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With summer afoot, fish taco season has officially begun. In Los Angeles, especially on the eastside, we’re lucky enough to have plenty of top notch fried fish tacos within reach. What makes a good fish taco? It starts with a quality tortilla that isn’t too brittle or soggy, a flavorful batter that has a little crunch, and a well-cooked piece of fish that stays moist in the deep fryer. Fresh toppings are a must, too, and those limes better drip when you squeeze them.
Here are three of my favorite fish tacos. Note: Ricky’s Fish Tacos is not listed because they’re closed until “further notice”. (Update: Ricky’s is operating again in Chinatown. Find his locations by following Ricky on his Twitter. )
Tacos Baja Ensenada: There’s usually a line a this East LA joint, and it’s well earned. The dark golden batter is crunchy, giving way to a delicious piece of pollock in a chewy corn tortilla. The fish taco/shrimp taco combination is a good bet, or forget the rice and beans and just add another taco. I would. And don’t forget the salsa bar—the gorgeous yellow roasted chiles gueros aren’t as hot as they look. Mexican sodas and aguas frescas available, fish tacos are 99 cents on Wednesdays. 5385 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles.
Lately, I’ve been steering clear of food festivals. As much as I love to gorge, I don’t have the patience for marathon line standing or the competitive streak required to elbow my way to a fresh tray of sliders, fried balls, mini grilled cheese, etc. etc. In short, I don’t have the “in-it-to-win-it” spirit you need for a successful food festivaling.
However, I made an exception for this year’s East LA Meets Napa event, which was held last Friday at Union Station. I’ve always wanted to go, so when I got an invite, I couldn’t resist. Thankfully, this AltaMed fundraiser wasn’t your average food festival–no long lines, no pushing, and no food shortages. Just lots of great LA Mexican food (though not all East LA restaurants by any means) and wine from Latino-owned vineyards in California.
One of my first bites of the night was a sweet green corn tamale with cheese (I want to say aged cheddar) and mole. I was a little surprised with how much I enjoyed this dish. I’m usually pretty ambivalent about El Cholo–I love the fact that it’s a historical LA restaurant, but they’re food never really wowed me. This tamale was ridiculously moist, though, and it ended way too soon. I guess it’s pretty famous, but nobody told me.
In every life, there comes a moment when you must make a choice. Recently, this moment came for me. I couldn’t waffle, I couldn’t equivocate—I had to declare…my favorite carnitas. Luckily, I had a team, a Taco Task Force if you will, to help me navigate the meaty jungles of this town and cut through the pork.
The Taco Task Force’s previous missions have included finding the best fish taco, potato taco and birria in town. I was lucky enough to be drafted for the most recent TTF to crown the best carnitas. The tasters for this outing included founder Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA), Josh Lurie (Food GPS), Matthew Kang (Mattatouille), Zach Brooks (Midtown Lunch), Dave Lieberman (OC Weekly) and his wife Linnea.
A word about carnitas: I learned that most carnitas you find in LA are boiled and then fried in lard. This is cheating and the reason why carnitas often have a hard (sometimes to the point of petrification) and stringy texture. It’s definitely the reason why I’ve never been a big fan—in their usual state, they’re almost oppressive. Ideally, they should be slow cooked in their own juices in a cazo (copper or stainless steel pot).
The scoring: To make the comparison as fair as possible, we ordered a taco surtido, a mix of various pig parts, at each location. Each taco was judged on Grade of Key Ingredient, Condiment/Tortilla, Overall Flavor and Cooking to determine a final score. Catagories were scored with a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being the best.
The contenders: Some of carnitas destinations were chosen by popularity and buzz, but there were also some less established places here that specialize in carnitas.
My dad invited me to this year’s Taste of East LA, and I’m glad I went. The event is organized by the East LA chamber of commerce to bring attention to local businesses. While it’s true that there are some obvious absences from this collection of the “best restaurants in East LA” and some strange inclusions (i.e. Coffee Bean and Juan Pollo), there were some great bites to be had while taking in good music and art. To be honest, I actually had more stress-free fun here than at the recent LA Street Food Fest, where each tasting was separated by a 20-minute wait in line. Maybe it wasn’t the foodie event of the century, but vibe at the Taste of East LA was less competitive and the price was only $20 for a one shot at every booth, which garnered enough tasty food for two people. Plus, I even got to meet Lalo Alcaraz (see his “Tacos Sin Carne” print after the jump) of La Cucaracha fame.
Here’s what I ate and saw:
Fish Taco from Fish Taco Express Pork Mole Sope from Moles La Tia