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Jan 6, 2010 07:46 AM

Fish Tacos [split from LA]

(Note: This thread was split from LA at: -- The Chowhound Team)

FYI, the Enseneda style taco is not an authentic Mexican fish taco. It was a taco designed to appease Canadian and American tourists used to fried fish. The traditional Baja fish taco is not fried. I love the larded Ensenada style taco - but it is a gringo style and not authentic. Over the past 25 years I go to Mexico twice a year and every restaurant and hotel I talked to have told me they serve the fried fish taco to make the gringos happy.............Mexicans in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas now embrace this dish, but if you go to Puerto Vallarta and beyond they roll their eyes............

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  1. Right, because there are no fried foods in Mexico?

    Puerto Vallarta, the real Mexico? Hmmmmm.... eye rolling in Puerto Vallarta?ironic

    The frying come from Japanese tempura technique as introduced by Japanese fisherman, and what's relevant and established is authentic regional cuisine. In the future it will be something different, but the Baja fried fish taco is here to stay, and we all love 'em, Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike.

    The best fish taco in LA in by a Mexican from San Quintin and Ensenada named Ricky who used to make fish tacos at home with his family. And truthfully, there are no rules at all about tacos in Mexico. You can put anything inside them, is what I've experienced through 23 states in Mexico. The list of tacos would make Bubba collapse from exhaustion.

    13 Replies
    1. re: streetgourmetla

      Yup...I spent the last 4 months of last year in the academic study of Mexican American food and I found that one thing remains true... it doesn't matter if it's Kalbi in California, Grilled Fish in Sinaloa, or Costilla in Texas... it remains, above all a Taco. :)


      1. re: Dommy

        A taco is non-Mexican when it is from a hard shell, not to be confused with a fresh made dorado, the rest are Mexican.

        Dommy, I know you know that kalbi has ended up in a taco before in Mexico long before it became the rage here. It's all been done, probably by Koreans in Mexico City. Left over comida china goes into a taco too.

      2. re: streetgourmetla

        Well said SG!

        BTW, I still dream about the fried fish tacos I ate at a small shack along the road in San Quintin. No fish taco has ever come close to this, but I will gladly give Ricky's a try.

        1. re: vinosnob

          It's worth the drive.Ricky's Fish Tacos is as good as it gets stateside. Let us know when you do.

        2. re: streetgourmetla

          As I pointed out, I love the non-traditional lard fish taco, eat it all the time when in the Baja. There are plenty of fried foods in Mexico. and I never insinuated that PV was the real Mexico. If you want to take that a step further, there are many many Mexicans who have never had a burrito or taco in their life. Mexico has regional cuisines that vary greatly.

          And yes, Japanese fisherman are indeeed a valid vector, but don't understand your need to repeat it as it was previously stated. But there were additional vectors. In the 1970's, Canadians living in Baja told me that they brought the fish fry to Mexico in the 1950s. I'm sure the Japanese fisherman could predate this, but these Canadians were adamant that they were the originators. And since their batter and recipes came from England, I guess we have the Britons to thank as well. And since Canadians dip everything in mayonnaise, it certainly explains the white sauce.....when something is great, everyone wants to take ownership.

          But I agree that, like the sandwhich, anything goes in a taco. Yes, one could even fry up streetgrourmetla in a taco, and I am sure it would taste good with enough lard and salsa.

          But the technique did not catch on until fish n chip loving Canadians and Americans begged for it. This is not a Mexican cuisine that Americans found and fell in love with, like huitlachoche or racilla - the specific distinction is that the initial demand for it was created by foreigners, not by the locals. Al Pastor for example, owes its lineage to Lebanese immigrants who brought gyro to Mexico, and Mexicans made it their own by using marinated pork. But fried fish tacos gained traction in Baja due to tourists decades ago who were terrified of ceviche and wanted the comfort and reassurance of fried fish.

          Best gringo fish taco I ever had (and I have been to most of the places mentioned above) is the taco stand in Ensenada at the back of the town next to the bus stop that takes people into the Baja interior. Stared eating them back in 1979 and still return. Best white sauce I ever had and best cabbage short of El Salvador and Romania

          1. re: streetgourmetla

            SG: Yes, tacos like sandwiches, can contain anything. In Mexico City I had tacos with duck confit, mole and foie grass, tacos with cured wild boar and black truffles, and even tacos with fried meal worms and grasshoppers with white hot serrano chiles. At our Baha surf camps in the 1`980's, Mexicans tired of all the lobster traded us dozens of lobster tacos for cans of Dinty More stew!

            PV is certainly not the real Mexico, but last I was there I had a good laugh when a ceviche vendor told me fried fish tacos were for timid gavachos and told me to go to Senor Frog's. But I do indeed love larded fish. Best I ever had was in 1979 at the bus stop outside of Ensenada that leads to the Baja interior - best white sauce I ever had and best cabbage outside of El Salvador and Romania. Been going there ever since. And surprisingly this place plates the fish tacos as well. Maybe Ricky worked there....

            The Japanese fisherman vector is plausible and intriguing, but not the only one. When something is good, everyone wants to take ownership. In the 1970's transplanted Canadians in San Quintin swore to me that Canadians from Vancouver brought the batter and concept to Baja back in the 1950's. Considering that Canadians dip everything in mayonnaise, that probably explains the white sauce. Since the Canadians got their fish n chips from England, I guess we have the Britons to thank as well for the Baja fish tacos.

            My only point was that fried fish tacos are not some Mexican treat like huitlachoche or Racilla that gained American fans. Way back when, Americans and Canadians with simple palates who were terrified of ceviche drove the gringo market demand for the Mexican version of a fried fish sandwich.

            But a very nice list of LA fish taco huts indeed and thanks for the street team analysis.

            1. re: M2matthias

              Well, thanks, because this was a Best Fish Tacos in LA post.

              About PV, well that seems about right, because PV is not the place to get Baja Fish Tacos, neither are they very good in Canada or England. Get 'em in Ensenada, Loreto, La Paz, Tijuana, or even easier, head down to Silver Lake and visit Ricky's.

              There is no "French Dip" moment in the creation of the baja fish taco. The Asian influence in Baja cuisine is tremendous and stretches down into Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nayarit. It's plausible because of the Japanese community in Ensenada have lived and worked there in the fishing industry and continue to do so and have a substantial restaurant presence. But, it's not of interest to us in the Task Force. This is about the fish tacos, not other tacos or other foods, drinks, Canadian origin hypothesis, etc.

              Mayo is worldwide.

              In the US everyone knows them by Baja Fish Tacos, in Baja they are simply tacos de pescado.

              Ricky is Mexican and so am I. This is Mexican street food from Baja as defined by local culture.The Baja Fish Taco(we don't need to add fried because everyone here knows) is an icon of Baja as much as NY style pizza is an icon of New York." comes from Italy?" "Hey....let's be practical, huh" btw "where did Italy get those tomatoes?" "Does this make NY Style Pizza......Peruvian? Nope.

              Do yourself a favor, head over and see Ricky and ask for a taco de pescado, and enjoy.

              1. re: streetgourmetla

                Been to Ricky's several times when he has set up on Santa Monica Boulevard.. Quite good, but not as good as the bus stop in Ensenada, though very similar, particularly in how it is plated. I don't discount the Asian influence in Mexican food, have experienced it regularly, but like I said - many Canadians claim the lard fish taco came from them, as did the Bloody Caesar so popular in Baja. Without a time machine or Bill Buford it would be hard to know for sure. And at least two Mexican taco carts in Vancouver as well as The Mouse & The Bean make superb tacos de don't be so quick to discount fish tacos in Canada.

                The Japanese theory is good, I've eaten sashimi with them on the docks in Ensenada and they love Mexican food as well. But equally interesting are the ardent proclamations of the Canadians who flocked to Mexico in the 1950's - The Great White North influence is a more important as an economic driver (as were the mid-Western Americans) to popularize the fish taco when tentative tourists wanted something comforting and familiar, back in the days before Western fast food infected Mexico. And I agree PV is a terrible place for the fried fish taco, primarily because they spurn it. The PV style of ceviche, with tomato sauce and overly large chunks of fish is terrible as well, pales in comparison to the Baja style. Their Pulp con Ajo, however, is to die for...........

                And unless I specifically ask for a fried fish taco, when I order tacos de pescado up and down Baha they often serve me grilled dorado.........not fried, particularly in Loreto. Thus in the US, tacos de pescado represents both the battered version and the grilled version. And if the Task Force is interested in the Japanese origins of the battered and fried fish taco, it should keep an open mind regarding the Canadian and American influence as well -- like tomatoes in Italy, eh? Or the Western European cabbage in the taco...........

                1. re: M2matthias

                  You've made my point, ingredients are everywhere,but I'm already over it.

                  But you're missing the deal here, these sorties are to find and critique tacos in LA. Not compare them to Baja The Mexicoach stop near 5th and Gastellum? There are many fish taco stands between 5th and 6th by the bus stop. But, the Ensenada fish taco crawl will be found on the MEXICO Board someday.

                  An easy way to avoid confusion in your fish taco ordering would be this, if it's a comal de acero(st. steel disk) with lard, it's fried, no comal de acero but a grill, it will be grilled. McLulu's in Loreto does both I think.Was just in La Paz a few weeks ago, saw both.

                  1. re: streetgourmetla

                    I understand and applaud your analytical focus on LA street tacos. But to critique tacos in LA is to compare them to those we've had in Mexico. For many of us, our reviews of LA tacos are based on context - how much LA street tacos taste like the ones we've had in San Quinton or Tijuana...

                    It's fair to judge LA tacos relativistically on their own merits, but for me and my culinary friends in Los Angeles, we judge our fish tacos by the memories they evoke of our time spent in Baha. We experience Mexican food in LA with the critical filter of our experiences in Mexico...

                    1. re: M2matthias

                      gosh, girls, you're both pretty.
                      can we talk about where to get good mexican food now?

            2. re: streetgourmetla

              if you are on the other side of LA, Baja Tacos on Gaffe in San Pedro makes a very good (non fried or fried) fish taco. one of the things i have to have when i go visit.

              edit: correction.. Baja Fish Company, 611 S. Gaffey St.

            3. I LOVE those tacos.

              Does anyone know how to make the white sauce the street vendors put on them in Mexico?

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