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The Best Street Tacos Recipe (San Diego Style)

mexican street tacos with limes and salsa

The perfect partner for my restaurant style salsa and pinto beans from scratch is this street tacos recipe. More specifically, a San Diego style street taco recipe.

Having spent the majority of my young adulthood in San Diego, I’m no stranger to a Mexican street taco. Growing up in the Midwest however; the best taco in town was from Taco Bell.

This goes to say I didn’t know what a good taco was when, as an 18 year old, I first set foot in SoCal. What happened when I ate my first Mexican street taco was flavor history for me.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and when I saw my first Mexican street taco. I was underwhelmed, and confused to say the least. Why was it so small, and why were there two corn tortillas for only one small taco?

hand holding a Mexican street taco

I had no idea, but it was certainly different looking than the hard shell tacos from fast food joint I had been accustomed to. And the toppings…where was the cheese, lettuce and sour cream?

Oh well, as they say, when in Rome, blah blah blah. So, I bit into this tiny carne asada taco (actually took down half the taco in one bite) and I couldn’t believe it. The flavor on this steak combined with the simple toppings of onion, tomato, radish, and cilantro was what started my love affair with tacos.

There are plenty of recipes that I make for the first time and just know it’s right. This isn’t one of them. I’ve worked and adjusted this Mexican street taco recipe more times than I care to remember but it’s now perfect.

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What’s a Street Taco vs a Regular Taco

First, let’s start with the “shell”. A street taco is made with two small tortillas sort of top and overlapping one another. A regular taco uses only one tortilla or hard taco shell, and it’s about double the size of a street taco tortilla.

tortillas doubled for mexican street tacos in a taco holder

Next, the ingredients. For this Mexican street taco I’m using carne asada, but the meat can be a number of things. More on that later. The toppings for a street taco are minimal. Onions, diced tomato and cilantro are traditional for a street taco.

No lettuce or cheese like you would normally find on a regular taco, though some street tacos do include cotija cheese. For the San Diego style it’s just a bit different as you’ll see in this blog.

Why Do Street Tacos Have Two Tortillas?

Traditional Mexican street tacos are made with corn tortillas. Unlike flour tortillas, corn tortillas tend to crack or even break open when folded. Especially when they get a little moisture on them from the meat.

So, using two tortillas makes them easier to eat, without having them blow open, making a mess. Plus, corn tortillas are delicious, so there’s that.

plate of Mexican street tacos with avocados

What Meat is Used for Carne Asada?

I’ve seen all kinds of meat used for this. Flap meat and grilled flank steak are two very popular options that I often use for carne asada street tacos.

flank steak for Mexican street tacos on the grill

But the authentic carne asada from my favorite hole in the wall in San Diego always used skirt steak. So, that’s what I’m using here.

For those that are curious, there are TWO different kinds of skirt steak. Definitely give that blog a read if you’re interested in the differences between them.

Two kinds of skirt steak

The recipe I use here can also be used for a California-style carne asada burrito as well. For burritos I like to use my pico de gallo recipe but for these street tacos we’re going with the restaurant-style salsa that you’ll find in the Mexican restaurants all over San Diego.

What Temperature Do I Cook Skirt Steak?

I’m generally a medium rare kind of guy, but for these street tacos I recommend taking the steak to a good solid medium. 140 °F internal or so as indicated by a reliable quick read thermometer.

hand holding a Mexican street taco

You don’t want to see too much pink on these tacos and the extra time on the grill gives the flavors a chance to really caramelize together and form that perfect crust that makes these tacos so delicious. I like doing these on the grill but if that’s not available to you and screaming hot cast iron skillet will work as well.

What Makes These Mexican Street Tacos San Diego Style?

San Diego tacos are known for simplicity, huge flavor and a few more toppings than a traditional Mexican street taco. The marinated skirt steak is really the star of the show here, enhanced by the traditional onion and cilantro.

Add to that, some sliced radishes and some homemade restaurant style salsa and this is what you call San Diego style.

plate of Mexican street tacos with limes and salsa

Ingredients For Street Tacos Recipe

How to Make The Best Street Tacos (San Diego Style)

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 1 day | Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

Tacos:
16 street taco size corn tortillas
2 lb skirt steak, trimmed

For The Marinade:
1 can beer, lager style
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lime, juiced, then sliced
1 orange, juiced, then sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Toppings:
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 cup restaurant-style salsa
1 cup radishes, sliced thin into strips

Step 1: Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and whisk together. Once orange and lime have been squeezed, slice them both and drop them in the marinade. Transfer marinade to a sealable plastic bag.

Step 2: Using a jaccard or fork, pierce the surface of the steak and add it to the bag. Remove as much air as possible and massage to ensure the meat is completely covered in marinade. Place the bag on a plate and put it in the refrigerator for at least four hours but preferably 24 hours. Flip bag occasionally to ensure even coating in marinade.

steak for Mexican street tacos recipe marinating

Step 3: Remove meat from marinade and blot dry with a paper towel. Allow meat to come up to room temperature while you prepare your grill. Discard the marinade.

uncooked steak for Mexican street tacos

Step 4: Light grill and set up for direct high heat, getting coals as close to the cooking grate as possible to ensure the best searing of the meat.

Step 5: Place meat directly over hot coals and grill for a total of 8 minutes, flipping every 2 minutes.

Step 6: Remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes. While the meat is resting, warm the tortillas by placing them on indirect heat of the grill. (you can also warm in microwave if needed, 15-20 seconds)

Skirt steak, grilled and resting before adding to San Diego Style street tacos

Step 7: Place a double tortilla in a taco holder or on a plate. Slice steak across the grain and into small bite sized pieces.

tortillas for Mexican street tacos

Step 8: Place steak in tortillas, dress with onion, cilantro, radish and salsa. Serve with favorite sides, like these pinto beans from scratch.

assembling Mexican street tacos in a taco tray

The Best Street Tacos (San Diego Style)

Mexican Street Tacos (San Diego style)

4.63 from 8 votes
Prep Time: 1 day
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Course: Main Course, Taco
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 4

Ingredients

Tacos:

  • 16 street taco size corn tortillas
  • 2 lb skirt steak, trimmed

Marinade:

  • 1 can beer, lager style
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 lime, juiced, then sliced
  • 1 orange juiced, then sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Topping:

  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 cup restaurant-style salsa
  • 1 cup radishes sliced into thin strips

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and whisk together. Once orange and lime have been squeezed, slice them both and drop them in the marinade. Transfer marinade to a sealable plastic bag.
  • Using a jaccard or fork, pierce the surface of the steak and add it to the bag. Remove as much air as possible and massage to ensure the meat is completely covered in marinade. Place the bag on a plate and put it in the refrigerator for at least four hours but preferably 24 hours. Flip bag occasionally to ensure even coating in marinade.
  • Remove meat from marinade and blot dry with a paper towel. Allow meat to come up to room temperature while you prepare your grill. Discard the marinade.
  • Light grill and set up for direct high heat, getting coals as close to the cooking grate as possible to ensure the best searing of the meat.
  • Place meat directly over hot coals and grill for a total of 8 minutes, flipping every 2 minutes.
  • Remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes. While the meat is resting, warm the tortillas by placing them on indirect heat of the grill. (you can also warm in microwave if needed, 15-20 seconds)
  • Place a double tortilla in a taco holder or on a plate. Slice steak across the grain and into small bite sized pieces.
  • Place steak in tortillas, dress with onion, cilantro, radish and salsa. Serve with favorite sides, like these pinto beans from scratch.

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