March 21st, 2013 | By | 114 Comments

The Best Tacos in San Clemente Guest Gastro-Blogger Hits Our Home Turf in Search of the Best Surf Grinds

DestinationTaco x San ClementeThis is Episode 2 of Destination Taco: a town-to-town expedition of all things cradled in a tortilla and known as a taco. Our second stop brings us to San Clemente – where SWELL has home-field advantage in a town packed with tacos so delicious, I considered moving there. Seriously. I literally fell in love with tacos. Multiple times.  As always, I will be rating and awarding each experience accordingly on a scale of 1-5 Cleavers. So let’s get started in this surfside paradise of taco perfection.

DESTINATION TACO INFOGRAPH

Bull Taco San Clemente
Bull Taco has only called San Clemente home for 4 months and hit the ground running with an impressive and affordable menu and atmosphere. I won’t even bother trying to describe this place – it’s just awesome.

  • Choice of the Day: Duck, Vegetarian, and Shrimp Bacon Chorizo
  •        -Best Choice: The Shrimp Bacon Chorizo brings the term “mouthgasm” to mind.
  •        -Tortilla/Toppings: The tortillas are buttery and toppings are brilliantly thought out.
  • Salsa Bar: No salsa bar but they’ve got a great selection of carefully crafted hot sauces
  • Perfect Pairing: Pacifico (on draft).
  • Suggested Dress Code: Like I said. Laid back: boardshortsbikinis, & graphic tees
  • Wait: Nothing more than a few minutes, if that.
  • Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Changing the game with Taco Thursday – $1 tacos/$2 beers.

Verdict: This is not some kind of Taco Shop turned test lab. The flavors are carefully crafted and compliment each other beautifully. Hell, even the Vegetarian was good and I hate all that stuff.  Simply said, this place will leave you excited to come back again and again.


Pedro's TacosPedro’s Tacos is the quintessential San Clemente taco stand that has been serving up hearty mexican favorites for nearly 30 years. Honestly, I can’t recall a time after surfing Trestles and not stopping by or driving-thru to refuel at this humble establishment.

  • Choice of the Day: Asada & Fish
  •          -Best Choice: The Asada is simple, massive and smothered with guacamole & pico.
  •          -Tortilla/Toppings: Simple gut-bustin’ classics on tasty yellow corn tortillas.
  • Salsa Bar:  No but plenty of pico or hot sauce available upon request.
  • Perfect Pairing: Horchata
  • Suggested Dress Code:  boardshortsbikinis, & graphic tees
  • Wait: Nothing worth getting your panties in a bunch.
  • Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Nope. Priced right as is.

Verdict: It’s nothing fancy and pretty greasy, but this is one of those taco joints where you ignore all that, dig in, and enjoy sloppy SoCal tacos.South of Nick's
As a spin-off from the hugely successful Nick’s restaurants, I feel like South of Nick’s really understood what kind of pressure they were under and went to work on creating a new breed of what authentic Mexican food can look like. Where the price is high, know that you are paying for the work of an artist and chemist. This is culinary mastery without looking like a wine sniffing jerk.

  • Choice of the Day: Crispy Beef, Sea Bass, and Al Pastor
  •     -Best Choice: Al Pastor all the way.Smoky, savory, and porking awesome.
  •     -Tortilla/Toppings: Tortillas are delicate and delicious without disintegrating with fresh toppings that really add depth to each bite.
  • Salsa Bar: No but there is a great selection from mild to wild.
  • Perfect Pairing: Chipotle Pineapple Margarita keeps the heat coming.
  • Suggested Dress Code:  Enjoy dressing like the upstanding citizen you are in a collared shirt or dress.
  • Wait:  Dinner reservations recommended.
  • Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: No.

Verdict:  This is one of the many restaurants that has transformed downtown San Clemente into a low-key beach town with amazing food. The staff is incredibly welcoming, the food is amazing, and the drinks are worth another round. Hapa J's
A certain SWELL employee demanded that I go to Hapa J’s for Taco Tuesday. Good call Mr. Spangler. This is the place that made me not only feel like a local, but that I was coming home. Typically serving up traditional Hawaiian favorites, Hapa J’s pulls out a secret menu every Tuesday and turns the San Clemente taco scene upside-down. The warmth I found inside the doors here was unreal – good food, good drinks, good people. Real people come here to catch up, relax, and celebrate any given reason.

  • Choice of the Day: Ahi Poke, Coconut Shrimp, and Kal Bi Short Rib (Only available for Taco Tuesday)
  •      -Best Choice: The Ahi Poke – Huge chunks of Ahi make this the best $3.75 I’ve spent in a while.
  •      -Tortilla/Toppings: Big fresh pillowy tortillas made before your eyes topped with a genius sauces and toppings.
  • Salsa Bar: Sriracha is there ready and waiting. That’s all you need.
  • Perfect Paring: House Margarita or Primo
  • Suggested Dress Code: Basic teesboardshortsbikiniscollared shirtsjeans -just show up.
  • Wait: Taco Tuesday can send a line out the door so come early and stay for the nightlife.
  • Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Best Taco Tuesday in town.

Verdict: After the first bite I was at a loss for words. Realizing that this place has been 15-minutes away for the past 4 years was devastating. The massive tacos are a deal and the staff is ready to take on the crowds. Check this place out and thank me later.

Well that’s it for our second episode of Destination Taco. San Clemente has changed so much over the years, but in the best ways possible. This a great place to come, unwind, lay on the beach, surf, and eat really really good tacos. As always I couldn’t make it to all the great taco shops this town has to offer; explore San Clemente and find amazing places like La Tiendita (amazing), La Siesta, and El Jefe.I really enjoy doing this and hope you enjoy reading it – let me know where Destination Taco should head next? Carlsbad? Santa Barbara? Malibu? NorCal? It’s up to you people. Eat well, drink up, & adios!

See the first stop of Destination Taco in Laguna Beach

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Matt Contorelli
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