by Michele Foster
The fish taco: a classic Southern California culinary delight. A perfectly magical balance of taste and texture; earthy corn tortilla, and crunchy ‘Baja style’ fried fish filets, all set off by a generous topping of crisp cabbage, spicy salsa and a vibrant splash of lime. It’s true love at first bite.
The fish taco scene in Ventura offers endless choices. Let’s start in the downtown area, with Spencer Makenzie’s, purveyor of Ventura’s most celebrated, indeed ‘world famous’, fish taco. The fish – grilled or lightly tempura battered – is offered up in an open, lightly crisped flour tortilla spread with tangy sauce and generously covered with coarsely shredded green cabbage, a sprinkling of purple cabbage, diced red, yellow and green peppers and chopped cilantro. Colorful and bounteous, this is one beautiful fish taco.
If it’s unique variety and a stunning setting that you are looking for, you might want to check out Beach House Tacos on the pier. Each fish taco choice – and there are many – is a concept unto itself. To give an idea, there are six choices of tacos featuring fish, including seared ahi and salmon. Each has its own unique strategy for garnish from cilantro-lime slaw to jicama-cucumber salad, roasted pineapple or grilled corn-sweet onion-cherry tomato salsa. All ingredients are fresh and plentiful; tastes and textures rich and varied. Best to come with friends to try as many options as possible.
For those who might enjoy their tacos in a finer dining setting there is always Lure Fish House with its lunch menu offerings of two fish taco plates or, for the more adventurous, grilled swordfish tacos garnished with mango lime salsa. And, to give fair coverage to those who would prefer a hole in the wall cantina to beachy restaurant elegance, there is El Rey with its Negro Model Fish Taco. After polishing off a hefty margarita (or two), you might enjoy a little pocket of crispy-oily, flash-fried habanero beer batter fish, brightened by a touch of papaya relish. Be sure to take a good look around, appreciating the decor: classic movie posters, salmon-pink ceiling, dangling brassiere ‘streamers’ and an impressive collection of Velvises on view. This is surely one of the more exotic fish taco locales in town.
Moving on to South Seaward/Pierpont, classic beach eatery, Duke’s Griddle and Grill, does honor to the fish taco tradition with tasty fried or grilled offerings, both set off by chipotle crema. The grilled fish version is particularly generous and flavorful. Or, you might want to drop into Social Tap for a tasty taco or two. Served either fried ‘baja’ style or sauteed, each small taco is big on diced tomato and crunchy vegetable garnish. Seaward Fish and Chips expands on their standard selections of fried or grilled fish with choices of Halibut or Salmon, all served with chips (or french fries to us colonials). Given the fish taco’s humble origins as baja beach food, it is only fitting that there are so many fish taco offerings even here in this small beach neighborhood, steps from the surf.
Continuing on to Harbor Village, Baja Bay Surf Taco, an unpretentious place with a decidedly local vibe, serves up a simple classic. Fresh, sweet grilled fish nestled in a wonderful, warm handmade corn tortilla garnished simply with a light dousing of sauce and generous toss of fresh cabbage and thinly shredded cheddar. At Baja Bay they are specific about the fish: either halibut or shark. Both are satisfying choices that blend beautifully with the garnishes.
Among the many wonderful fish tacos to discover, there is sure to be at least one that will win your heart. With so many to choose from, you are even likely to find a favorite in each corner of town.