Baja Safari NOW! The Ultimate Guide to the Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada : Baja California Dreamin' About Tacos de Pescado Estilo Baja, The BAJA 500 Racing Food Guide
The Baja fish taco
is adored in the Californias and beyond. It's required eating in
Ensenada by guys on fishing trips, the three day cruise ship crowd,
overnighters , Baja wine country visitors, frat boys, cholos, girl's
weekend outings, and those kindred souls of mine seeking out the riches
of Baja cuisine, culture, wine, and lifestyle.
It's quite a
lovely proposition, a tempura batter fried filet of dogfish, angel
shark, mako shark, or a variety of other firm white fish in a warm
tortilla with fresh and pickled vegetables,salsa, crema agria
(mayo with 2% milk), maybe some guacamole salsa?
is a popular belief that Japanese fishermen brought tempura technique
to Baja, which they acquired from the Portuguese, but make no such
careless culinary revisionism, the Baja fish taco,or taco de pescado
is a 100% Mexican creation. All cuisines evolve from outside
influences, and no cuisine is pure. Why isn't Italian cuisine called a
fusion when it relies on tomatoes from the Americas, and pasta from
Asia? Is Italian really Chinese-Mexican?No, it's Italian. Cuisine is the
expression of a culture or people, not cooking devices, techniques, or
These fish tacos
are available all
throughout the Baja peninsula, from Tijuana to Cabo, but Ensenada is the
epicenter, and considered the birthplace of this iconic food. It's one
of the first things one thinks of when planning a trip to Baja. "Fish
tacos, dude!"(high fives)
Surprisingly, there hasn't been a
thorough investigation of Ensenada's fish taco stands, with just a
handful of places receiving any mention. We hit
up Puesto El Fenix and Don Zefe in November of 2006, relying on
predictable sources, El Fenix always comes up, and many would consider
it the best. Don Zefe rated very poorly on my run, one of the worst,and
not worth revisiting. Others have written about El Fenix, but didn't
even go to the stand, which is the best of the two El Fenix fish taco
establishments, just a block away from each other.
course of four years with multiple visits to a total of ten stands, I
have compiled a Baja fish taco guide that ranges from the tourist trap
stalls next to the Black Market(fish market) to what I call the Holy
Trinity of Ensenada fish tacos. This list focuses on the traditional
stands, or shacks that serve fish and shrimp tacos, although two
taquerias are included due to their reputations. Fish tacos are found
everywhere in Ensenada, restaurants, cafes, stands, and taquerias, but
they are done best in a stand using a comal de acero
, a stainless steel disc shaped comal with a concave well for frying. All ten locations listed here use the comal de acero,
use a similar type of corn tortilla, and have the same basic condiments.
considered the quality of the fish, cooking technique, condiments, and
overall flavor. The stands are ranked in order from least to greatest.
This is not a top ten list, but an ordering of the range of fish taco
options and the most well known stands to tourists and locals.
most short stays in Ensenada, a fish taco at the various stalls next to
the fish market is your first encounter with this Baja temptation. It
was the same for me a decade ago. The barkers stand outside and yell for
you to come to their stand, and insist that they are the best.
#10-Mariscos El Norteno
Located across from the Black Market
These places are identical, all stocking the same tarros
(large beer glasses) filled with the same salsas and condiments and covered in plastic. So, I randomly selected Mariscos El Norteno
It's certainly a turn off when everybody has the same stuff. These glasses actually depress me.
The weako de gallo
looked awful, a medley of out of season fruit and vegetables devoid of color or nutrition.
The taco itself was compromised by the poor condiments, a lack of
flavor that even salt couldn't revive. The cooking was good, a crunchy
outside, and a token of tenderness, but a lack of seasoning on batter
Curvina was used, a type of croaker
fish, which allows El Norteno to offer this taco for $10MXP, about
$.86USD, but it's just not the right fish for the Baja fish taco.
other nuisance at the stalls is the smell of fish runoff from the
market and the nearby docks. One time, many years ago, a fetid odor
accompanied my every bite, jamming my senses with cursed air. Well, I
hadn't returned until I decided to do this report, so, don't say I never
did anything for you. It's a lame fish taco with a side of ass.
without the smell, I wouldn't recommend any of the stalls near the fish
market. Let the amateurs have at these. You're quest lies elsewhere.
just north of Juarez on Espinoza
while being better than a Back Market experience, falls in the category
of below average. Like most of the stands, it is a family run
operation, mothers and daughters, cousins, and grandmothers. They've
been around for 40 years, and the current family member that owns the
stand has had this place for 17 years.
All of the stands
use their oil a couple of times, which I don't mind. A seasoned oil of
lard, yes, all these tacos are cooked in lard. But, it must be strained
and filtered, and changed when needed.
While the condiments were acceptable here.....
batter was very dark, not the golden brown crispy outside you crave.
The flavor and texture damaging bits were visibly floating around the
comal, resulting in a coarse, oily crust.
Mako shark was
used, a quality fish, but the flavor was an upfront saltiness with no
substance on the back end. The problem here is in the frying.
#8-Tacos Don Zefe
on the corner of Riveroll and Mutualismo
Tacos Don Zefe
is a taqueria, and one of the well known destinations thanks to a story by Chris Cognac.
There's a very pleasant seating area, and a formal stand that seems more California than Baja, like a hot dog stand.
The taco was made with angelito,
Angel Shark, on a fresh tortilla. It's served traditionally, a warmed
tortilla with the fried fish is given to the customer to indulge his/her
. Standard condiments are available, nothing that stands out though.
seasoning is rather dull here, and a few bites leaves you wanting less,
as in why did I order this. Also, the frying technique needs to improve
in order for this stand to hang with the big boys.
on the corner of 6th and Gastellum
Like most of the stands here, Tacos Nemo
is a family run joint. They've got a cute name and mascot. Can you say copyright infringement?
There appears to be a pattern here. Second tier fish taco stands use the less expensive angelito
. There's no difference in price, so I think angelito
, a slighty more affordable fish perhaps allows for a greater profit margin.
Only slightly better than Don Zefe's, Tacos Nemo
also suffers from the same deficits in flavor, and fry technique. Finding Nemo? Nah, I don't think so.
on the corner of Juarez and Floresta
Oh how I wanted to love Tacos Lulu
A family run stand, mother and daughter working alongside another
family member. A family recipe, that luxurious dogfish, and just a great
group of people.
This is a much more engaging fish taco than the previous ones, but just
didn't inspire. They have some friendly regular customers, as I'm sure
all these stands enjoy.
The balance of crispy
outside, tender inside, and seasoning here are so crucial to the fish
taco. This was clearly a superior taco to numbers 10 through 7, but the
only achievment here is mediocrity.
On the corner of Juarez and Castillo
The big surprise of all the places I went to was Tacos Castillo
, a stand I had never heard of anywhere.
This is a tasty fish taco, well seasoned, and the frying here is
competent. The condiments here were solid, and a fine roasted chiles
salsa added a little character.
This is the
kind of stand that would be outstanding here in Los Angeles, if they
could work out the sourcing issues, of course. This stand uses angelito.
#4-Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix
on the corner of Espinosa and 6th
Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix
is the stand everyone talks about. It is more inviting than the original down the street because it has seating, and a taqueria
The frying here is consistent and expert. This is the benchmark fish
taco in Ensenada, that solid workhorse that always brings it.
Fine condiments, and just a brilliant red and a tangy green pair of salsas allow for a pure Baja fish taco expression. Cazon
, of course, is used at Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix
But, Puesto El Fenix is better than Mi Ranchito El Fenix.
now for the fish taco Holy Trinity. These stands are all worthy of your
attention, and a crawl of these three traditional stands should be
included in your Ensenada itinerary along with falling off the bar drunk
and hitting your face on the floor boards of Hussong's Cantina, and
getting your name engraved on a grain of rice. Who does that?
#3-Tacos La Floresta
on the corner of Floresta and Juarez
Tacos La Floresta
is a no name stand located on Av. Floresta . It is truly a shacky
shack. When I arrived there was a flock of hungry fish taco fiends
This is excellence, perfect frying of the rare mako
The owner Rica, is a sweet lady, who sweetly smiles and calmy directs
her crew as she facilely cranks out stellar fish tacos. The flavors are
subtle, but that crust, and clean fish flavor meld into a refined
cooperation of textures and savors. Crunchy, hot, cold,tender, fruity,
creamy, and wet satisfaction.
All products used to finish your tacos are exceptional.
These are the kind of fish tacos that Baja dreams are made of. Fish
taco worshippers concentrate about this stand eating in silence, only
intermittent conversation interrupts the feeding frenzy of shark eating
the corner of Juarez and Espinosa
would be my last stop on this fish taco odyssey. Having found three
gems, I took time out to celebrate, by ordering another fish taco,
camera. I just kicked back and actually felt a huge burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. OK, not really.
I hung out for awhile at the end of the fish taco portion of the day.
By 5pm, most fish taco stands are giving way to the night time tacos, carne asada
, al pastor
, or suadero
When I asked the team at Puesto Fenix what kind of fish they used, a very serious gentleman responded," filete de cazon
." I like that. Yes, give it its proper due, dogfish filet homes!
Here, the same green salsa from Mi Ranchito El Fenix, but the difference between the small chain in taste is substantial.
This taco is more boldly flavored, a noteworthy taco. If this stand is
why you're praising El Fenix, then you are justified, if not, just walk
one block north on Av. Espinosa and your perspective shall improve by
leaps and bounds. I never saw the reason in plugging El Fenix until I
As all of the top three
stands, an expert balance of all the components of cooking, quality of
ingredients,and condiments is key. While I love Tacos Floresta and could
easily spend an afternoon there, Puesto Fenix has a more robust flavor
in the batter.
#1-Fish Tacos Ensenada
on the corner of Juarez and Gastellum
My number one fish taco stand in Ensenada has been close to my heart for many years. It's definitely not because of the name, Fish Tacos Ensenada
I was reluctant to share this stand back in my chowhound days, always
referring people to Mi Ranchito El Fenix. When I brought a large group
of bloggers, chefs, restaurateurs and writers down in the summer of
2009, we went to Mi Ranchito El Fenix. I hadn't finished putting my
favorite stand to the Pepsi challenge.
I only shared this place with small groups, and close friends. A recent
e-mail from a reader inspired me to finish this run down, so I could
without hesitation, share this special stand.
The stand is, well, of course, a family run operation. A woman from El
Salvador moved to Ensenada, got married and in time opened a fish taco
stand with her husband. These days, Yasmin, the cute young lady pictured
here, works alongside her sisters, and their mom.
This is the only stand that has such a mob of killer salsas. Everything
from standard creations to the creative little numbers crafted by the
owner and her daughters. The salsas are always changing, colorful, and
The freshly fried cazon
here is a sight to behold. Fish Tacos Ensenada is oldschool, just a
tortilla with a comely piece of plump fish are given to the lucky
diners. As much as you want to race to condiment while the fish is at
its peak, you are likely to give this baby the once over, just for a
They've got everything here:fresh cabbage, pickled cabbage, six to eight salsas, toasted chile de arbol, mayo, and crema agria.
Consistently, the fish sings with virtuosity. I would drive here just for a fish taco, and I have.
Like Puesto Fenix
the seasoning here in upfront, the cooking is sublime, but the
difference is in the condiments, and the overall flavor of this fish
taco. It's good enough to make a frat boy moon his buddies and lose
himself in base hyperbole. "Oh my god, dude, this taco is like.....SO
It's the end of a day glorious day tasting wine in the
Valle de Guadalupe, and I appoach Highway 1. Do I head north, or do I
head into town? Perhaps, just one taco before I hit the road. I'm not
really hungry, but my craving can't be denied.
Fish tacos, or tacos de pescado
as they are known in Mexico, are a universal pleasure. You're not wrong
to want to hit up the best while in town. Your expectations are high,
so allow me to take you to the promised land of milk and honey. Set your
sights on my beloved Fish Tacos Ensenada
, the famed Puesto Fenix
, and the local favorite Tacos La Floresta,
and experience the best fish tacos Ensenada has to offer.
Ensenada, B.C., Mexico. Baja Safari NOW!