Taco Task Force: Los Angeles Fish Tacos

Fish Taco Los Angeles


On our most recent group trip to Mexico, Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet L.A. started discussing his frustrations with L.A. taco blogs and how there has to be better criteria for determining which tacos warrant attention. With that in mind, he recruited me, Matthew Kang (Mattatouille), Javier Cabral (The Glutster) and Cathy Danh (gas•tron•o•my) to form the Taco Task Force. Mattatouille was in Chicago – somehow Alinea held more appeal – but the remaining task forcers set out to find the best Baja-style fried fish taco in L.A.

There were certain factors I was interested in exploring at each stop, including the variety of fish and oil, whether or not the tortillas were house-made, and how much effort went into producing unique condiments. There was wide variation in each area. There’s clearly no formula for producing a superior fish taco, but there are certain choices that can help your cause.

Bill came up with five different categories he was interested in scoring. He wanted each of us to award a possible five points for the Grade of Key Ingredient, Condiment, Authenticity, Overall Flavor and Cooking. The amorphous “Authenticity” category had me and Cathy baffled, especially since Bill and Javier were the only two Taco Task Force Members who had traveled extensively in Mexico. Still, since this was the first time, and the Taco Task Force is a work in progress, we went with the five categories.

Taco Task Force Stop #1: Tacos Baja (fka Tacos Baja Ensenada), a 10-year-old institution on one of East L.A.’s main drags with strung with flair limited to strings of seashells.
Taqueria Los Angeles
For his fish taco ($1.59), owner Martin Martinez decided to fry catfish in vegetable oil, which produced a thin, crisp batter and white fish that separated in moist sheets. The toppings consisted of rough-cut cabbage, house-made crema, diced tomato and hot sauce.
Fish Taco Los Angeles
The bar featured delectable gueros (blonde chilies) dusted with chile powder, fresh-cut limes and radishes. The Glutster warned that gueros have the potential to be explosively spicy, but I ate around the seed cluster at the center of the pepper and managed to avoid springing the spice bomb.
Taqueria Los Angeles
Tacos Baja also features the rarely seen (in L.A.) Taco Cahuamanta ($1.99), a taco with crisp rows of manta ray that look like tank treads and taste like albacore. This delectable taco didn’t factor into the scoring, but featured more kick thanks to the tangy salsa and roasted bell peppers.
Fish Taco Los Angeles
Here’s the initial scoresheet, with B standing for Bill, J for Javier and C for Cathy and her fiance Vernon. Since I was the scorekeeper, my score is listed first.

Grade of Key Ingredient: 4, B 4, J 3.5, C 3.5 AVERAGE 3.75/5
Condiment: 2.5, B, 2.5, J 3, C 4 AVERAGE 3/5
Authenticity: 3.5, B 3.5, J 2.5, C 2 AVERAGE 2.875/5
Overall Flavor: 3, B 3.5, J 3.5, C 4 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Cooking: 4.5, B, 4, J 4.5, C, 4.5 AVERAGE 4.375/5

OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 3.5/5

Taco Task Force Stop #2: El Taco Nazo in South El Monte.
Taqueria Los Angeles
Tony and Telma Garcia operate six Nazos around L.A., and they’ve been in the taco business since 1978, but their fish taco ($1.69) was disappointing and took a drubbing in the post-bite breakdown session.
Fish Taco Los Angeles
The pollack taco had an awful batter to fish ratio and on the surface, was completely indistinguishable from the shrimp taco ($1.99). It wasn’t until we parted the cabbage sea and cut through the thick batter with a plastic knife that we learned which was which. The clumpy batter and fish were both bland, and the cabbage, tomato, onion, cilantro and house-made crema completely overpowered the fish. Even the peppery roasted gueros couldn’t offer redemption.

Grade of Key Ingredient: 1.5, C 2.5, J 2.5, B 2.5 AVERAGE 2.25/5
Condiment: 1.5, C 2.5, J 2.5, B 2 AVERAGE 2.125/5
Authenticity: 2.5, C 2, J 2, B 2.5 AVERAGE 2.25/5
Overall Flavor: 1.5, C 3.5, J 2.5, B 1.5 AVERAGE = 2.25/5
Cooking: 1.5, C 2.5, J 2, B 2 AVERAGE 2/5

OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 2.175/5

Taco Task Force Stop #3: the flagship outpost of Señor Fish in Eagle Rock.
Taqueria Los Angeles
Señor Fish started on Figueroa in 1988, but the original location was supplanted by Via Mar. Alicia Ramirez opened the Eagle Rock branch in 1995, near Occidental College. You’ll now find branches in South Pasadena, downtown, Alhambra and Duarte.
Fish Taco Los Angeles
Señor Fish hosts a board with eight different varieties of fish, which vary from day to day. For their fish taco ($2.50), they fry cod in vegetable oil. The oversized taco featured clumpy batter, but supported a finely chopped salsa and fresh condiments. The salsa bar was the day’s most impressive, hosting chilled bins of crema and five styles of salsa, including tangy tomatillo and smoky burnt-orange chile de arbol.
Salsa Los Angeles
Grade of Key Ingredient: 3.5 C 4, J 3.5, B 3 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Condiment: 4, C 4, J 4.5, B 4 AVERAGE 4.125/5
Authenticity: 2.5, C 2, J 2, B 2 AVERAGE 2.125/5
Overall Flavor: 3.5, C 3, B 2, J 3 AVERAGE 2.875/5
Cooking: 3, C 2.5, B 2.5, J 3 AVERAGE 2.75/5

OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 3.075/5

FISH TACO GUIDE CONTINUED ON THE NEXT PAGE

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] Jonathan Gold’s Picks for Where to Find a Taste of Baja in Los Angeles Posted June 21, 2013 by Gillian Ferguson | 202740 Commentshttp%3A%2F%2Fblogs.kcrw.com%2Fgoodfood%2F2013%2F06%2Fjonathan-golds-picks-for-where-to-find-a-taste-of-baja-in-los-angeles%2FJonathan+Gold%27s+Picks+for+Where+to+Find+a+Taste+of+Baja+in+Los+Angeles2013-06-21+19%3A11%3A59Gillian+Fergusonhttp%3A%2F%2Fblogs.kcrw.com%2Fgoodfood%2F%3Fp%3D20274 | 1 views] Tacos Baja Ensenada on Whittier Blvd. Photo: Food GPS […]

Hello there, I am wondering if you guys still looking for that perfect fish taco, if you guys are, then come down to san diego and try my baja style fish tacos, They have been nominated best fish tacos by signonsandiego, and well as my award winning salsa. Let me know if this will be something you are interested in, I wont dissapoint for sure…. Thank you for your time

7 Mares taco stand on Sunset in Silver Lake has a good fish taco best paired with a shrimp ceviche tostada. Only eat at the Taco stand, dont go in the restaurant.

Hey, Mike. I will definitely have a look at la 5ta/Castillo as well as your other rec, but the stand in front of El Aguila has been around, I wanna say for more than 15 years, off the top of my head. I believe it’s longer, but they are popular, always busy, and they get much love from me and anyone I’ve taken there. They are the only other one I’ve been to, counting many, that use cazon besides El Fenix. Angelito is used at the cheaper places and I believe cod was used by the Mercado Negro stalls.

But, the El Aguila stand, an excellent selection of salsas, perfect cooking everytime, nice balance of seasoning in the fish and batter. Tender in, and a light crunch on the outside.

WOW nice work, i must say that only Ricky’s tacos look like fish tacos from Ensenada, the next time i’m at LA i’ll see if i can eat at Rick’s place.

By the way here in Ensenada there’s not a lot of love for the fish tacos in from of El Aguila, since they aren’t that good, when in town look for the fish tacos at 5th Avenue (Avenida Juárez) in the corner of Castillo Street, there’s the best fish tacos i’ve tasted in all my life, they have another place. The second place to eat would be at Espinoza Street and 6th Avenue (a mere 3 street walk from the first place), there are a couple more but i could tell you later ;-).

Mike, thanks for the Ensenada fish taco recommendations. I’ll follow them on my next trip to Ensenada.

pheew…finally finished my wrap up!

quite the extensive post right?

on to tacos de birria then? right? ha ha

Tacos de birria it is, in 2010!

No love for Sky’s Taco?

I should have clarified that these are all Baja-style fried fish tacos.

I was anxiously awaiting the results when I read the tweets about the postponement on account of Ricky’s. What makes an authentic fish taco? What is the authentic fish used in Mexico?

Aaron,

Bill could better define authenticity when it comes to Baja style fish tacos. In Baja, they typically use shark, but that variety of shark isn’t available in Los Angeles.

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Food GPS » Blog Archive » Taco Task Force: Los Angeles Fish Tacos Admin China

[…] is the original post: Food GPS » Blog Archive » Taco Task Force: Los Angeles Fish Tacos By admin | category: fish | tags: each-stop, exploring-at-each, fish, make-chicken, […]

Great job Josh.There are kinks to be worked out but not a bad debut. The ranking system put TBE and BFTE too close, I would agree 100% on the ranking of our stops, but points were too close.

I would call TBE a 2.5 to 3 star taco when compared to the benchmark Tacos El Fenix or stand in front of El Aguila in Ensenada, which would be 4.5-5 star tacos.

The authenticity category wasn’t defined properly, so we’ll tweak our methodology.

Overall, I enjoyed mt TBE, and am vexed that Ricky was AWOL!!

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