El Rey Tacos a Vapor’s name refers to their sensational steamed tacos. This ascendant San Diego taco stand offers a streamlined menu consisting of just three options: chicharrón (pork rind and beans – $3), frijoles (beans and cheese – $2), and carne con papas (a pleasant purée of shredded beef brisket and potatoes – $2.50). El Rey Tacos a Vapor’s corn tortillas are dipped in chili-infused oil, stuffed with one of the aforementioned guisados and then steamed so that both the damp tortilla and its savory filling form a harmonious union of earthy masa and spicy stew. The tacos are finished with fresh onions, shredded lettuce, marinated carrots, fresh-pickled jalapeños, and a fiery salsa roja.
Fernando Sepulveda, who co-owns El Rey Tacos a Vapor with his wife Liliana, explained to me that his family has been selling tacos al vapor made this exact same way across the border for the past 60 years. His grandparents, Simon and Carmelita Rodríguez, settled in Baja after moving from their home state of Michoacán. They began operating taco carts all over downtown Tijuana under the name of El Venadito Tacos a Vapor. Their brilliant family recipes have now migrated northward once again via El Rey Tacos a Vapor.
Depending on where you are, tacos al vapor are also called tacos de canasta, tacos sudados, tacos tuxpeños, or basket tacos. Choosing how you’re going to refer to them is easy compared to finding anyone else in San Diego to prepare them for you. Los Angeles literally has dozens of places that serve tacos in this style but, before El Rey Tacos a Vapor, I’ve solely known Ranas in Spring Valley to serve steamed tacos locally, and only as an off-menu special.
This is why I was thrilled when El Rey Tacos a Vapor began surfacing on my Instagram feed over the past several weeks, even though (as always) I’m late to the party. El Rey has actually been around since August 2019, frequently popping up at Del Barrio Market in Barrio Logan and downtown Chula Vista. For the last month, they’ve been parked in the BLVD Court in University Heights as a guest of Tacos La Mezcla every Taco Tuesday. Wherever they are, my advice is to get there early, as they sell out sooner than their closing time. Once you taste their product, you’ll understand why.
Taco Scores: Taco Al Vapor de Chicharrón Guisado (95), Taco Al Vapor de Carne con Papas (92)
Jay Recommends: Tacos Al Vapor (any), with everything on them
El Rey Tacos a Vapor; 2104 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104; Tuesday 3:00pm-7:00pm; (619) 454-2953; facebook.com/elreytacosavapor/