El Indio is one of San Diego’s oldest Mexican restaurants. It is known for having invented the taquitos. Its location right by downtown and the airport make it a solid selection for tourists. This is our overview of El Indio Mexican Restaurant.
Type: Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant
- What to Order: Taquitos, Mordiditas, Chips, Tortillas, Tacos, Tamales
- Salsa Bar: 3 stars
- Drinks: Soda fountain, beer, and wine
- Fish Taco $3.76
- Carne Asada Burrito: $8.18
- 2 Beef Taco Plate: $9.91
El Indio started life in 1940 as a tortilla factory on the corner of India and Grape. Founder Ralph Pesqueira specialized in corn tortillas that were delivered to many of the local government and military contractors gearing up in World War II.
It is during this time that Pesqueria is said to have invented the taquito. A taquito is simply a corn tortilla rolled like a cigar around a filling (most often shredded beef). This was a convenient way to deliver food to local workers.
The current El Indio restaurant opened in 1947. It is right down the street from the airport, so it has always been a popular place for visitors. Shows like Guy Fieri’s Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives have featured El Indio.
El Indio has a strong catering business and you can get bags of their chips and tortillas for takeout. They also have their own handmade tamales. Tamales can be hard to find because they are labor intensive. We come here to get masa to make our own tamales. (Check out our guide to making tamales).
Of course, the highlight at El Indio is the taquitos (also the flautas which are taquitos made with flour tortillas). Taquitos are available for a $1.11 each and come in come in shredded beef, shredded chicken or potato.
You can also get a dish called Mordiditas. Mordiditas consists of 5 taquitos chopped into bite-size pieces and covered with jalapenos and nacho cheese sauce. The Mordiditas costs $7.84.
Today, taquitos, which stands for “little taco,” are found at almost every Mexican restaurant. However, El Indio claims to be the original. Foodimentary is a site that lists national food holidays. October 4 is national taquitos day and they claim El Indio as the pioneer.
Of course, not everyone is on board with the idea that El Indio invented taquitos. Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street near downtown Los Angeles claims to have created the taquitos in 1934. Whatever, the case, El Indio is definitely a pioneer at spreading taquitos as a staple of Mexican cuisine in America.
For a look at how Mexican food, including the taquitos, took the U.S. by storm check out the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.
Beyond the tortillas, tamales, and taquitos, El Indio is a pretty standard neighborhood Mexican restaurant. You order at the counter and find a seat indoors or at their large outdoor patio across the street. The ambiance is nicer than you find at most similar locations, but in general, the food is pretty standard.
I admit I am not a huge fan of taquitos. The tortilla to meat ratio is simply too high. However, El Indio does make some of the best. Being right by the airport, El Indio is worth a stop if you want to try a historic dish.
Fun Diego Family is slowly covering the massive Mexican food scene in San Diego. El Indio is a notable contender in the Neighborhood Mexican Restaurant category. To see our complete overview of types of Mexican restaurants be sure and check out our Best Mexican Food in San Diego guide.