Tuesday, May 25, 2010


On our recent trip to San Diego, we discovered Ocean Beach, where fish tacos are grilled, not fried.

Ralph Rubio, an American who discovered fish tacos when he visited Baja California in Mexico in 1982, was the first to bring them to the U. S.  Rubio's, the U. S. home of the fish taco, is all over southern California.  In San Diego, where US fish tacos originated, they are almost as easy to find as in coastal Mexico where they are sold by street vendors on virtually every street and in most restaurants.  In fact -- forget the Big Mac -- San Diego's signature fast-food dish is fish tacos.  And why not?  They're cheap, fast and really good.  Nowadays you can also find fish tacos inland in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and even 3000 miles away in coastal New Bern.   But you can't easily find grilled fish tacos, which is the version we discovered in Ocean Beach.  With no Mexican chain restaurants to dictate, Ocean Beach has perfected the fish taco.  Their locally owned and operated small eateries offer reasonably priced and very good food.  And their fish tacos are to die for.

We came home with a hunkering for Ocean Beach-style fish tacos, and I was out to duplicate them.   While mine didn't taste identical to what we ate in Ocean Beach, it didn't matter.  These are so delicious, we've eaten them often since we returned home and have savored every bite.  You can make them with whatever fish you have.  I've used Tilapia, Grouper, Cod and fresh-caught (by my hubby) Spanish Mackerel, and they were all wonderful.  Serve these with black beans and yellow rice (or coconut rice), and you've got a very substantial and memorable meal.  Skip the fish taco offerings in New Bern's chain Mexican restaurants and make this version instead.  You'll save money and calories, help your cholersterol count, and -- most importantly -- you'll have a meal you won't soon forget.

Grilled Fish Tacos
Inspired by Le Bistro Restaurant, Ocean Beach, California 
Rating:  10 out of 10

1 cup bottled Ranch dressing
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp. dried chipotle chile powder (or 1 tsp. minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce from can)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro

MARINADE:  1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Zest of one lime
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. grated or minced fresh garlic (about 1 clove)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

FISH:  1-1/2 lbs. fish of choice (e.g., trout, tilapia, grouper, cod, Mahi Mahi, Spanish mackerel)

About 8 flour or corn tortillas, 5" size
About 1 to 1-1/2 cups finely shredded fresh cabbage
About 1 to 1-1/2 cups chopped avocado (or guacamole)
About 1 cup salsa of choice (or chopped fresh tomatoes)
About 1/4 to 1/2 cup of finely grated Cotija cheese, or other mild Mexican or
American cheese (You can also use cheddar, Monterey Jack or Havarti cheese)
About 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Lime quarters or slices

1. In small bowl, combine dressing ingredients.  Sauce will be thin.  Cover.  Chill.

2. In quart or gallon-size plastic resealable bag, combine all marinade ingredients.  Massage well to distribute ingredients.  Add fish.  Seal bag.  Refrigerate up to 2 hours.

3.  Heat gas or charcoal grill to medium hot (about 400F).  (Season grates by rubbing with paper towel folded over several times and held by tongs, then dipped into vegetable oil.)  While grill is heating up, set out all the accompaniments and the sauce.  Place fish directly on grates and grill several minutes on each side, or till fish flakes easily with fork.  Transfer fish to plate and cover to keep warm.  Grill tortillas about 10-15 seconds each side, just enough to warm and soften them.  Place them in tinfoil to keep warm.

4.  Cut fish into serving pieces and place in bowl or dish.  Let everyone make their own fish taco, adding the accompaniments they want.

Serve with black beans and rice or enjoy the tacos by themselves.

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