No matter your location in our fine seaside hamlet, you can rest assured you are never more than a short trip away from a taquería. From semi-secret holes-in-the-wall and jam-packed destination restaurants to wandering food trucks and deli counters snuggled in the back of convenience stores, Santa Barbara has a mind-boggling number of places to get your taco fix. We are, without a doubt, a taco town of the highest order.
The origins of the taco remain shrouded in mystery. Some say the tradition began in 18th-century Mexico with silver-mining operations and the practice of using little wrapped-up wads of dynamite in paper to plug holes; others point to evidence of indigenous folks in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico wrapping small fish in maize cakes long before the Europeans ever showed up. Either way, there is no debate about what they have become — one of the most popular, tasty, and reinterpreted cultural exports from our south-of-the-border neighbors.
And while the end result now comes in many flavors and foodie-inspired incarnations, the basics are the same for true authentic tacos: a warm, soft corn tortilla wrapped around a pile of meat that can (and should be) eaten with your hands. As Noe Vargas, whose family runs Taquería El Pastorcito on De la Vina Street, said, “Traditionally, tacos are what we call antojitos, a quick bite that is eaten on the go. It is something that you crave that will satisfy you but is not necessarily a meal. It is also important to pair it with a salsa or a topping like cilantro and onions and lime. The perfect taco must always be accompanied by the perfect salsa.”
With Fiesta beginning next week, we at The Santa Barbara Independent thought it appropriate to celebrate our city’s vast, varied, and ever-growing lineup of taco spots. Be they tried-and-true culinary institutions, new additions, or often-overlooked gems, our goal was to showcase the best authentic and/or noteworthy taquerías around while also dishing out some hard-earned intel on what exactly goes into making a taco sing such an alluring song. (In the name of expediency and devotion to Santa Barbara’s many proud taquerías, this guide focuses solely on taco spots located within Santa Barbara City proper.)
Get your taste buds ready, and enjoy this salsa-ready tour of Santa Barbara, California, a k a Taco Town, U.S.A.