I have left one non-fishy city for another - namely Toronto. This of course begs the question: are there good fish tacos to be had in my new home? Thankfully, a Google search brought forth an article that listed a handful of places to try.
"The deep-fried crunchy pockets that come out the brightly painted Mariscos Jalisco Truck are a two-handed affair. After the initial crunch from the miraculously ungreasy shell, the whole thing gives way to a moist-crunchy-rich mass of fried shrimp topped with creamy slices of avocado and a bright, tomato-based salsa." - Serious Eats Taco March Madness
Back from a Big Bend and West Texas Spring Break road trip and I'm all sick and sniffly. So as I work my way through this large box of Kleenex, let me tell you about the fish tacos I had in Marfa and the sights I saw in the land of wide open spaces.
Driving through this region is like nothing else. You can drive for hours and see few signs of life. The landscape is beautiful, but the terrain is often rugged with random rock formations jutting out from the desert. Your eyes are always peeled for a cowboy or a javelina. I kept thinking back to the Karl May western books I cherished as a child and found myself lost in the peace and solitude the area had to offer.
Big Bend National Park is really really big; as in almost as big as Rhode Island. The terrain is varied, with the Chisos Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert and the watery U.S. / Mexico border of the Rio Grande to explore. But even with its sheer size, please don't just stick to scenic drives. The park is best explored by foot (or canoe!). So many hikes to choose from can be a bit overwhelming, but you can't really go wrong in the diverse beauty the Park has to offer. Listen to the silence of the desert, try to spot a mountain lion in the Chisos Basin and gaze in wonder at the Blue Heron sitting on the river's edge.
Then there are the little towns, like Terlingua, a former mining boomtown that went bust when the mines closed down in the '40s. The town is now home to park employees and river guides, as well as a smattering of artists and others who were drawn to the laid-back lifestyle this region provides. As for the ghost-town feel, the place is slowly reviving, with new buildings going up that make creative use of the crumbling walls of old ruins.
And no trip to this part of the world is complete without a stop at the McDonald Observatory. Some of the clearest and darkest skies in North America are found here, as well as some really big telescopes. Buy tickets to one of their Star Parties and the biggest laser pointer you've ever seen will help guide you on a tour of the night sky, pointing out constellations, planets, and galaxies. And afterwards, you get to play astronomer as you peer through various telescopes (my favorite targeted the Orion Nebula).
But let's get back to the quirky little towns of this region and specifically Marfa, TX. A dusty little West Texan town filled with New Yorkers and hipsters, you might wonder how a place like this came to be. Well, it's mostly due to one of the world's largest installations of minimalist art. Throw in a little bit of James Dean lore (Giant was filmed here) and some mysterious lights and you have Marfa. This place, with its quirky eateries (be sure not to miss Marfa Burrito) and "hotels" is on its own schedule, which the locals make up as they please. There is even a grilled cheese place that is only open 9:30pm to 2:30am on Fridays and Saturdays. Talk about limited hours!
I promised to tell you about my fish tacos here, and the story begins with the idiosyncratic nature of Marfa. Craving some pizza after days of camping food, we headed to the Pizza Foundation, only to be told that they were out of dough and wouldn't have more for three days. They do know that dough is made up of little more than flour and water, right? And it's not like they weren't expecting the Spring Break crowds. Finding another place that was open on a Monday (this town is pretty dead the first half of the week) proved to be a challenge, but we were successful at last and settled down around the bar at Jett's Grill located at the Hotel Paisano. The hotel's claim to fame is that James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and the rest of the Giant cast stayed here during filming. Our barkeep was frazzled with all the orders she had to keep up with (it's apparently hard for this tiny town to be sufficiently staffed during busy times), but the Margarita she mixed up for me was delicious and refreshing. And when I saw tilapia tacos on the menu, I felt as if fate had brought me here.
For $12, one pan seared tilapia fillet is split onto two flour tortillas and topped with cucumber, cabbage, avocado and a spicy aioli chipotle sauce. The fish was perfectly spiced and the flavors stayed in the palette for quite some time. The toppings were simple and tasty. The sauce was piquant, although not plentiful enough. All in all, a might tasty fish taco was had in Marfa, TX. And the slowness that is West Texas and places like Marfa? I probably won't be purchasing a pair of cowboy boots and moving to these parts, but the respite was sure appreciated.
Jett's Grill @ Hotel Paisano
207 North Highland Ave.
Marfa, TX 79843
With this glorious weather we've been having (not in the least bit wintery!), my housemate and I took an evening stroll to Tower Taco. The restaurant is located a few blocks west of what has come to be known as the Cherokee Street Mexican / hipster artist neighborhood.
Two fishy taco options were found on the à la carte portion of the menu. The fish taco ($2.25 each but for some reason you have to order two) is a sauteed tilapia fillet marinated with pico de gallo and a guajillo sauce. The shrimp taco ($2.75 each) is sauteed shrimp marinated with the same fixings as above. Both are served in housemade corn tortillas and topped with a healthy dose of cilantro. The fish was properly seasoned, but the flavor was not enough to carry the dish, which involved little to no other ingredients. The taco was, however, improved by the addition of the tomatillo salsa (one of two that accompanies the free basket of chips). The shrimp taco proved to be a much tastier choice. It was cooked perfectly, opaque yet tender, and carried quite a spicy and flavorful kick. So I'd suggest sticking to those. And ordering them in any quantity desired, odd or even.
3147 Cherokee St.
Saint Louis, MO 63118
As the mother of a dedicated fish taco blogger, I felt I had to do my part and eat some fish tacos during my recent trip to Mexico, the land of the taco. My husband and I went on a New Years cruise and one of our stops was the port of Cozumel. I not only had a chance to explore this town but also to eat genuine Mexican delicatessen.
We decided to check out Palmeras. Located right by the beach in front of the main ferry pier, the restaurant's Caribbean style wooden structure and French tile roof were very inviting. Its location offered a spectacular view of the Caribbean sea and what I hoped to be a solid promise of a new culinary and fishy adventure.
Our fish taco plate (~$10) came with three tacos. The strips of blackened fish were wrapped in soft flour tortillas. I could not distinguish what type of fish was served; however, I noticed that the filling included a mayo-based creamy sauce, guacamole, salsa and shredded lettuce. The latter ingredient surprised me, as cabbage is traditionally served in fish tacos. The taste of the meal was good but not as extraordinary as I (naively perhaps) expected from the Mexican tavern. However, the entire experience of sitting outdoors on a gorgeous January day, while looking at the blue ocean and drinking Mexican beer was indeed priceless.
Av. Rafael E. Melgar
San Miguel, Cozumel 77600
I recently spent a day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Having once lived nearby, I was seriously craving some delicious seafood, preferably in one of the restaurants overlooking the Portsmouth Harbor. So we headed to Surf, home of the Raw Bar and super fresh seafood. Now I was planning on eating my much missed fried oysters or clams and perhaps some ceviche, but when I saw a fish taco on the menu, I knew I had to sample that as well.
The fish tacos ($14) came three to a plate with a side of Jasmine Rice. The flour tortillas were filled with seasoned fried haddock, a house mango salsa, guacamole, napa cabbage, cheddar cheese and sour cream. The litte fish bites were oh so tasty. But the tacos as a whole... well, they didn't really taste taco-ey. Maybe it was the overwhelming taste of the sour cream or the choice of cheddar cheese, but I just didn't feel like I was eating a fish taco.
However, the lightly fried calamari tossed with parmesan in a cherry pepper vinaigrette, spicy scallop ceviche and the lightly fried Ipswich sweet clam sandwich (served on a grilled potato roll with spicy mayonnaise) were all delicious - so much fishy goodness. So stick with those and skip the fish tacos.
99 Bow St.
Portsmouth, NH 03801
New Year's Eve brought me back to New York City and I was introduced to another fish taco establishment. Nestled in the heart of Nolita, Tacombi has quite the interesting hipster vibe. The first thing you notice when entering the warehouse/garage space is the perma-parked vintage VW bus with a pop-up roof. There is a surf-shack style open kitchen in back, folding tables and chairs scattered throughout and the place is decorated with stringed lights and tropical potted plants. The name Tacombi is a play on the words "taco" and "combi" (van). Orders are taken at a counter and made up at the bus which gets its fixins from the kitchen in back. The atmosphere may be campy and theatrical, but it does evoke being at a Yucatan beach shack. Tacombi was indeed originally a taco stand in Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya.
The taqueria had a number of fishy options for us to sample: Crispy Fish (beer battered fish, chipotle mayo, cabbage slaw), Seared Veracruzana Fish (seared fish, roasted tomato, caper and olive salsa), Pescado a la Plancha con Pina (seared fish and grilled pineapple salsa), Crispy Shrimp (beer battered shrimp in a salsa borracha), and Seared Shrimp (seared shrimp in a salsa borracha). Served on small tin plates, each double tortilla'd taco ran around $4-5 and had enough filling to make two. Outside of the pineapple salsa version, which they were out of, we sampled all they had to offer. Some fishy tacos were better than others. While most were a bit on the bland side, the Crispy Fish was indeed crisp and tasted freshly fried. The only thing that did not work was the overly strong mayo taste of the sauce. What really made a positive impression on us were the non-fishy tacos such as the Al Pastor (marinated pork and roast pineapple) and especially the Maiz y Poblano (sweet corn, poblano peppers, cotija cheese). But unfortunately for Tacombi, it's the fishy tacos we are reviewing.
So in summary, come check out the hipster vibe, eat some non-fishy tacos and wash it all down with hibiscus tea, spiked horchata or (my favorite) watermelon lime sangria. This place is worth a visit.
at Fonda Nolita
267 Elizabeth Street
NYC, NY 10012