Morro Bay | 805.772.4965 or tacotemple.com
Tacos de Acapulco
$1.99 to $2.50
The tacos at this unassuming Grover Beach spot are bursting with flavor and taste like home to this Texas girl. (There’s a location in San Luis Obispo, too.) Everything you order can be customized: when they call your order number, you talk to a staff member and choose what you want in your tacos beyond just the meat. My personal favorite is the machaca taco with everything: salsa, cheese, cilantro and freshly diced onions. Great things really do come in small packages. — Gabby Ferreira
$6 to $7
One of San Luis Obispo’s newest restaurants is spreading the “taco love” with an amazing selection of tasty treats. Choose from fish, beer-braised short rib, ancho chocolate turkey mole, guajillo pork with pickled pineapple or Tennessee-style hot fried chicken with jalapeño poppy slaw — they’re all insanely delicious. Vegetarians don’t have to feel left out either; the vegan sweet potato and corn taco, topped with avocado, pomegranate and flower petals, holds its own against the meatier options. — Sarah Linn
712 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo | 805-439-4801 or www.vegetablebutcherslo.com