I have lost count of how many times I have been to Ensenada, Baja California. I suspect the exact number is around 8 to 10.
But there is a sad (even cruel) truth I have to admit. I have never tried a fish taco in Ensenada.
Anyway, what is the big deal about Ensenada’s fish tacos? Well, this port city claims to be the place where the modern concoction of this dish originated (evidence tell us the dish has pre-Columbian roots). A fish market (Mercado Negro) has been open in the city since 1958. Vendors claim fish tacos have been sold in the many market stalls since that date. They also acknowledge Japanese immigrants had something to do in perfecting the batter recipe.
As is common, there are two sides of the story. Another town in Baja California called San Felipe claims to be the fish taco’s hometown. This town is associated with the story of Ralph Rubio and his restaurant. I have tried fish tacos in San Felipe and, honestly, they didn’t live to the hype (maybe I went to the wrong stand?).
On the other hand, the stories I heard about Ensenada’s most famous dish were of mythical proportions. I heard vivid descriptions of melt in your mouth fish fillet, crisp batter and hand-made tortillas. The taste and ingredients were universes apart from what is sold in Southern California. It felt like it was time to put an end to my “sad truth.”
I had the opportunity to stop by Ensenada one last time before the end of this year. I was determined to try the best fish taco in town. Days before leaving, I went to my uber, travel planner Google and searched for “best fish taco in Ensenada.” In a matter of seconds, I found a blog post titled “The Ultimate Guide to the Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada” by a foodie called Street Gourmet LA (you should seriously consider taking a look at this guy’s website before a trip to northern Baja). After reading the long post, I jotted down the names and addresses of the stands holding the top three spots.
-Tacos Ensenada / Juarez and Gastellum
– Puesto Fenix / Juarez and Espinoza
– Tacos La Floresta / Floresta and Juarez
Once at Ensenada, I realized I left home the map of downtown with the big Xs marking the fish taco stands. That map was of crucial importance in a town where street signs are not common. The hungry people riding with me started a small revolt and we ended up stopping at our usual seafood joint, Mariscos Navolato. I wasn’t that crushed since I love this place. I had a fish tostada covered with shrimp, octopus, red onions, tomato, cucumber, a lot of fresh lemon juice and hot sauce. Ahh, it was delicious. My husband had a pata de mula clam cocktail, a fist tostada and a pismo clam topped with fresh veggies.
But this is a story about fish tacos, right? We were ready for our second lunch stop after calming our screeching stomachs. As expected, we started to drive in circles trying to find the top spot on my list. We stopped to ask for directions. In a confusing episode, the local who was giving us directions decided to jump into our car and guide us. We ended in a place called Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix (number 4 in the best tacos list and owners of Puesto Fenix).
I started to feel great when I saw the ladies making the tortillas, frying the big chunks of fish in a big pot of oil and making sure the garnish bowls were properly filled. Plus, I saw they had shrimp tacos too. Yum!
I was kind of full at that point (too sad) but I ordered one fish and one shrimp (I am not disclosing how many the other people in our party ate). The fish taco was better than what I have imagined. When you order, they only give you a piece of fish over a tortilla. First, the piece of fish is so big that you cannot completely fold the tortilla around it. Second, they use cazon fillet (a small type of shark) for the tacos. Don’t let anybody fool you. The original fish tacos use this type of fish for a reason (taste, taste, taste). Third, the batter was delicious. I would eat it by itself even if it sounds gross. Fourth, you prepare the tacos the way you like it. The topping options are mind blowing. You can opt for lemon juice, cream, cabbage, red onions, radishes, tomato, cucumbers, picked veggies, red salsa, green salsa and more.
I fulfilled my purpose. I was able to have my first taste of an “original fish taco.” Next, time I need to visit the top three places to try to find out differences. Now, I am afraid. In the future, I can see myself letting in all sorts of locals guiding us to our 4th lunch spot.
Have you tried the “original” fish tacos? Let me know in the comments section below.