170 Sixth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Sigh. I’m jumping off the trolley at the Gaslamp stop. Sun shining hard. It ricochets off the shiny metal chairs of the Tin Fish eatery. That’s the place with the biggest, sprawlingest patio in town.
I’m coming here for a cod taco because, well, it’s been a month. Trying to relive the magic, I guess.
(Cue echo mike, starry music…)
Last time I was here, Comic-Con was in full swing. First night. People in crazy costumes, excited. Tin Fish itself was totally dressed up. Transformed, like Cinderella. Usually, it’s kinda, well, clattery. Aluminum chairs and tables and no real colorful umbrellas or awnings.
But a month ago, it was like that big dance scene Renoir painted of gardens under the trees. Le Moulin de la Galette.
I was thinking about Renoir that night because Carla had been ramming him down my throat for weeks. Part of her never-ending struggle to “educate” me.
For Comic-Con, the producers of Grimm, the TV series, have transformed Tin Fish’s patio into a green, forested glade dotted by moss-covered umbrellas with strings of lights under them, and trees and grass and bushes, and, boy, have the people responded. Crowds cram the place, dressed up in everything from Darth Vader gear to cats (like the gal, a really cool cat, named Miaowlissa). Angela, who appears as the Scarlet Witch, says she was “an after-hours Scarlet Witch.” She wears a red bathrobe, her hair in curlers.
Couple of sisters chow down on tacos at the rail-counter across from the Hard Rock Hotel and that spaceship that looks like it crash-landed right next to the front door. Carnela and Ronalda. From Lithuania. Turns out, Carnela started waitressing at the Tin Fish and ended up marrying the general manager.
The sisters have two tacos each and large glasses of beer.
“Mine’s the fish taco, and this is a 32-ounce beer,” Carnela says. “It cost $18 altogether, $10.95 for the double platter of fish.”
“Mine is the salmon taco,” says Ronalda. “I came out from England to visit my sister, and all I can say is, the fish here is far tastier than in England.”
All this talk’s giving me a hunger. I take a deep breath and join a long line at the Tin Fish entrance.
Ten minutes later I’m just about at the counter. Better have my choice ready. And I see that, when it comes to fish, they have lots. From single fried oysters ($1.50 each) to a mixed-seafood grilled plate (with shrimp, fish, and scallops, $16.95), you can pay a little or a lot. Fish and chips is $12, garlic-shrimp burrito (sounds dee-lish) is $13.
But Carnela tells me the best value is in the tacos. They start off at $4 for cod, going up to $6.50 for halibut. That’s for one taco. You can upgrade to a platter, which gets you the, say, cod taco, plus fries and slaw, for $7.50. Add one more taco and it’s $10.95.
The gal behind the counter, Jessica, is waiting. So, okay, I go for the cod-taco platter because Carnela and Ronalda both said the crisscut fries were to die for. That’s $7.50, plus two bucks for a bottle of water, plus tax, and I’m walking away $10.24 poorer.
“That’s the thing,” says the lady at the next table, Lori. She’s with her friend Estelle. “We love this place. We paid about $14 for our meal here. The two of us. I mean you could go to the Fish Market, but you’d pay double.”
Jessica arrives with my cod taco, fries, and a pot of rough-cut cole slaw. The taco’s laid out flat under a slab of fried cod. There’s shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, other stuff. A white sauce has been swirled over the top.
I start off with a few of those fries. Delicious is the word. Then I squeeze my wedge of lemon, roll up my taco, and — mm mmm. It really is tasty. Must be the white sauce. Fish has a tangy, garlicky, slightly ranch-dressing flavor going on. Wish I’d ordered two.
Lori’s wearing a steampunk hat, and, yes, she’s into the whole vampire thing. “I grew up with Dark Shadows,” she says. “Vampires are so seductive, sexy, dark, beautiful. Besides, all girls like bad boys.”
“We come here because of the people-watching,” Estelle says. “We’re from Chicago. That downtown is so full of life. We’re looking for that.”
“San Diego has perfect weather,” Lori says, “but it has been afraid of street life. First time I came here, the streets were for sailors and streetwalkers. But now, tonight, at this place, dressed up like this, it feels more like a European café.”
We settle into eating while the Comic-Con pageant ebbs and flows. Five guys with drums are making a great racket, guy and a gal are doing jerky dances ten feet up on stilts, and guys with yellow signs and megaphones warn us to follow God or face His wrath. Someone else holds up a sign: “Backflip for Two Dollars.” I even see my friend Hamilton dancing away, whirling his kerchiefs. Audience this size, he’s in heaven. Me, too.
So, that was then. This is now. And I’m feeling like I haven’t eaten in an entire month.
I put in my order for a cod taco and those crisscut fries, find a seat under a tree, wait for the order to come.
This is still an excellent place for people-watching, but that first night of Comic-Con? It touched café greatness.
The Place: Tin Fish Gaslamp, 170 Sixth Avenue (by Gaslamp trolley stop), 619-238-8100
Prices: Single fried oyster, $1.50; mixed-seafood grilled plate (with shrimp, fish, scallops), $16.95); fish and chips, $11.95; garlic-shrimp burrito, $12.95; cod taco, $4; halibut taco, $6.50; cod-taco platter (with fries and slaw), $7.50; two-taco platter, $10.95
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m.; till 10:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday; till 7:00 p.m., Sundays
Trolley: Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Gaslamp Quarter (ten yards from restaurant)