On this day, 14 years ago, “The Fast and the Furious” came out, revving up to become the famed franchise it is today, with the most recent addition paying homage to the late Paul Walker.
In honor of that, I thought it would be fun to list 14 notable San Diego drive-thrus. Of course, this list would be full of Mexican shops if it was up to me (wait… it is up to me…), but to be fair, I’m limiting it to just a few. Here they are, in no particular order… enjoy!
1. Tacos el Gordo de Tijuana B.C.
An online perusal for San Diego drive-thrus surprisingly did not bear any hits for Tacos el Gordo. Well, this original Tijuana taqueria expanded to three locations in SD (the Highland location apparently closed down recently… anyone?) and one in Temecula (its doors shuttered last spring). The only drive-thru is located at the original H St. location.
This is my go-to for out-of-towners looking for an authentic experience, the ultimate reason being that they accommodate both the safe Mexican food purveyor (carne, pollo, adobada…) and the more adventurous (lengua, tripas, cabeza…). Also, you’ll dream of the home-run green sauce they use on the adobada tacos and fries (the latter only available at the Palm Avenue location).
689 H St., Chula Vista, CA 91910 | 619.691.8848 | Sun. – Thur.: 10 AM – 2 AM | Fri. – Sat.: 10 AM – 4 AM
2. Alta Dena Dairy
New Orleans, affectionately NOLA, has drive-thru daiquiris, and although we don’t sell alcohol this way, at least we have Alta Dena Dairy, the only drive-thru convenience store that I know of. You can’t get more literally than driving through the store and telling them what you want. They will bag it up for you so you can be on your merry way. How cool is that?! Now, you really don’t have an excuse not to do your grocery shopping.
6426 Mt Ada Rd San Diego, CA 92111 | 858.279.0366 | 8 AM – 9 PM Daily
3. Sonic – America’s Drive-In
The only “fast food” chain in its category on this list, Sonic blows all of the competitors out of the water when it comes to sheer quantity, from the number of drive-thru lanes, to their famous drink menu, which consists of a whopping 56 options, in addition to 55 frozen offerings such as shakes, blasts, floats, and more. My OCD conspires that they don’t have 56 of the latter to bother people like me.
For years, I yearned for Sonic because I was only aware of the Vegas location. I envisioned this fast-food oasis in the land of lights, and urged my friends to go before beginning our long drive back to San Diego. I was happy with my order, but now that there are six local locations, including two on Camp Pendleton, I’ve yet to go to a single one. Go figure.
4. Evolution Fast Food
With so many unhealthy drive-thru options, Evolution Fast Food is the answer! A vegan (just hear me out) joint that serves shakes, smoothies, salads, wraps, sandwiches, desserts, and much more. Times are changing, my friends. “Meat” can now be done really well, to the rejoice of those who cannot partake, so good in fact that more meat-eaters are choosing to have a vegetarian meal. They offer three burger patty options: tempeh, “beef,” and black bean, and many menu offerings are gluten-free.
A fire tore through their kitchen on May 16, but they didn’t let that stop them. Six days later, they were re-opened, ready to serve you and change your minds about both vegan and fast food. Heck, they even have an improv storytelling session every third Saturday, AND they cater! Give it a try.
2965 5th Ave., San Diego, CA 92103 | 619.550.1818 | 11 AM – 9 PM Daily
5. Vallarta Express
To put a Mexican food establishment on this list, I concluded that it had to be because of a famous menu item, and Vallarta Express, my friends, is on the map due to their Christian (Jesus) Fries that originated from the Genesee location, I believe. Just think of your typical carne asada fries order. Now, add two sunny-side up eggs and a crap ton of bacon. I had me at bacon… what?
Side note: there are three locations, with a fourth on the way opening up in PB off Garnet.
Various locations | 24 Hours Daily
6. Panda Express
You heard right! It’s quite common to have a drive-thru Panda Express, but there are only four here in San Diego County, three located in North County (Oceanside on Mission Ave., Vista on Sycamore Ave., and Escondido on West Mission Ave.) and one in San Diego proper, Barrio Logan to be specific.
This definitely makes the option of having Panda for lunch more feasible… and dangerous. I mean… Orange Chicken via drive-thru?!
2850 National Ave., San Diego, CA 92113 | 619.702.8120 | Mon. – Thurs.: 10 AM – 9:30 PM | Fri.: 10 AM – 10 PM | Sat.: 10:30 AM – 10 PM | Sun.: 10:30 AM – 9:30 PM
7. Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii
Hawaii is the bearer of much goodness, and coffee is definitely one of them. Many of us think of Kona Coffee (which they serve), but there are little ones out there that deserve some recognition as well, so give Bad Ass Coffee a try. They’re also the only ones that do coffee ice cubes. Yes… it’s a great idea to save waste AND cool a customer’s coffee without watering it down. Smart.
They also serve coffee from all around the country including that from Oahu, Kauai, and Maui. With only one location, those living a little north have a spot to check out.
9878 Carmel Mountain Rd., San Diego, CA 92129 | 858.240.7077 | Mon. – Sat.: 5 AM – 10 PM | Sun.: 7 AM – 9 PM
8. Better Buzz Coffee
As a lover of beer, I honestly think the overlap between coffee and beer drinkers is major, and San Diego’s craft coffee game is on point. Better Buzz produces and roasts their beans in Vista, so it can’t get any more fresh than that. Just last year, they opened their Point Loma location, creating a drive-thru (and walk-up) from, what else, a former drive-thru. You can get a majority of the menu cruising in, but the more complicated drinks require you to hop out of your car. Note: the PB location is just a walk-up.
904 W. San Marcos Blvd., San Marcos, CA 92078 | 760.471.3899 | Mon. – Sat.: 5:30 AM – 7 PM | Sun.: 6 AM – 7 PM
1480 Rosecrans St., Point Loma, CA 92106 | 619.222.2899 | Mon. – Sun.: 5 AM – 9 PM
9. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Most are aware of the drive-thru Starbuck stores around town, but how many of you know there’s at least one drive-thru CB&TL? If you’re like me, you’d be happy to hear about an alternative to the green and white.
Fun fact: since 1999, all of their products are certified kosher, and in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district, one store in particular only serves halal food to accommodate their mostly Orthodox Jewish customer-base.
9343 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego, CA 92123 | 858.505.9909 | Mon. – Fri.: 5 AM – 8 PM | Sat. – Sun.: 6 AM – 7 PM
10. Pirates Cove Coffee & Tiki Port
To close out the beverages section of our list, Pirates Cove is a little interesting. They serves coffee, smoothies, acai bowls, but being right by the beach, they also offer board wax and cigarettes. Hmm…
Anyway, they have a fun tropical look, very kid-friendly, and will offer you a free coffee after your 7th purchase. They’re a friendly stop, so give them a try.
4896 Voltaire St., San Diego, CA 92107 | 619.621.7353 | Hours unknown
11. Roberto’s Taco Shop
You cant throw a rock in this town without hitting a Roberto’s Taco Shop. Roberto Robledo started out by selling 10-cent Poor Man burritos as well as a tortilleria in San Ysidro before opening his first taco shop at 4920 University Avenue (now a Taco Fiesta) in 1964. Read more about his life here.
Roberto’s is arguably the first taco shop in San Diego, and apparently, Mr. Robledo invented the carne asada burrito. However, with so many locations, the quality will vary, and undoubtedly, the nomenclature will throw you off as there are many -berto’s variations (Rigoberto’s, Alberto’s, Umberto’s, Adalberto’s…), so it’s difficult to tell if it’s still the same shop or a copy cat.
I think most San Diegans will agree that finding good Mexican food in town is not a difficult task, but finding the best? Well, that’s in the eye of the burrito-holder.
Various locations | 24 Hours Daily
12. Cali Baguette
This chain has taken banh mi to the masses. I grew with mom and pop bánh mì shops, and in addition to Lee’s Sandwiches, this large chain is garnering widespread attention.
With over a dozen sandwich combinations and several appetizers, there’s something for everyone. My absolute favorite item is their pâté chaud–meaty, puffy, pastry-y goodness! I drool just thinking about them. Their Vietnamese coffee is on point as well. Tidbit: there is a sit-down Cali Baguette in Chula Vista.
Various locations | Various hours
13. Crazy Bowls and Wraps (CBW)
Another healthy alternative on the list, Crazy Bowls and Wraps serves up “fresh food fast.” Clever. Only found in three states, this chain is growing in popularity.
Aside from their salads and wraps, they have a Subway/Chipotle/DIY-style bowl where you choose the size, protein, grain, veggie, and sauce, and voila! Lunch is served. You’ll find long lines, so give their drive-thru a try, especially in this heat. You’ll want the air-conditioning.
822 Grand Ave., San Diego, CA 92109 | 858.273.9727 | Mon. – Sat.: 11 AM – 10 PM | Sun.: 11 AM – 9 PM
14. La Posta de Acapulco
With no website or even a logo to their name, they belong on this list for one of my guilty pleasures–the Burrito Especial. It’s a carne asada burrito, but what makes it special is the quesadilla they use to wrap the thing. It’s a little crazy, but it’s mad good. Their red sauce is great as well, but be forewarned, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of food and you’d be better off sharing it with at least two other people. Yes… it’s that big.
Various locations | 24 Hours Daily
Honorable mention: Jack in the Box
Obviously, many fast food chains offer drive-thrus, but the sole reason why I feel Jack in the Box deserves a shout-out is because they are headquartered here. The unfortunately fact is that there are few other companies that share that fact. It’s as local as local gets, and supporting local, albeit mammoth, business is encouraged.
They cast a wide philanthropic net. I’ve personally worked with them in the past (pst… I’ve met Jack), so I value their local presence, especially in the wee hours of the night. I’d like to think me, along with many other college students, invented the Jumbaco before it was a thing.
Various locations | 24 Hours Daily