Hold the Grease: Tacos with Potatoes and Skillet Corn and A Trip to Old Town San Diego

Late in April each year the Cinco de Mayo ruckus begins.  Ads on television air, local restaurants sport signs about Cinco de Mayo happy hours and don strings of red, green, and white flags, grocery stores advertise their specials full of bagged chips and cheese sauce in jars, and Twitter is abuzz with questions about what everyone will be making for their Cinco de Mayo parties.

“Interesting” but far from authentic variations on tacos and guacamole surface, there’s talk of new-fangled margaritas and cerveza, and for those interested in dessert, margarita cupcakes seem to be everywhere sporting that perfectly swirled, creamy top.  “You want it with or without salt?”

Or in the case of a favorite, fresh snack of mango, melon, papaya, and cucumber or jicama, “You want it with or without chili lime salt?” Yes, please.

When you live in San Diego, good Mexican food is easy to find any time of the year, and the ingredients to make your own at home are also plentiful, so why wait until Cinco de Mayo to enjoy it all?  Because it’s a reason to party.  Why not, I guess, right?  I never need a reason to eat good Mexican food or drink margaritas.  Ever.

Old Town San Diego, a California State Park, is a great place to enjoy Mexican food, margaritas, and if you haven’t had too many margaritas, early California history.  It’s especially nice to visit on a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon after yet another busy season — and well before Cinco de Mayo when the crowds can be crazy.  If you’re someone who enjoys a crowd, then Old Town is the place for you. The question is whether most of the party-goers flock to the restaurants inside or outside the official boundaries of the state park which is considered the birthplace of California and in 1769, where Father Junipero Serra built the first of 21 missions in California.

We recently enjoyed the food and margaritas at Cafe Coyote & Cantina in Old Town just outside the state park while watching the tortilla makers.  Just thinking about those chunky orbs of hand-patted dough makes me want to settle down with a few hot from the griddle, but I only have corn tortillas right now.  They’re locally made, even if they’re not hot off the griddle.  I was too lazy to get out my tortilla press.

But before I share the recipe with you, do you actually know what Cinco de Mayo is really about?


Potato Tacos with Skillet Corn

corn tortillas

l lb. russet potatoes, about 2 medium, quartered and boiled

1 roasted jalapeno, stemmed and peeled

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, chopped and divided

3 green onions, chopped

1 T olive oil

hand full cilantro leaves, lightly chopped, divided

3 cobs corn, kernels removed

1 c. green cabbage, slivered

1 tomato, sliced thinly

1/4 red onion, sliced thinly

sliced radishes

salsa verde, canned

1 lime, quartered

cotija cheese for sprinkling

Prepare the potatoes by quartering with the peelings on, covering them with water in a medium lidded sauce pan, bringing to a boil over medium high heat and cooking until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.  Drain then remove the peelings by peeling with your fingers.  Discard the peelings.  Cut the potatoes into smaller cubes and set aside.

Prepare the jalapeno by grilling or broiling until the skin is blackened, then wrap in a clean dish towel while you prepare the corn.  After the corn is prepared, remove the stem, peel off the blackened skin, and chop the jalapeno seeds and all.  Set aside.

To prepare the corn, cut from the cob with a sharp knife and place in a dry, heated cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Allow to cook undisturbed until the skin on the kernels begins to brown, then stir to allow more browning.  Mix in 1 clove of chopped garlic, season with salt and pepper, and squeeze on some fresh lime juice from a quarter piece of lime.  Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

To finish the potatoes, add the olive oil to the same skillet the corn was cooked in.  Add the potatoes as well and cook over medium heat making sure the potatoes are in a single layer.  Season with salt, pepper, and the cumin, tossing lightly.  Add about half the chopped green onions to the mixture and toss lightly again.  Continue to cook until the potatoes begin to brown.  Add  a pinch or two of the chopped cilantro and squeeze over fresh lime juice from a quarter piece of lime.  Keep warm.

To build a taco, take a few unfried tortillas and wrap them in a clean dish cloth.  Place them in the microwave and heat on high for about 20-30 seconds.  Remove from the microwave.

Build taco by placing potato first, then the fixings of your choice after.


  • Saveur is featuring Tacos de Papa in the May, 2011 issue.  The recipe is made with a mashed potato mixture that is placed into the tortillas, then fried until crisp.  No, I haven’t tried that one.  I had a flash of mashed fried potatoes coming out of the tortillas as I was frying them and decided I’d wait on that one.  Maybe a bite-sized fried taco is in my future.
  • If you’re used to meat in your tacos (or fish) this might take a bit of getting used to, but we liked it quite a bit.  A compromise would be to mash the potatoes after the browning before they go into the taco, but that doesn’t change the flavor, so I guess it’s a texture thing.
  • Make sure everything is well-seasoned, as in salsa, salt, pepper, and whatever seasonings you enjoy.  I could have gone with even more jalapeno in these easily.
  • I love Embassa salsa and although I often make my own salsa verde, I rarely do so for tacos — especially when the Embassa is so good.
  • We enjoyed these for dinner, then I mixed it up a bit the next day by adding the radishes which were nice and spicy.
  • The grilled corn is so wonderful — we really enjoy it.  It’s so easy to make and include in salads, alongside anything barbequed or grilled.
  • If you can’t get cotija cheese, which is dry, salty, and easily crumbled but not something that melts, then feta would be a great substitution.
  • I thought about mixing in some black beans, then didn’t, but think it would be a great addition.
  • All things considered, a not so heavy, greasy, fat-laden meal.  Nice.
  • If you’re more interested in a Mexican street-style taco, I’ve made those, too.

18 thoughts on “Hold the Grease: Tacos with Potatoes and Skillet Corn and A Trip to Old Town San Diego

  1. Wow, Kelly, those tacos look incredible. One of my favorite things is mixing corn in with my mashed potatoes, so this is right up my alley. I love the cotija and lime in them. Definitely bookmarking. Oh, and again, your photos are stunning, mouth-watering ad infinitum. 🙂

    1. I love a nice dollop of mashed potatoes mixed in with the corn on a plate, too. With gravy. Haven’t had the pleasure in far too long, though. That might be an idea for these next time. Maybe some tomatillo “gravy…”

  2. All those pics are making me miss San Diego 🙁
    Love the idea of a potato/corn taco! Would be great for those left-overs.

    1. It would be a great way to use up leftovers. Especially if the dinner ahead of the fact was planned for that purpose 🙂

  3. Potatoes and corn in a tortilla? The combination of all the flavors sound delicious. I can’t wait to try this. My carb-loving self thanks you for bringing this to my attention. Potatoes have been given a bad wrap (heh, heh…no pun intended) for a long time, but I’ve always remained loyal.

    Aaahhh…Cafe Coyote. We hit that place every time we’re in Old Town SD. I raise my margarita glass to the ladies who whip out those tortillas; what a service they provide! Nothing like a fresh, homemade tortilla rolled thin. Mmmm.

  4. I have to say, the best mexican food I’ve ever had was in San Diego! My friends and I went on spring break one year and I didn’t want to leave. Mostly for the Mexican food.

    These tacos are gorgeous! I love that potato filling!

  5. San Diego wasn’t a city I felt that I needed to travel to, but you’ve put in into a whole different light! Loving the potato tacos — it blends my two favorites!

    1. Never met a carb who didn’t love me :). When we’re trying to keep an eye on carbs around here, potatoes get the vote over pasta and rice unless they’re brown. The spoon full in one or two of these is perfect — go heavy on the fixings 🙂

    1. Hi Deborah! So good to hear from you 🙂 You’re not that far away, and to tempt you, I’ll keep the teasers coming. It would be an easy trip for your famiy. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. This one is new to me but it sounds great! The skillet corn alone sounds wonderful. and may make it as a side dish to our steak dinner on Sunday.

    I love San Diego and Old Town. It’s been so long since we’ve been there – probably 15 years ago. Great memories!

  7. Wow, I’ve never heard of potato tacos, but it sounds like an amazing idea! And now I need to take a trip to San Diego 🙂

  8. Ohhhhhh man I love the strawberry tortillas hot off the griddle with a little butter.. mmm. I think I just decided that the SO and I are going there tomorrow 🙂

  9. I think we were also at Cafe Coyote the last time we went through town! I personally prefer Old Town on a Tuesday afternoon when it’s mostly deserted. 🙂

    Delicious looking tacos, too. I’ve never thought to stuff it with potatoes, which are my all-time favorite food. (I should have been Irish.)


  10. i’ve never even had a shoddy imitation of a potato taco, much less an authentic version–great idea! i really need to travel more. 🙂

  11. Great post!! To me, the great food of Cinco de Mayo should happen more than once a year. I will definitely use those great recipes often leading up to next years festivities.

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