Las Olas

$25 - $50

Las Olas, located beach side in the heart of Cardiff, has been serving up fresh, traditional Baja style Mexican food since 1981. While famous for creating “the original” fish taco, Las Olas has much more to offer, including healthy selections of seafood, traditional Mexican favorites, and new tantalizing dishes created by Executive Chef Ricardo Enriquez. With walls adorned with tropical plants and a dining room filled with vivid colors, your experience will mentally transport you to exciting Baja, Mexico. Whether it’s for a casual family gathering or a seaside dinner by sunset on the beachfront patio, Las Olas has something to offer everyone.

Las Olas: Baja Food at its Finest

Just footsteps away from the picturesque beach in Cardiff sits Las Olas, one of six restaurants on Cardiff’s Restaurant Row located on the historic Highway 101. To the east, it also overlooks the San Elijo Lagoon, one of California’s last preserved wetlands. With the coastline at its front door, Las Olas, meaning “the waves” in Spanish, attracts a variety of guests from locals, beachgoers, surfers and tourists. It offers the best to be had as a casual retreat for those seeking a great atmosphere, food, and drinks.

Serving fresh Baja-style Mexican food since 1981, with a second location in Carlsbad which opened in 2003, Las Olas has much to boast about. After starting out as the first fish taco stand in San Diego, Las Olas also lays claim to being the first restaurant in America to serve the Baja Fish Taco. This is no small feat as any local will attest to the fish taco being to San Diego as the cheese steak is to Philadelphia. To this day, Chef Ricardo Enriquez, who has been with the establishment since 1991, continues to create healthy, traditional Mexican favorites, with an emphasis on fresh local seafood.

Upon taking in a full sweep of the décor, one can’t help but be transported to a remote tropical Mexican hideaway. A bamboo, palapa-style bar in the cantina showcases a comprehensive selection of tequila and the promising sound of Margaritas being custom-blended. As we turn into the colorful dining room, it’s impossible not to notice the huge Marlin hanging over the archway, which leads into one of the two patio areas of the restaurant. The ceiling is lined in thatch and the walls are generously decorated with tropical plants, hanging surfboards, and Mexican artwork. The floor is a dark, rustic Spanish tile. Along with the wait staff’s casual uniform of tank tops, shorts, and tennis shoes, the ambiance of Las Olas evokes the feel of a traditional restaurant in Baja: casual and relaxed.

We opted to be seated on the patio overlooking the San Elijo lagoon. After being greeted by our server, Liz, it was decided that we would try the Mango Margarita. This was a great choice, for not only was it refreshing after a hot day, but the flavor of the freshly pureed mango paired wonderfully with the tequila (perhaps even a little too well). We were also served a bowl of hot-out-of-the-oven crispy tortilla chips along with a side of fresh salsa.

We began our meal with an order of the Calamari Fritas. Pieces of fresh calamari lightly battered and fried to a sizzling golden brown arrived in a heaping mound atop a bed of shredded cabbage. This was accompanied by a yogurt-salsa dip. As I dunked a crispy ring of calamari into the creamy dip, I noticed that the coolness and slight tang of the yogurt salsa cut into the warm richness of the fried halo, creating a contrasting yet complimentary experience.

Our next selection was the Ceviche. This was prepared with pieces of fresh white fish marinated in lime and citrus juices with chopped tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. This tantalizing house selection comes served in a crispy, homemade tostada bowl. The ceviche created an exciting burst of brightness in my mouth; the varying flavors all marrying together in savory harmony. After finishing every bite of this invigorating dish, I was more than satisfied and ready to move on to the entrees.

I couldn’t come to Las Olas and not try the famous Baja Style Fish Taco— a culinary fixture 28 years in the making. Diners have two choices for how their taco is prepared: the fish may be fried in batter or grilled, and served in a corn, wheat, or flour tortilla. Opting for the more traditional battered and fried fish with a corn tortilla, I ordered this taco a la carte. The mere sight of this beautifully assembled taco, packaged street food style in paper wrapping, made my mouth water. I could see the crisply battered fish sticking out of an array of shredded cabbage, guacamole, tomato, cilantro, and an appetizing display of white sauce. Everything was encased in a warm, soft corn tortilla blanket. With one quick squeeze of my tangy lime wedge, I bit into the generously stuffed taco. The softness of the corn tortilla, followed by the crunchy freshness of the cabbage and the crispy fresh fish were very engaging. Similarly, the delicious notes of the white sauce and guacamole were delightful as I devoured the delicious taco. This truly was one of the best fish tacos I had ever had; and before I knew it, I had eaten every last bite. Completely satisfied, I eagerly moved on to taste what else chef Enriquez had in store for me.

With that said, I decided to try one of Chef Ricardo’s personal creations, his signature Garlic Mahi Mahi. The mahi mahi was served in a separate ramekin on the plate alongside Spanish rice and refried pinto beans. The fish had been cubed and sautéed with garlic, tomato, and onion in a heavenly white wine sauce. Despite the fact the dish includes a side of warm corn tortillas, the flavors were so piquant and delicious that I found no need to use them. Although distinct, none of the ingredients tried to overpower each other. The refried beans were a soft texture, and the deliciously seasoned grains of rice rounded out what was to end up being one of my favorite dishes of the night. Compliments to Chef Ricardo for creating such a magical, deliciously genius creation.

Next, we opted to order something other than seafood, which led us to the Carnitas Tostada. A heaping pile of savory ingredients, it contained a golden-fried bowl-shaped tostada as the proud centerpiece. Inside, flavorful pieces of roasted and seasoned carnitas (pulled pork) were topped with an abundant mound of shredded lettuce, tomato, green onion, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. As I took my fork on an excursion down to the depths of the bottom of my plate, I pulled out pieces of the warm carnitas, which practically melted in my mouth they were so tender and juicy. The coolness of the sour cream and crispy lettuce lent a brilliant contrast to the succulent meat, while the creamy, smooth guacamole gave the tostada an added dimension of flavor. As the portion was fit for an army, I decided that a doggy bag might be in order.

Finally, I could not end the evening without trying Las Olas’s signature dessert, the Caramel Cheesecake Flan. This dessert has been made fresh daily since 1981, and while similar to a traditional flan, it carries a unique cheesecake “twist”. Sitting on a bed of lustrous caramel syrup and topped with a crown of whipped cream, it has a rich and smooth consistency. Creamy notes of cheesecake exploded around my tongue and were followed by the welcome sweetness of the caramel syrup. After taking the final bite, I couldn’t help but sink down into my chair and reflect on the complete state of bliss I felt after an ever-so-delicious meal.

As I got up and headed for the front door, I looked out the windows of the beachfront patio and saw the sun setting on the waves of the Pacific. I thought of how appropriate the name “Las Olas” was, and began mentally planning my return.

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  Restaurant Info

  • 2655 South Coast Highway 101
    Cardiff-by-the-Sea CA 92007
  • Address: 2655 South Coast Highway 101, Cardiff-by-the-Sea CA 92007
  • Cross Street: Chesterfield Drive
  • Location: North County Coastal | Cardiff by the Sea
  • Cuisine: Mexican |
  • Cost: $$ | Inexpensive | $25 - $50
  • Category: Casual Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Not Available
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Private Lot | Valet Parking |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | Mastercard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: N/A
  • Phone: 760.942.1860

  Business Hours

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

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  F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions


 Menus

Dinner Menu

Appetizers

Soup & Salad

Locals' Favorites

Seafood Specialties

A La Carte

Breakfast

Light Vegetable Specialties

Dessert


 User Reviews

Perfect food and atmosphere  

Great Mexican food and awesome atmosphere. Attentive waiters and waitresses.

THE BEST  

Las Olas is absolutely the best Mexican food in San Diego, along with the best laid back atmosphere with a breathtaking ocean view...for a wonderful price. Whenever I leave town I come home CRAVING their food!

best casual mexican food in SD!  

I am a California native and a huge Mexican food fan. Las Olas is my favorite restaurant. We love it so much, we have asked them to cater our wedding this summer. Everything I have tried on their menu is fantastic and their service, although most of ther servers are very young, is always good. During the summer months, make sure to get a table outside on the patio to see a great sunset.

classic surfside spot  

Las Olas is what it is: good food, very good margaritas and a friendly staff. As a local, it's a great spot to stop when it isn't a crowded disaster. The disappointed, cranky people (like Kelly) who have reviewed it hit it on a bad crowded day (which happens more now and Las Olas doesn't handle well) and/or had exaggerated expectations. You from out of town and want fancy cuisine? then go somewhere else. want a great fish or lobster taco and a pitcher of margaritas to end your day, go to Las Olas.

enjoyed it  

i have enjoyed it there. I notice it is often very busy.

One of the better casual mex in SD  

I love mexican food and have been to many places in San Diego. In my opinion, many are lacking in quality - which is surprising given the proximity to Mexico. However, Las Olas is a good casual mex restaurant at a nice location.... Due to the 101, though, there is not much of a view of the ocean or anything, but you are right there. They have some very good salsas with a nice kick!

Quick and good  

Las Olas is the quintessential surf town restaurant. The service is laid back, with lightning speed food preparation. The food can be excellent to fair, with extensive menu choices. They now have valet parking which simplifies access. This is a great place for families- quick food and noisy atmosphere.

Taco Schop  

You can get much better food at any Taco Shop

Don't Waste Your Money!  

Horrible service from the waitress and the management could care less. They have an attitude if you complain about anything. $16.00 for Carne Asada Tacos and the attitude??? I could do better at Sea World. Note to manager and wait staff: If you don't like your job....QUIT!

Where’s the Mexican taste?  

Fun atmosphere and nice location, how ever the food is far from good and Mexican! (The presentation probably is). Who ever had the experience of having a ceviche tostada, or shrimp taco in Southern Baja (not TJ or Ensenada) will relate.

No Thanks...  

The best thing this place has going for it is location. People who rave about the menu haven't had authentic mexican food. The House margarita I had sucked...didn't finish it. The food was overpriced and less than mediocre. The staff were hard to find and when we asked for more napkins our waitress slapped some on our table with her bean covered fingerprints all over them. We went for lunch, no appetizers, 3 entrees, 2 drinks, and one dessert...$65. I Wouldn't have minded the bill if service and food was up to par. We received better service from the valet who parked our car than the wait staff. What a way to end the weekend. Thanks for nothing Los Olas.

Hostile Homeless In Parking Lot  

The food was actually very nice. Lots of veggies, very fresh tasting, helpful wait staff. The problem is they let an obnoxious homeless guy in a beat up gray van (I guess he's not homeless if he lives in a van?) park in their lot. This guy threatens customers in the parking lot. I don't understand why they let him stay there and I have reported him to management. If management replies to this that they no longer let him stay in their lot as a shelter, I'd say it is safe again for women and children to go...even nice. But there is no such place as a nice restaurant if you are threatened in the parking lot.

Awful, Awful, did I say Awful?  

A mexican restaurant that can't make a decent Margarita? Our food was microwaved slop. We should have stopped by Von's and gotten a couple of frozen burritos and nuked them ourselves. At least we know how to make a decent Margarita. The only thing good about our experience was ... oh wait, there wasn't anything good about it!

Awful, Awful, did I say  

A mexican restaurant that can't make a decent Margarita? Our food was microwaved slop. We should have stopped by Von's and gotten a couple of frozen burritos and nuked them ourselves. At least we know how to make a decent Margarita. The only thing good about our experience was ... oh wait, there wasn't anything good about it!