The Taco Task Force of Los Angeles was assembled by Bill of Street Gourmet LA and me after several delightful trips to the Taco Motherland in its closest proximity to us; Tijuana and Ensenada. Taco's are the foundation there, serving not only as a cheap, filling convenient street food but a fundamental staple to Mexican Gastronomy as a whole. The basic Carne Asada is a complex structure comprised of three to four different cuts of beef in almost any Taqueria you walk into in Mexico, where as in the U.S...you will be lucky if you get a good quality cut of just properly tenderized Flap meat.
But when a two and a half hour trip is simply unattainable, the Taco Task Force of Los Angeles will strive to optimize your local Taco experiences of Los Angeles and beyond...
Other members of the Force include:
Joshua Lurie of Food GPS
Cathy & Vern of Gastronomy Blog
Matthew Kang of Mattatouille
Following a recent trend of interest in Baja California, our first objective was the Baja Ensenada style Fish Taco.
A signature item originated in the warm Ensenada fishing docks, the Baja Fish Taco is believed to have its roots in the influx of Japanese immigrants that once habituated the Baja coast. The abundant, fresh seafood lived harmoniously with their advanced frying Tempura techniques. It was only a matter of time until it interbred with the tortilla culture of Mexico...
With only a few tweaks that worked for the bettering of it--such as the common sense switching of oil to lard and the required addition of Mexican grown spices & local (softer) wheat flour--the Fish Taco was born.
Typically, Fish Tacos are to be adorned to your personal preference, from the essential fresh garnishments of finely minced cabbage, a simple Red, Green or Pico de Gallo Salsa and either Mayonnaise, Mexican Crema or a thin, creamy blend of the two. Handmade tortillas are beside the point as it will clash with the delicate flake of fish, thin, no frill's, small taco Tortillas is its usual vehicle.
Five components of the Fish Taco were to be graded from a a range of 1 (unsatisfactory) to 5 (exceptional).
Those components were:
Key Ingredient (Fish; Freshness?)
Authenticity (True to Ensenada style?)
Cooking (expertly fried; greasy?)
Overall Flavor (blanket flavor)
With that said, the following will be posted in accordance with the Force's consensus of least favorite to best:
El Taconazo (South El Monte)
Best Fish Taco in The World Since 1978? Really now?
A family run small franchise with locations all around Southern California...kudos for that. BUT, the most driest, blandest and unbalanced fish taco ($1.69) of the the round up.
Is Anybody In There?
The fish of choice was a scroungy Pollack. A popular fish amongst the food business for its friendly, light flavor and usually moist flake. Here, that was not the case with a strange off flavor and and lumpy, papery batter. The over compensation in mediocre relishes only made it even more underwhelming.
The Final Score (as transcribed by Josh of Food GPS; his score is first, followed by B standing for Bill, J for me and C for Cathy and her fiance Vernon)
Grade of Key Ingredient: 1.5, C 2.5, J 2.5, B 2.5 AVERAGE 2.25/5
Condiment: 1.5, C 2.5, J 2.5, B 2 AVERAGE 2.125/5
Authenticity: 2.5, C 2, J 2, B 2.5 AVERAGE 2.25/5
Overall Flavor: 1.5, C 3.5, J 2.5, B 1.5 AVERAGE = 2.25/5
Cooking: 1.5, C 2.5, J 2, B 2 AVERAGE 2/5
OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 2.175/5
Señor Fish (Original Location in L.A: Eagle Rock)
Colorful Façade but What About Your Tacos?
Other veteranos of Fish Tacos being around since 1988, there's actually a few of these sprinkled around the L.A basin. I remember always walking by the one in Alhambra on my way to school back then but always being repelled by that gimmicky fish character, plus, this went under the Pricy Taco category ($2.50).
Clumpy Batter but Good Fish N' Toppings
With the myriad of other fresh, grilled options on the menu, they seemed to have lost their focus of a traditional 'ol fried fish taco. The Cod itself was outstanding. flaky and moist! But the batter was soggy and just peppery as far as spices go. Kudos though for touching up on the the Ensenada tradition of personal customization of toppings, already dressed with slivered cabbage, Crema and a Pico de Gallo but one of the few with a exceptional Salsa bar.
Grade of Key Ingredient: 3.5 C 4, J 3.5, B 3 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Condiment: 4, C 4, J 4.5, B 4 AVERAGE 4.125/5
Authenticity: 2.5, C 2, J 2, B 2 AVERAGE 2.125/5
Overall Flavor: 3.5, C 3, B 2, J 3 AVERAGE 2.875/5
Cooking: 3, C 2.5, B 2.5, J 3 AVERAGE 2.75/5
OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 3.075/5
Those Quotes Are There For A Reason...Best in Ensenada?!
Newcomers to the Fish Taco slanging scene (Since 2007), this place was quite cracking with locals. Behind the counter, an assembly line of Fish Tacos was hard at work. This, along with being the only entirely D.I.Y topping customization spot of the day, made it look very promising.
The Model Fish Taco Assembly Line
ALTHOUGH entirely customizable, the Angeleno-ized accouterments were seen as "goofy" by the Street Gourmet shifu, with stuff like Pineapple Kiss (“tropical refreshing bite”), a watery Hot Guac, Mad Mango Salsa, a Mango Less (“all of the passion – none of the mango”), Mild (“delicious, but wimpy”). Plus points for perfectly uniform, finely shredded cabbage and free flowing Crema Magica (“the final ingredient”).
Pretty Good Naked Tacos
The fish itself was the most flavorful of the day thus far, albeit chewy instead of soggy, the batter touted a mysterious irresistible deliciousness with not much actual spice flavor, perhaps a little MSG in the mix? No idea, but the fatty Basa (Vietnamese Farm Raised Catfish) was an endearing choice. Tortillas were nothing special.
Grade of Key Ingredient: 4.5, J 4.5, C 3.5, B 3.5 AVERAGE 4/5
Condiment: 3.5 B 2.5, C 3.5, J 4 AVERAGE 3.375/5
Authenticity: 2.5 J 2.5, B 3.5, C 3.5 AVERAGE 3/5
Overall Flavor: 4, C 3, J 4, B 3.5 AVERAGE 3.875
Cooking 3.5, C 3, J 3, B 3 AVERAGE 3.125/5
OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 3.475/5
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tacos Baja (East L.A)
The East L.A Gem
This place has not been short on national coverage for its fragile-fried fish. Magazine and newspaper pieces are framed on every wall and they have continually been adding more tables since they opened up ten years ago. They have built a loyal following, coming from East L.A, its fun to observe the interaction between people in the lines that form sometimes.
Hot, Chile Powder Kissed Blondies
I used to eat here pretty often since my dad actually grew a liking to this place (very rare). I remember at times eating 15 of those delicious Chile Gueros at a time. They are kissed in oil and dusted with a savory, chili powder that reminds me of Lucas, a Mexican staple Chile Powder candy of Latino youth. These serve the same purpose to fish tacos that french fries do to burgers, not absolutely necessary but certainly nice if you come across some that are done expertly.
My Old Favorite and Still Perfectly Fine (Rear Taco)
Seemingly small at $1.59 a pop but these tacos are packed with 1-2 moist, soft and flaky fat piece(s) of Catfish that are crispy on the little edges. Tortillas deserve an honorable mention for their superior quality, petite, chewy and thick. A smoky salsa and a cool crema only increase the experience with its zing and fresh-crisp qualities.
Grade of Key Ingredient: 4, B 4, J 3.5, C 3.5 AVERAGE 3.75/5
Condiment: 2.5, B, 2.5, J 3, C 4 AVERAGE 3/5
Authenticity: 3.5, B 3.5, J 2.5, C 2 AVERAGE 2.875/5
Overall Flavor: 3, B 3.5, J 3.5, C 4 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Cooking: 4.5, B, 4, J 4.5, C, 4.5 AVERAGE 4.375/5
OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 3.5/5
5385 Whittier Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA
Ricky's Fish Tacos (Silver Lake)
Dunking That Basa
A eager newcomer to the L.A Fish Taco scene, Ricky has been charming the local bloggers with his Ensenada raised swagger. He touts his brief weekend taco show times on twitter and is proud of his rare 5 Star rating he has received on Yelp.
Announcing The New Premiere Fish Taco of Los Angeles at The Moment($2.50)
With his skilled frying technique that involves piercing the fillet while frying and his secret frying medium that adds a unequaled deliciousness all too common to....lard, shortening, a mixture of the two perhaps? For him to know and we to find out, but all I know is that it produces a light, non-greasy, perfectly spiced crisp! His Basa batter involves imported Mexican wheat from his homeland and a significant amount of mustard to give it that signature zing. He thins out mayonnaise with skim milk to get the crema to the right texture and slivers his cabbage razor thin, just like they do it back home. The salsa is minimally chunky with a decent kick. All it needs to be absolutely perfect is a griddled tortilla instead of a the steamed, blandish Superior brand Tortilla he uses. But I do tend to be a tortilla elitist and most public will not even notice.
...Introducing the new, TOP, most authentic Ensenada-Style Fish Taco of Los Angeles County.
Grade of Key Ingredient: 4, J 5, C 4.5, B 3.5 AVERAGE 4.25/5
Condiment: 4.5 B 4, C 4.5, J 4.5 AVERAGE 4.375/5
Authenticity: 3.5 J 5, B 4, C 4 AVERAGE 4.125/5
Overall Flavor: 4, C 4.5, J 5, B 4 AVERAGE 4.625/5
Cooking 4.5, C 4.5, J 5, B 4.5 AVERAGE 4.625/5
OVERALL FISH TACO SCORE: 4.4/5
Follow Ricky on Twitter to find out when and where he will set up taco base.
Our next assignment will be....Birria.