In the words of the (in)famous public speaker, Dan Quayle…”If you give a person a fish, they’ll fish for a day. But if you train a person to fish, they’ll fish for a lifetime.” And I say, if you’re really lucky, one of these persons will make you one heck of a fish taco…
Rumor has it that fish tacos originated in the Mexican port town of Ensenada back in 1958. Really? Okay, if Ensenada says so. I think it’s far more likely that there were many an ancient native who wrapped a maize tortilla around the catch of the day and groaned with pleasure. Wherever they started, they’re everywhere now…even on the East Coast where authentic Mexican cuisine is about as easy to find as a tan. Aren’t we lucky that San Diego has both tans and fish tacos everywhere you look? Okay…some are the real thing, but many are not. Hence, I set out to do some taco taste testing to find the première tacos del mar…
If you’re not intimate with fish tacos, there’s just a few basics to know. The “musts”…flavorful fish (deep-fried or grilled), crunchy cabbage, savory sauce, and several lime wedges per taco. Corn tortillas are traditional. The “extras”…like marinades, tomatoes, cheese, onions, or something totally original…keep it interesting.
TJ Oyster Bar is a tiny place in a Bonita strip mall serving up some dang good tiny tacos. The proof is in the crowd. For $1.00 (yes, a BUCK) you get the traditional deep-fried variety with cabbage and sauce inside a miniature corn tortilla. For an extra buck, you lose calories and gain flavor with the grilled version. Throw in some more coins and you’ll get something that used to have a shell, may or may not have tentacles, or is the namesake of San Diego’s very own red light district. Don’t expect atmosphere for mere bucks, but do expect to be very happy you waited in line.
I was told my research would be incomplete without a visit to Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill. (I now consider this person a genius.) First, I was impressed by choices…no less than 13 (T-H-I-R-T-E-E-N) options for the fish inside my two white corn tortillas AND s-i-x different marinades (lemon butter, lemon garlic butter, teriyaki, blackened, chipotle or bronzed). Then, I was impressed by the gift of an entire filet buried under a mound of cabbage, onions and cheese in said tortillas. These artistic creations are just a few shakes of salt away from flawless. The price tag? Mere bucks once again…cuatro, to be exact. This deserves a “Wow”.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in San Diego any more. Maybe TJ??? La Fachada is the real Mexican deal…so, I was bit disappointed to be a bit disappointed when I took my first bite of their $2.40 fish taco. Too much mayo in the sauce for my taste…and, too little crunch in the lettuce (note the “musts” mentioned above). I have a feeling they serve up a killer carne asada, so I will be coming back to this San Diego icon soon.
Hail to Yelp!!! Yet again my fellow Yelpers remove all apprehensions about food poisoning and turn me on to a hidden culinary treasure. If you blink as you drive down India Street, you might breeze right on by Mexican Fiesta. It’s basically one of those “restaurants” on wheels…without the wheels. Just big enough to house a compact kitchen, a cash register, and a tiny walk-up window, this places serves up one of my favorite fish tacos. Deep-fried fish (check), cabbage (check), savory sauce (check)…and, a deliciously tangy tomato salsa with a kick. A parking place and two bucks is all it takes.
I discovered Marisco’s German Taco Truck a couple of months ago when I saw a small crowd milling about in the parking lot of Gala Foods on 30th Street in South Park. Sometimes being nosy pays off in a big way. The first big way was a cup of free soup and a mixta ceviche tostada for $5…ummmm, WOW. So, of course, I had to taste their fish taco. Their La Plancha Fish Taco (and more free soup) was the pay-off. Grilled and with all the “musts”, I will definitely be stopping by here at least once a week (as soon as I can begin to fathom eating another fish taco again).
The Pacific Beach Fish Shop was my personal numero uno! It had choices (T-W-E-L-V-E varieties of fish and E-I-G-H-T different marinades), flavor (including enough salt) and all the “musts”….yes, a higher price tag ($3.50-$5.50), but totally worth the investment. And, the staff was seriously hospitable…I hadn’t even gotten in the front door yet and I’d been welcomed. (Of course, when I outed myself as a blogging fish taco taste tester, it got even better…including a small gift of their signature lobster lumpia. Wow.) Looks like I’ll be making more trips to PB in the future…
…when I can fathom eating another fish taco. It’s going to be a few weeks.