With every emerging taco spot trying to glam up their product with aiolis, Asian ingredients, bacon, and microgreens, I don’t know of a new family-owned taquería serving classic tacos around San Diego over the past few years that has been more more well-received than Taquería las Mulas, proving that the hospitality groups and corporate restaurant machines may be winning the war, but that humble, hard-working operators specializing in “good food done right” are still achieving occasional victories.
Mark K. aka “Pepe,” who owns and operates Taquería las Mulas, was born in Tijuana and raised in East County. An extension of Pepe’s outgoing personality, the colorful décor of his restaurant is festive and delightfully zany: piñatas hanging in the dining room, tables decorated with lotería boards (from a Mexican card game similar to bingo), and a shrine to Mexican sitcom El Chavo del Ocho in the back room.
Signs posted inside and outside of the restaurant dispense a combination of sage wisdom and bold claims:
- “Taco Tuesday sends a terrible message to our nation’s children. They need to know that tacos are always an option no matter what day it is.”
- “My head says gym but my heart says tacos.”
- “Best taquería in town!”
And, yes, after devouring hundreds of tacos from different purveyors throughout East County, I am in agreement on Taquería las Mulas being #1 in El Cajon.
The item to order here is the Mulita Al Pastor. A cross between a stacked corn quesadilla and two tacos, a mula (or mulita, if you prefer) is a great delivery mechanism for the al pastor pork here. We’re talking about sweet and spicy pork shaved off a trompo in the kichen with melted cheese, onions, and cilantro between two corn tortillas pressed and cooked in-house. Just typing all that has made me hungry.
You’ll begin your meal here with a plate of complimentary tortilla chips and an impressive platter of four different table salsas. The thick red chipotle salsa is the best of the four sauces offered, while the salsa verde delivers the most heat, the watery reddish one is kinda worthless, and the chunkier red salsa is decent. Consider yourself warned: you’re going to be thirsty when you eat here, as all of these salsas are heavily salted. After experimenting with the different sauces during my initial visit, I’ve kept it simple and just used the chipotle salsa on everything during my follow-up visits. There’s really no reason to use anything else; the chipotle salsa destroys the others.
The regular tacos here are decent too. My favorite is the Taco Al Pastor due to the aforementioned al pastor meat, but the Taco de Birria (made with a rich birria de res, aka beef stewed with guajillo chiles) and Taco de Suadero are good too. My biggest gripe would be that, although the suadero is mostly competently prepared, it could be less salty. High salinity is a repeated theme throughout everything served here, except for the al pastor.
Overall, I consider Taquería las Mulas to be in the upper echelon of taquería in San Diego County. Some enthusiastic fans on social media compare it to Tacos El Gordo, but I’m unwilling to go there. However, this is a restaurant that is relatively young and continues to evolve — their menu was much more streamlined when I visited today than it was when I visited over a year ago — and I have no doubt they will continue to improve their already solid reputation and delicious taco offerings.
Taco Scores: Mulita Al Pastor (94/100), Taco Al Pastor (92/100), Taco de Birria de Res (85/100), Taco de Suadero (80/100)
Jay Recommends: Mulita Al Pastor
Taquería las Mulas; 1024 Broadway, El Cajon, CA 92020; Tuesday through Wednesday and Friday through Sunday from 10:00am-9:00pm, Thursday from 10:00am-5:00pm; (619) 447-TACO; instagram.com/taquerialasmulas