Tuesday, February 23, 2010
When it comes to tacos, Los Angeles County is abound with taco shops a plenty that sell these tortilla treasures with all sorts of fillings, from carne asada to chicken, from carnitas to potato and so much more. But for one day, it was all about the Fish Taco and the journey that members of my dining group took from Long Beach to Los Angeles in search of Fish Taco Greatness. Led by Robert, an Assistant Organizer for Pleasure Palate and our intrepid taco leader, it was definitely a fun-filled tasty day of sampling fish tacos from 6 different taco joints. Our first stop was at Hole Mole in Long Beach, which has four locations in Long Beach and Whittier.
The fish taco at Hole Mole was actually one of my favorites of the whole day. Pros: The fish was moist and delicate and the batter was light and crispy. There was a good proportion of batter to fish. Cons: The fish itself was too big, which made the taco difficult to bite into while the tortilla was just average. Also, there weren't enough variety in salsas or other condiments. I also would have been fine with a little less sour cream.
Our second stop was at Taco Beach in downtown Long Beach. Of all our stops, this one was the odd man out. It was really more of a bar and hangout than a taco joint. Go there for beer and a good time on a Friday or Saturday night, but definitely not for tacos.
The tacos at Taco Beach were the least favorite of our entire group. Pros: The fish was cut in smaller pieces which made for more easier eating and the Thousand Island-style dressing had a nice spicy kick to it andwould have been perfect for a coleslaw. The salsa also tasted really fresh with some great heat. Cons: The fish was over-fried, which meant the fish was dry and the batter was too crunchy. Also, the taco lacked tomatoes, which would added some acidity and moisture to this taco. The tortilla didn't seem fresh and was on the dry side.
Third on our list was Senor Baja in Bellflower, which is 1 of 22 locations in Southern California. A little taco empire seems to be growing. What's nice about Senor Baja is that they offer 99 cent tacos on Mondays, Wednesday and Sundays, until closing. That's budget eating at its best.
When it came to the taco at Senor Baja, I was more enthralled with everything but the fish itself. Pros: The tortilla had a nice thickness to it and the veggies were fresh and crunchy. There was also a great selection of salsas as well as radishes, limes, pickled veggies and chilies that you can have in addition to your taco. On selected days, their fish tacos are only 99 cents which is a nice value. Cons: The fish wasn't as crispy as it could have been and was also the oiliest of all the fish tacos we tried that day. It was also fried for too long and like the fish at Hole Mole, was too big.
Fourth on our route was Taco Nazo, which was also in Bellflower and is part of a 5 restaurant chain in the LA area. What's interesting is that my first ever fish taco experience was at El Taco Nazo in Baldwin Park and I initially thought these two restaurants were part of the same chain, but they're not. Anyway, for me, the fish taco at Taco Nazo was my favorite and was also the favorite or at least in the top 3 of everyone in our Taco Troupe.
There's actually sign inside the restaurant that declares themselves as having the Best Local Fish Tacos. Now I can't totally agree with that statement, but at least for that day and in comparison with 5 other fish tacos, it was tops on my list. Pros: The fish was moist and delicate and the batter light and crispy. It was deep fried to a perfect golden brown and wasn't oily. The tortillas had a nice thickness to them and the condiment bar had a good selection plus I totally fell in love with their Chile Guerritos. I could have eaten a whole bucket of them. Cons: Too much mayo and too many vegetables made it really messy to eat. In retrospect, that's is a pretty minor con.
From Taco Nazo, we went to Tacos Baja Ensenada. Of all our stops, this was the one place I was looking forward to the most, especially since the last time I went, a whole bunch of customers were turned away because they ran out of food. How strange was that.
Since I've heard a lot of praise for this restaurant, my expectations were really high. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed. Pros: The tortillas were good and I really liked the freshness of the limes, radishes and chili peppers at the condiment table. Cons: The fish wasn't crispy enough and just seemed too big for the size of the tortilla. There wasn't enough cabbage to suit me and the whole taco was overwhelmed with sauces, including a red sauce that was just way too sweet and honestly, could have done without it.
Our last stop was the Best Fish Taco in Ensenada. I've also heard good things about this place so like Tacos Baja Ensenada, I was looking forward to tasting what all the fuss was about.
This taco was also quite disappointing. Pros: The fish itself was moist and light and their radish salsa was really interesting and had a nice bite to it. I liked that you could customize the taco to your taste in regards to toppings. Cons: The fish wasn't crispy plus the batter was really blah. Also, their tortilla was the one I liked the least of all the tacos we tried. It was dry and a little too hard. Granted, it's towards the end of the day, but salsas were kind of watery and the vegetables like the cabbage just didn't look or taste fresh.
This was definitely a full day, but it was definitely an interesting experience comparing tacos almost side by side. It also helped that Robert gave us all rating sheets where we could rate from 1 to 5 the taco in several categories like Quality of Fish, Quality of Fish Batter, Quality of Tortilla and more. The sheet really helped me with focusing on all the various aspects of all the fish tacos we tried.
I should also note that I was only comparing the 6 tacos just to each other and not in comparison to authentic fish tacos in Mexico, specifically Ensenada. If I were to do that, I'd say without question that none of the places we tried had tacos that would even come close to the sheer perfection of the fish tacos that I've experienced in Mexico. But for now, if I simply just want fish tacos that will satisfy and please my palate, Taco Nazo and Hole Mole will do in a pinch.
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1327 E. 4th Street
Long Beach, CA 90802
211 Pine Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90802
14351 Clark Avenue
Bellflower, CA 90706
10316 Alondra Boulevard
Bellflower, CA 90706
Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90022
The Best Fish Taco in Ensenada
1650 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027