Thursday, July 21, 2011

Evangelizing For Fish Tacos

South Beach Bar & Grille
5059 Newport Ave.
Ocean Beach, CA

One of the great pleasures of being a Suit in Strange Places is trying out all the cool, delicious, quirky regional food unique to certain corners of our country.

Down here in the far southwestern-most corner of America, that would be fish tacos.

Now, I know what you are thinking – “Suit757, you can get fish tacos just about anywhere.”

And you’d be right. Heck even Taco Bell made an ill-fated attempt at selling Baja shrimp tacos last year.

That’s the blessing (or curse) of living in the information age.

But it wasn’t that long ago (a decade at the most) that my tales of delicious California fish tacos were universally greeted by friends and family with an up turned nose.

Despite my knack for utilizing the English language for describing good food, somehow my detailed pleadings to be open minded about fresh crispy fish piled with pico de gallo, cabbage and creamy white sauce tucked into a soft tortilla just weren’t winning over too many converts.

As Billy Joel once said, “You can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine.”

Sometimes you just have to try it.

And while my fish taco evangelism may have failed verbally, I’ve yet to see anyone who hasn’t immediately converted to fish tacology after that first bite.

San Diego likes to claim to be the birthplace of fish tacos, but the truth is they originated south of here in Baja, Mexico.

But thanks to Mexican drug lords gone wild, I’m not about to make a run for the border when I can get great fish tacos right here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

The South Beach Bar & Grille is literally at the end of the road in Ocean Beach, the far and away least trendy of San Diego’s famous beaches.

Surfer dudes and homeless pot smokers hang out around the left coast’s longest pier, all waiting for the sun to set spectacularly into the Pacific at the end of the day.

The South Beach Bar & Grille from the outside has all the charm of a suburban office building.

Sitting at the bar, I got a nice view of the waves crashing on the beach through the closed windows. I thought this place would be really cool if it had a more open air beach vibe. Other than a token “smokers’ table” outside by the front door, there is no al fresco dining or drinking here.

The sunshine and ocean is right there in front of you, but you can’t feel it, hear it or smell it. It’s a shame considering the location.

But where South Beach falls short on ambiance, it more than makes up for it with good food and a large selection of local microbrews.

Unfortunately, my locally brewed Ballast Point Big Eye IPA was a major disappointment.

It just tasted bad.

IPAs usually pack a spicy flavorful wallop of hops. This one just tasted off – like the keg was bad or the beers lines needed to be cleaned.

Or maybe Ballast Point just makes bad beer.

Could be. The night before I was equally unimpressed with their lackluster Yellow Tail Pale Ale.

But the good news is my fish tacos were top notch.

I got one traditional “Baja style” with fried Pollock and one with grilled mahi.

Both came topped with an entire garden of pico de gallo and cabbage with a delicious mildly spicy and creamy white sauce generously ladled over the top.

South Beach distinguishes their fish tacos by adding a little melted cheddar cheese and by using flour tortillas rather than the more traditional corn.

In the on-going debate over fried versus grilled, I have to come down decisively on the side of fried.

I know, I know, that’s not exactly surprising, Suit757.

But in a way, it is. Grilled or blackened fish always has more seasoning and flavor than fried fish. But on a fish taco, with all that extra goodness piled on top, none of that matters.

When it comes to fish tacos, it is all about that crunchy texture.

It’s one of the great joys of life to wrap your teeth around a soft as a pillow tortilla and crunch down on a crispy hunk of fresh fried fish.

The sun setting over the Pacific. Hoppy California beers. And the joyful crunch of a perfectly concocted fish taco.

Life is good in Ocean Beach!

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

South Beach Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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