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Feb 14, 2008 05:39 PM

Baja style Fish Tacos in OC/LA

Hate to be the heretic here ------ but, I am starting to feel that Rubio's fish tacos are fairly unbeatable. Yes, yes, they are an 'evil corporation' chain etc etc yet their fish taco especials are, IMHO, incredibly delicious.

I have sampled some of the ostensible 'best' baja style fish tacos in the LA/OC area --- and am still flummoxed. Nothing I have had can compare.

Am I wrong? If so, please edify me.

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  1. Of course, it would help if you tell us where these ostensible 'best' are.

    For fish tacos -- not shrimp, but fish -- my ranking would be:

    1. Senor Baja, Anaheim Hills
    2. El Taco Nazo, La Habra
    3. Los Cotijas, Tustin or Garden Grove

    Move up toward LA and there's also Tacos Baja Ensenada in ELA with which one must contend -- but far and away the best fish tacos I ever had were from a fish taco truck on Olympic and Gerhart? Goodrich? A block or two away from TBE. I never have the opportunity to get back there at the same time so I have NO idea if it's still there.

    It's a bit surprising to me that with all the Mexican culture in Santa Ana, nobody ever mentions fish tacos there.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Thanks for the tips. I will try those out. (Las Cotijas is on my list.)

      I have sampled the fish tacos (they actually don't have baja style) at Las Barcas in Huntington Beach and found them lacking. Also have tried that place right by South Coast Plaza, I think it is called Baja Tacos. They are totally average.

      Also, took a trip up to Maria's Fresh Seafood in LA at the Grand Central Market, only to be be sorely disappointed. The fish taco there, while large, is pretty crappy.

      1. re: vlad

        I can't praise Los Cotijas enough. I'm a little sad that my sweet little secret is very much out, but such a good thing couldn't stay hidden for long.

        I have some tips for eating there on my blog if you're interested (see my profile).

        1. re: Narinda

          Just got back from Las Cotijas. Delicious.

          Caveats: Fish was most assuredly, not fresh. Clearly, I don't really expect fresh fish, but one of my tacos stank of old fish. The other two were great.

          Their hot sauce is pretty good --- but nothing on the chipotle salsa that Rubio's has. Plus a dollop of guac on one of those bad boys might just send me over the edge.

          Anyhow, thanks for the Las Cotijas tip. I'll be back there soon.

          1. re: vlad

            I swear you had the same experience I did -- I was starving, had skipped lunch, and ordered three fish tacos. Two of them were perfect -- one was old and gross. But when I went to the Euclid Street branch, I ordered two and both were fine. Their salsa is boring -- the guy in Tustin didn't want to give it to me, said it was too hot. I made him hand it over, tasted it, it was barely hot at all -- rooster sauce is hotter. So yeah, boo on the salsa.

            You've GOT to try El Taco Nazo. Blows Los Cotijas STRAIGHT out of the water.

            And BTW, it's actually "Los" Cotijas. I have no idea why, it hurts my brain the way "Mission Viejo" does ("ARGH IT SHOULD BE MISION VIEJA WARGLEWARGLE").

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              You sold me. El Taco Nazo is next on the list. Where is the nearest El Taco Nazo in the mid-Orange County area?

              My guess is that 'cotija' is one of what we called 'transvestite words' in Spanish class. Words that look feminine, but their article is actually masculine. For example, el mapa.

              1. re: vlad

                There's only one El Taco Nazo in Orange County, and it's in La Habra, just a hundred feet or so south of the corner of La Habra Blvd. and Beach Blvd.

                It's so, so worth the drive -- and if they don't have the chiles sitting out under the dome on the salsa bar, ask them to make more.

                El Taco Nazo
                121 S Beach Blvd, La Habra, CA 90631

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  I just put it on my To Do list for this week.


      2. re: Das Ubergeek

        Hi Herr Doktor Ubergeek

        Are all Taco Nazo locations equally as good, or do you recommend one (or more) in particular? TIA.

        1. re: obsessive

          I have only been to two of them -- the one on Garvey (actually haven't been there since it was next to My Hanh in that Godawful plaza and you had to show up before 11:30 AM if you wanted to sit for lunch), and the one in La Habra. The two were indistinguishable so I think you'll be fine.

        2. re: Das Ubergeek

          Ha, I thought it was just me. I didn't think that hot sauce at Las Cotijas was all that hot either. The tacos made up for the somewhat bland sauce though. Both tacos were fresh and very good.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            I am kind of a Baja fish taco newbie, so am on a bit of a mission. I tried Rubios today for the first time. The fish pieces in their classic taco were tasty, but so tiny, and buried under way too much cabbage. The salsas were bland (except for the roasted chipotle salsa which was surprisingly good), so the taco ended up being kind of a dry mess. The blackened mahi mahi was good, but again, tiny pieces of fish buried in a sea of cabbage. Not bad for a chain, but needless to say it was nowhere near as good as Las Cotijas.

          2. In my opinion, Rubio's has interesting salsas and some very thick "corny" tortillas but they are not even really Baja style. You can not taste the fish in that lump of batter. There is no crema type sauce. I am sure others will provide good recs.

            1. Hit four fish taco places two weeks ago when I was back in LA on business. My thoughts:
              --Tacos Baja Ensenada: [TBE's "on the way" from LAX to Woodland Hills, right?] My long-time favorite, but disappointed slightly this time. It appeared they were breaking in a new cook. There was a frazzled younger guy at the fryer, watched over by the owner (dude with the 'stache). The tacos were good, but lacked the magic that only Sr. Stache seems to have.
              --Taco Nazo (El Monte): Pulled into the strip mall and cursed when I noticed TN was gone. Retracted the curse when I saw the spiffy, new freestanding Taco Nazo across the street. I have to admit, I'd always put TBE as #1 and TN as a solid #2, but the sublimely perfect fish and shrimp tacos I had that day scored a resounding upset victory over the perennial champs, and reordered my fish taco world.
              --Best Fish Taco in Ensenada: Not bad. Not worth going too far out of your way for; just lacked the oomph that TN and TBE have. Doubt I'll ever go back.
              --Overpriced Chain Next to Hotel: It's next to the hotel, I said. TN & TBE are 40 miles away, I said. It's late, I said. I seasoned my fish tacos with the bitter salty tears of regret that night, my friends.

              5 Replies
              1. re: yclops

                For your next trip, there are many, many El Taco Nazos (should that be "Los Tacos Nazos"?) and many Senor Bajas -- there was a rift in the family and half the family changed over to Senor Baja. I bet there's half a dozen ETNs and a dozen SBs. They're all in the 626/562 area for the most part but one may be closer than the one on Garvey.

                1. re: yclops

                  We might be unsophisticated, but we LOVE Best Fish Taco in Ensenada. We go there 2-3 times a month and have never been disappointed. They have a wide selection of salsas, and their prices cannot be beat, IMHO.

                  1. re: Cubancoffee

                    I swear every time I read that I go "WHERE is the best fish taco in En...damn it, got me again!"

                    We ought to institute a site-wide rule that that restaurant must appear in quotes.

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      If nothing else, the guy came up with a distinctive, if confusing, name. And since he finally got stools that are the right height for the tables, we like the spare but somewhat funky decor.

                  2. re: yclops

                    I actually prefer BFTiE way over TBE. I find their batter much lighter and refreshing. Not as much of a crunch compared to TBE, but spectacular.

                    I'm good for at least 3 when I'm there, and can eat 4-5 if I wanted to overdo it. Their raddish relish is INSANE.

                    I go there about twice a month.

                    Goddamn, I just read that comment again: "just lacked the oomph that TN and TBE have". Need more oomph? then you need more pineapple salsa + raddish relish ;)

                  3. For a uniquely surf-inspired twist on the traditional Baja style fish taco, you might want to look to Catalina Fish Kitchen in Costa Mesa on 17th Street between Superior Ave. and Placentia Ave. They only have this one location which is always a plus in my book and you can enjoy your fish tacos (there are more than a dozen different fish options) with their ultra-spicy "Shark Sauce", sip a lovely draft beer, and enjoy the surf videos on the TV's.

                    R. Jason Coulston

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Jason_Coulston

                      Catalina Fish Kitchen actually has 2 locations, the other one is on Magnolia (in between Yorktown and Garfield) in Huntington Beach

                      1. re: I got nothin

                        No kidding, eh? Interesting. I had no idea. Sometimes we catch that very campy local commercial they run with the guy in the lobster suit standing in front of that Costa Mesa location. I had no idea there was another one in Huntington Beach. What do you think of that place?

                        R. Jason Coulston

                        1. re: Jason_Coulston

                          Haven't tried their fish tacos, but I do like their beer prices. Only tried a scallop dish, and let's just say I won't ever try that dish again and I haven't been back since that visit

                          1. re: I got nothin

                            That's a bummer on the scallops. I usually just get the Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos with rice and black beans. The Habanero sauce is excellent and provides great kick. My wife always orders the shrimp tacos. By the way, are you sure the Costa Mesa location and the Huntington Beach location are the same owners? I tried a Google search to cross reference the two but came up empty. Of course they're a small outfit and apparently not big enough to get a website going (big mistake if you ask me), but all of my search results yielded information on Costa Mesa, not on HB.

                            R. Jason Coulston

                            1. re: Jason_Coulston

                              I'm pretty sure they're related. The CM location is referred to on some sites as #1, and the HB location as the #2 (For example, see the link below for places to get Gringo Bandito hot sauce. Sidenote, I really like that hot sauce). I also think I've seen a commercial where they mention both locations. Maybe I'll try they're fish tacos based on your rec


                      2. re: Jason_Coulston

                        Luv CFK. Haven't had their fish taco yet cuz I am always busy demolishing their lobster burrito.

                      3. I used to like Rubios until I had freshly prepared fish tacos. I don't think Rubio's compare texture wise.

                        My favorite so far is Taco Nazo in La Habra. When you get them fresh you can taste the crunchy batter, and the fish is silky and flakey. They really suffer if you let it sit for so much as 5 minutes - got soggy and limp.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: notmartha

                          Agree on the sogginess -- it's almost like tempura batter so you need to move fast. Either eat your chiles gueros before the tacos come up, or after. It used to be they would hang out in a heat lamp. Now they make everything fresh and I'm not kidding, I've driven from Orange on my lunch hour to go get those damn tacos.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            That's dedication!

                            At least tempura can last a few more minutes. Problem is they top the fish with crema, salsa, etc so by the time I finished my first taco the second was already soggy.

                            1. re: notmartha

                              Ah -- they put the cabbage on first, so I push the cabbage (and the gloppy stuff) to the side first before I eat anything.

                              I shouldn't have to resort to surgery to make my food last fifteen minutes, but when I do, it's just... sublime.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Thanks for the tip. I was considering something more drastic - like placing 2 orders 10 minutes apart...