In Search of the Capital City’s BEST Fish Taco
By W. Scott Koenig
I’m a lucky Gringo. From our home in San Diego, it’s only a 90-minute drive to Ensenada, Baja California — ground zero for fish tacos, arguably invented in the port city in the 1950’s. Their famous culinary concoction features battered and fried fish – or shark in the case of the classic Ensenada version – served on a corn tortilla and finished with crema, cabbage and pico de gallo. A splash of salsa can be added depending on taste and heat tolerance. I’ve had Ensenada’s best as well as the purported original (Tacos Fénix).
During a recent trip to La Paz, the coastal capital of Baja California Sur, my friend Chris Mejia of Baja Test Kitchen – sister company of Discover Baja Travel Club – insisted that I try the fish tacos at Tacos Pescado El Estadio. He’d expressed disappointment after I’d returned from past trips and hadn’t sampled what he considered the best fish taco on the entire Baja Peninsula.
I wasn’t going to let Chris down this time and took the bait. We navigated our rental Volkswagen Tiguan toward El Estadio our first morning in La Paz, as he’d let me know that the stand is so popular, they typically run out of fish before noon. El Estadio lived up to his enthusiastic description and I excitedly posted photos of their tacos and commentary on my social media later that afternoon.
Inevitably, my fish taco loving Facebook friends and several local chefs urged me to try their La Paz favorites. Thus, began my quest for the holy grail — La Paz’s BEST fish taco. We visited a number of stands, carts and fondas – all based in and around the malecón and city center – and came up with this list of our five favorites.
5th PLACE: Super Tacos Hermanos Gonzalez
($25 Pesos – approximately $1.40/US)
Just because the fish taco at this family-owned cart comes in 5th doesn’t mean it’s NOT good. I don’t write about the merely mediocre, but others swam faster than Gonzalez’s perfectly passable pescado. Their tacos are made of pierna (Pacific whitefish), which is typical, but of a lesser quality than other fish used in these parts. Their tacos are satisfyingly crunchy, and the filet’s deep color indicates that they may be adding beer to the batter. This is where we first encountered shredded carrot and cabbage with raisins at a condiment counter. A common fish taco dressing in Baja California Sur.
4th PLACE: McFisher
($25 Pesos – approximately $1.40/US)
Chef Carlos Valdez of La Paz restaurant Tatanka suggested we try McFisher, a mariscos institution here. Their fish tacos of cabrilla (white sea bass) are very good and their warm, soft corn tortillas were our favorite. One of the reasons McFisher and Super Tacos Hermanos Gonzalez rank 4th and 5th, respectively, on our list is due to their use of smaller filets and a substantially lower fish-to-tortilla ratio than our top 3. In Carlos’ defense, he’d actually sent us here for the Burro Maya, a burrito filled with refried beans, jalapeños, smoked marlin and melted cheese. As delectable as it sounds.
3rd PLACE: CLAROS FISH JUNIOR
($31 Pesos — approximately $1.75/US)
We first visited Taco Los Claros during a 2011 vacation in San Jose del Cabo. We loved their fish tacos as well as the extensive condiment bar. We were anxious to try this regional chain’s La Paz malecón location. Our memories didn’t deceive. Recently re-branded as Claros Fish Junior, they utilize cochito (trigger fish) — a firm, flaky, local species that holds up nicely when dipped and fried in their well-seasoned batter. With 14 different toppings and a variety of salsas from which to choose, you could visit every day and never have the same taco twice.
2nd PLACE: TACO FISH LA PAZ
($28 Pesos — approximately $1.55/US)
Our amigo Emilio Fracchia – who sells his sweet and savory pies at La Paz’s Saturday farmer’s market – named Taco Fish La Paz his go-to. Of all the taco joints we visited, it was by far the nicest. The bright interior of their large fonda was better organized, cleaner and the design more thoughtful than the typical taqueria. In business since 1992, their delicious and generously portioned battered and fried cabrilla (sea bass) caused an existential crisis. I struggled with placing their sublime filets at the top of this list. While exceptional, they were just a tailfin behind 1st place.
1st PLACE: TACOS PESCADO EL ESTADIO
($22 Pesos — approximately $1.25/US)
Chris will be pleased to know that Tacos Pescado El Estadio is our pick for the BEST fish taco in La Paz — and my new favorite anywhere. El Estadio is the only eatery listed that uses mammoth filets of jurel (yellowtail), one of the tastiest species swimming in the Sea of Cortez. There are few condiments, but that’s okay. It’s best to go with just the classic crema, cabbage, pico and salsa so as not to mask the fish’s full flavor. When we arrived, the place was crowded with locals and fish were being wrapped in foil by the kilo to-go. As well as making the top spot on our list, at $1.25/US, it’s also the least expensive.
What’s YOUR favorite fish taco in La Paz? Let us know what we missed!
San Diego-based lifestyle writer W. Scott Koenig is founder of the blog AGringoInMexico.com, author of the book 7 Days in The Valle: Baja California’s Wine Country Cuisine and has written for Discover Baja Travel Club, Destino Los Cabos, DiningOut San Diego and SanDiegoRed. Scott organizes and conducts professional and private culinary tours of Baja California and has assisted with film and video productions in the region. He has worked with the Food Channel, the BBC, KPBS and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).