This story is twelfth in a series. Zach will be posting a new story on Mexican food in San Diego every Thursday until he leaves Southern California for the San Francisco Bay, where he will continue to write and edit for The Eaten Path.
Bar happy hour menus have taught me two things:
1. Being half-priced doesn’t mean it’s cheap, and
2. The term “fish taco” is far too vague.
Imagine ordering a “bird taco” when you want some pollo asada. I’ve seen mahi-mahi, snapper, wahoo, halibut, shark, swordfish and cod between two sleeves of tortilla, and the only thing I’ve learned is that it’s all just called “fish taco” and tastes like chicken-of-the-sea anyway. If it’s fresh, it tastes good. If it isn’t fresh, I hope you only paid 99 cents.
I love fish tacos, and I eat a lot of them these days, but the dollar variety doesn’t do a lot of whelming when served as a side dish to scallop tacos at El Zarape or a mixta tostada at La Playita Cocteleria. That’s the perpetual pox on tacos de pescado in the cheap corners of San Diego’s fish taco economy. They make up the dollar menu of S.D.’s fast food truck nation, and the deep-fried, sub-par pescado covered in cole slaw rates somewhere between a Filet-O-Fish and a McDonald’s cheeseburger on the tasty scale.
In those other corners of S.D., “fish tacos” look and taste a bit different, sell at some high number known as “market price,” and are served at a bar table somewhere by the Pacific Ocean. Sure, you might have to spend ten dollars on a couple tacos, but at least you can hear waves between each bite and you know the mysterious white fish is mahi-mahi, or some other Hawaiian-sounding name – and that probably means it’s delicious. These tacos served at places like South Beach Bar & Grille, Brigantine Seafood Restaurant and World Famous along the S.D. coast aren’t side dishes or a teenager’s discount lunch, and well, they are delicious. I just hope you got there in time for Happy Hour.
San Diego’s rule of thumb for seafood is to stick to the markets, which is why Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill in Mission Hills serves some of the finer taco fare in the city. Those tortilla-held, grilled fish delights may have taken Mexico out of the taco, but they’re plenty San Diegan and worthy contestants in the “best fish taco” discussion. They are definitely better than those of the dollar variety, and I’m sure freshness has something to do with that.
The marlin is a fish, right?
I wonder how many eat-geeks would include the marlyn taco in a “fish taco” food tour, or consider Mariscos German’s or Mariscos El Pescador’s marlyn taco in a best fish taco discussion. The joke on the marlin is its pink flesh, which will forever keep it apart from “fish tacos” and stuck with its own label, celery, cheese and four-dollar price tag.
Fortunately, for eat-economists the marlyn taco is at least four times as delicious as the fish taco from the same menus. The potency of taste is exponentially stronger, the heartiness of the meat is downright beastlike and the taco lacks the almost insultingly flavorless slaw that blankets most tacos de pescado. In other words, it deserves its own place on the menu and a spot in the “best fish taco” discussion. I don’t think freshness has anything to do with that.
I’m not saying that the Mariscos El Pescador taco truck’s fish isn’t fresh, but it probably isn’t as fresh as the mahi-mahi from Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill. That’s the compromise for Mexican fast food mariscos, and that’s the difference between fish tacos from a beachside restaurant-bar and fish tacos from a truck parked along side a freeway in Chula Vista, in the far corner of a Toys-R-Us parking lot.
The joke on those beachside restaurants is that they still might be on the losing end of the fish taco discussion, despite their proximity to the fish’s last spark of life. That marlin might have taken a day longer to reach Mariscos El Pescador, but the flavor isn’t lacking. There probably isn’t a busty blonde or yuppie hunk at the other end of the bar to look at, but at least you have a complimentary seafood consomé to sip on while you wait for you marlyn or gobernador taco, and when you’re eating your meal on the hood of your own car, you have that much more focus on the meal in front of you.
At Mariscos El Pescador that meal takes the mariscos truck crown from even the heralded Mariscos German. The flavor of El Pescador’s seafood is lively, not allowing grease to hide the true taste of individual ingredients. This goes for the gobernador taco (grilled shrimp, onions, celery and cheese), too, and any other casualties under the tyranny of the term “fish taco.”
“Gobernador” isn’t a buzz word on bar menus, but maybe it would be if more people drove out to a Toys-R-Us parking lot more often for lunch. Or for a snack. Or dinner. With tacos this good, you don’t have to be told when it’s time for a happy hour.
Mariscos El Pescador
1008A Industrial Blvd
Chula Vista, CA 91911
Zach’s San Diego Countdown
Week 1 – Super Cocina
Week 2 – Los ‘Bertos
Week 3 – El Tio Alberto
Week 4 – Ranas Mexico City Cuisine
Week 5 – La Fachada
Week 6 – Aqui es Texcoco
Week 7 – La Playa Taco Shop
Week 8 – Las Cuatros Milpas
Week 9 – Tacos El Paisa
Week 10 – Tacos Yaqui
Week 11 – Tacos El Gordo
Week 12 – Mariscos El Pescador
Week 13 – Rudy’s Taco Shop