Meeting taco artist Gerry Torres, owner of San Diego’s City Tacos restaurants in Encinitas, was a delightful experience. Gerry’s infectious smile and warm personality make you feel like lifelong friends within minutes.
He’s a genuine individual who deeply values his employees, cherishes his customers, and wants to make the world a better place one taco at a time by creating tacos with soul.
Gerry, who spent his early years in Mexico City and split his teenage years between Tijuana and San Diego, fondly recalls his street taco days. He emphasized the importance of savoring tacos properly—never taking them to go and never using a fork. Demonstrating the art of holding a taco to relish all its layers without any spillage, he shared his enthusiasm for the authentic taco experience.
His culinary career started when he was a manager for Port of Subs at the age of 16.
“I was the manager and could not operate the slicer since I was not 18 years old,” Gerry said.
Following his sub-shop days, he worked at La Mesa’s Tiramisu Trattoria as a manager and junior partner for a decade. Gerry’s taco dream became a reality when he opened his first City Tacos in North Park on May 14, 2014.
“North Park was a perfect location. It was up and coming with young professionals — different and vibrant,” Gerry said.
He started his modest restaurant with four tacos: chorizo, chile relleno, borrego (lamb), and mahi mahi. For the first two weeks, the shop doubled the number of tacos served each day to keep up with the overwhelming demand.
Ralph Rubio, founder of Rubio’s, and Carlos Montero, owner of Tijuana’s Tacos El Gordo, were inspirations for Gerry. In fact, Gerry has known Montero for over 40 years and has consulted with him on recipes for City Tacos.
Today, Gerry and Eduardo Baeza, executive chef and partner, have seven City Tacos locations throughout San Diego and one in Los Angeles at Village USC. He is particularly proud of his latest location, the 10,000-square-foot Ocean Beach Playground.
Seeing kids on phones all the time, Gerry wanted to create a place where giant Jenga, checkers, chess, Connect 4, and outdoor activities would prevail over phones. With only one month of operations, Gerry said the OB Playground is already a huge success.
At the beginning of this column, I made a bold claim that City Tacos is San Diego’s best affordable gourmet taco. I challenge readers to try City Tacos. Each taco is six inches in diameter, piled full, and ranges from $3.50 to less than $5.00 for standard tacos.
One of the favorites I had, the Shank You taco, was slow-cooked beef shank with mushrooms and garlic, topped with fresh onion and cilantro, and finished with house green salsa.
The menu is super creative and broken into House Favorites, Traditional Tacos, Caseros Homestyle Tacos, Tacos Dorados, and Vegan and Vegetarian choices. The menu typically has 20 choices. Each month, Gerry and chef Eduardo create a new taco. If guests love the taco, it pushes the lowest-selling taco out.
This creates new choices for guests to explore. Guests can save even more on Taco Tuesday with 10% off food, $2.50 Mexican beers, and DJs at the Encinitas, La Mesa, and North Park locations.
When we visited City Tacos, we started with divine tortilla chips and guac, setting the stage for an exceptional meal. Frank tried the Mexicali taco with grilled Angus steak, while I savored the chile relleno taco with beer-battered chile guero filled with cheeses and delightful toppings.
We also indulged in the slow-cooked pork carnitas and explored other offerings like portobello, Pescado, Papa con Rajas rolled tacos, and the monthly Holy Mole special, featuring grilled shrimp and a pink mole sauce in support of breast cancer awareness.
City Tacos’ commitment to philanthropy extends to local and international causes, making them more than just an exceptional taqueria. For example, 15% of all Holy Mole tacos sold will be donated to Keep A Breast to help fight breast cancer.
After our visit with the mastermind of City Tacos, I can 110% say that Gerry Torres has accomplished his goals of being unique, creative, and changing perceptions with his gourmet, healthy, affordable, fast casual City Tacos creations. No wonder they have been named Ranch and Coast magazine’s Best Taco for four years in a row.
Thank you to Gerry and Manager Josefina Castellanos for showing me and Frank just how darn good tacos can be! More information is at citytacossd.com.
— Story by Rico Cassoni
Rico Cassoni is the executive producer for Taste of Wine and Food. Founder and advisor Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at tasteofwineandfood.com. Reach them at [email protected].