Snow is currently piled high in the San Bernardino Mountains, now is the time for many in Southern California who make their annual winter trips to one of the few places in the southland to enjoy alpine activities. The slopes are busy with tubing, boarding, and skiing, as this is Big Bear’s peak season. Snow is currently in abundance once you get to around 6,500-7,000 feet in elevation, so on the drive up to Big Bear, there are numerous spots at snowed-over campgrounds to pull over safely and enjoy some snow play.
But what about the Big Bear taco scene once you finally reach town? Eating tacos in Big Bear is like Chris Taylor’s regular season stats: serviceable, and they get the job done, but they won’t knock your socks off. And that’s perfectly fine because sometimes you just need something wrapped with a tortilla.
Go in looking to compare it to what L.A. has to offer and it’s just a recipe for disappointment. However, if expectations are tempered and understood that it’s a touristy mountain town, then good and decent options up there should be acknowledged. Here are four spots worth checking out while up in Big Bear.
Cocina de Mexico
300 W Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear City, CA 92314
This little spot in Big Bear City is probably the best option for tacos in the snow. The asada is flavorful, the pollo is marinated and shredded, the chile verde has chunks of juicy pork, and the portions are heaped into corn tortillas. Red salsa has the smokiness of chipotle but isn’t overpowering. Cocina de Mexico is one of the few spots (maybe the only) in town offering cecina, cabeza, and lengua as meat options. It's the closest thing to an L.A.-style taqueria in town.
40199 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
The tacos and cerveza scene at Azteca Grill is what earns recognition here. The drinks are bountiful and the menu is expansive at Azteca, ranging from mole verde to fajitas, and even breakfast burritos for you early birds who like to get there early to avoid the crowds. It’s the most popular place for Mexican food in Big Bear. With tacos, there are three options (four if you want to go vegetarian with an avocado taco): asada, chicken, or carnitas. They come either “crispy” or soft. No a la carte options, so the $15.99 price for two tacos may look intimidating, but that’s because rice and beans are served with them. The beans and rice go a long way in fortifying you for hours of skiing, snowboarding, and being hyper-focused as you carefully drive over hidden patches of black ice. Also, their michelada game is strong.
Gaby’s Latin Flavors
41618 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
The offerings at Gaby’s Latin Flavors are an homage to the owner’s Bolivian and Mexican roots, and Gaby’s is the only spot in town for Bolivian-inspired cuisine. As far as tacos go, the options are limited, but the carnitas are the way to go. Get the asada, chicken, and carnitas options inside of a burrito, but be warned, they put a heaping pile of rice in their burritos up here. Or, you can get a heaping plate of some chorellana—a Bolivian dish of potatoes, onions, and meat—if you’re looking for something more filling than tacos after a long day of snow play.
Santiago’s Taco Shop
27226 State Hwy 189, Blue Jay, CA 92317
Santiago's is located near Lake Arrowhead in Blue Jay, about 45 minutes away from Big Bear. A Chipotle-Esque spot where the meats can be put into a taco, burrito, bowl, nachos, or a quesadilla. They are strictly against mixing and matching your tacos, so you'll have to commit to one protein and hope for the best. If the fish tacos are on special, they’re worth the order as the fish is perfectly fried and is served with lettuce and crema in a flour tortilla.
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