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Tacos Baja Ensenada - let's get real

jono37 Feb 10, 2007 09:30 PM

OK folks, I had been waiting a very, very long time to eat at the establishment rated number one Mexian restaurant by Los Angeles magazine, and today was my opportunity.

I arrived at 2:30 PM today (Saturday) and parked right outside the establishment. I went inside and joined the line, which had about 15 people in front of me. I was happy to be jostled around as patrons navigated between the salsa and pimento bar and their tables. I knew I wanted the number 1 combo, since it is the fish tacos which everyone raved about.

After about a 20 minute wait I placed my order, paid and waited with anticipation. No tables or outside counter space was available, so I floated around between outside and inside, waiting for my order.

Full disclosure: I am a guero! I speak Spanish well, but since even many locals were speaking English to the staff, I did so as well.

Finally my plate arrived. Two thirds of it was obviously standard fare: white rice and pinto beans, stewed soft. OK, no problem, with lime juice and hot sauce, that is what I expect with my Mexican food.

The tacos: two double-tortillaed stacks of fried fish, shredded cabbage and a white sauce not too distant from ranch dressing. I went ahead and grabbed the package and bit into it. The fish was tender, not fishy tasting. The batter was crisp, not too different from some higher-end onion rings I've had. All in all a tasty, respectable thing to nosh.


I'm not sure if fish tacos, and this preparation of them in particular, has just become so fetishized and overexposed in the media that there was no way they could live up to their reputation, or if people truly find this plate to be the highest expression of Mexican cuisine in LA.

What about Guelaguetza or La Casita for Lord's sake???? You are telling me that fried fish tacos hold a candle to rich and complex moles, wonderful pipian sauces or sublime poached guayabas?

Someone please explain to me. If you say that Baja Ensenada is a sentimental evocation of the comfort food reminiscent of youth, of road trips to Mexico, of the cheap thrills of fast food, I will understand. But fine Mexican food this is not.

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  1. ipsedixit RE: jono37 Feb 10, 2007 09:39 PM

    Best Mexican for my money is BABITA.

    1. z
      zack RE: jono37 Feb 11, 2007 08:44 AM

      i think you went in with some bad info to begin with. i didn't know that la mag rated TBE #1 mexican but it's definitely up there amongst fish tacos. this reminds me of people reading the chow posts on in-n-out and then go expecting the greatest burger ever. the unrealistic high expectations only set up for disappointment.

      1. k
        kevin RE: jono37 Feb 11, 2007 11:46 AM

        it's best for fish tacos, ensenada style not for meican food as a whole (and that's a debatable topic because there are so many different regions from sinaloa to michoacan to yucaten to oaxacan to mexico city.

        1. f
          fooddude37 RE: jono37 Feb 11, 2007 11:51 AM

          Agree. I just wrote a similar conclusion. It's good! Good fish tacos. Good ceviches. Anyone going for a major food revelation, however, will probably be let down.

          1 Reply
          1. re: fooddude37
            WildSwede RE: fooddude37 Feb 14, 2007 07:59 AM

            I'm surprised that they rated it #1. Definitely for the fish tacos and ceviche, I agree. Other things, not so much!

          2. e
            eiji RE: jono37 Feb 13, 2007 02:16 PM

            I don't know if it's the best Mexican restaurant since it's like a fast food burger joint, all I know is that it's the best Ensenada style fish tacos I've had. They make great seafood cocktails as well.

            Those white peppers in a chile lime seasoning are outstanding especially if you are lucky enough to get them warm.

            Best Mexican is tough since there are so many subcategories. For fish tacos, they get my vote. LA magazine should have stated best fish tacos instead.

            1. Dommy RE: jono37 Feb 13, 2007 03:17 PM

              They have taken the liberty to naming themSELVES as the best Mexican in Restaurant due to that issue. Having seen the issue in question, the LAM just names the 'best of' mexican resturants, it had no formal list. The first restaurant they mention is TBE, which is how they they are 'justified' in proclaiming themselves #1...

              #1 in my mind is Babita, but we are visiting soon so, I'll get a chance to revisit that ratings shortly...


              1 Reply
              1. re: Dommy
                jono37 RE: Dommy Feb 13, 2007 05:12 PM

                I see. Very tricky of them!!

              2. b
                Bert RE: jono37 Feb 13, 2007 05:13 PM

                i've never heard anyone say it was the best mexican (haven't seen the LA Mag article). like everyone else, just heard it as the best FISH tacos in LA (and ihappen to agree)

                1. Joe Blowe RE: jono37 Feb 13, 2007 05:37 PM

                  Can you stand one more person piling on? It's not the best Mexican... they just happen to have some of the *best fish tacos* in the U.S.! Big difference.

                  BTW, I think their rice and beans suck. I know, that's a little harsh, but they really are just standard issue. I don't even bother with the burritos anymore -- strictly tacos!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Joe Blowe
                    sel RE: Joe Blowe Feb 13, 2007 07:37 PM

                    I go for Fish and/or Shrimp Tacos, Cocteles, Ceviche, Chili Guerros and Horchata but this is one of the few Mexican restaurants where I like the rice! Most tastes too much like catsup, the rice at TBE is simple and tasty. Beans are ok too!

                    1. re: sel
                      Dommy RE: sel Feb 13, 2007 09:04 PM

                      I also love the rice and beans at TBE... Sometimes I get sides of each and then mash the chiles into them and eat it with chips... Gloopy goodness...


                  2. russkar RE: jono37 Feb 13, 2007 11:02 PM

                    Several of my employees are Hispanic and wonderful people who understand good authentic food. They have recently requested that TBE be taken off the list of food brought into the factory on lunch day. Enough said??? Nazo in El Monte is much better. Amapola is history, or at least I think so?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: russkar
                      jono37 RE: russkar Feb 14, 2007 06:01 AM

                      This has been an interesting set of comments. I think everyone agrees that BTE is good at what they do, which happens to be quite limited in scope and ambition. This is fine, and I will probably drop by once or twice a year if I happen to be in the area. Certainly I believe there are more interesting Mexican meals to be had elsewhere, but I guess this place has its niche. The last post brings up "authenticity" issue, which is always dicey and hard to find agreement on, but I think that fish tacos in the real Baja, Mexico are in fact similar to those found in this institution.

                      1. re: russkar
                        Das Ubergeek RE: russkar Feb 14, 2007 06:31 AM

                        You know, by a very thin margin I have to give it to Senor Baja (which used to be El Taco Nazo) in El Monte or El Taco Nazo (still called that, family split) in Guadalahabra... but for shrimp tacos, no question, SB or ETN over TBE.

                        Parking's better at the other places, too, but you don't get "the East LA experience".

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