9350 Fuerte Drive, La Mesa
Depending on who you believe, the origins of the Baja-style fish taco will take you two places.
Fans of entrepreneurial success stories will favor the narrative popularized by San Diego restaurant mogul Ralph Rubio, who first tasted the taco that would make him millions on a spring-break jaunt to San Felipe in 1974. Rubio opened his first namesake eatery at a former Mission Valley A&W stand nearly a decade later and the rest, as they say, is suburban McFranchised history.
Foodies with a knack for fusion, however, will prefer the account that dates to the 1930s, when Japanese fishermen living in Ensenada combined their catch of the day with tempura techniques. The delectable batter-fried fish would later be wrapped in a tortilla and garnished with cabbage, tomato, onion, and a white sauce to arrive at the fish taco as we now know it.
Whatever story you choose, the fish taco remains an icon of Baja California cuisine, and to this day there is no shortage of eateries on either side of the border clamoring over who makes them the best.
To catch one of San Diego’s finest, you needn’t look farther than the Brigantine, a local, upscale micro-chain that boasts a daily happy hour, including generous cuts of lightly breaded whitefish with all the fixins plus cheddar cheese and ranch on a corn tortilla for $2.75 a pop, $1.50 oysters on the half-shell, and a boatload of other snack specials.
But so what? We’re here to drink, so let’s start with a disclaimer. If you stick with the happy-hour deals, you’ve got a better chance at catching a buzz from the libido-enlivening mollusks on your dinner plate than the house margarita ($4.75), which is served bellyachingly thick with mixer. The same goes for dollar-off wells. And while you could pace yourself with dollar-off Dos Equis pints, your best bet is to cough up ten bucks for a La Mesa Iced Tea (a local take on the Long Island) or add some boom to your bivalves with a few $2.75 pepper vodka oyster shooters.
However you get there, the Brig’s award-winning ambiance is ideal for dress-up dates or a casual chat with bar mates. The place is generally bustling (doubly so during happy hour), so order at the oyster bar and be sure to take in the enchanting view of rush hour Interstate 8 ebbing and flowing down below.
- Attire: Comfortable captain
- Food: Arrr
- Prices: drafts, $5+; cocktails, $6.50–12
- Hours: Mon–Thur, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri–Sat, 11:30 a.m.–12 a.m.; Sun, 10 a.m.–11 p.m.
- Happy: Sun–Mon, 4–close; Tues–Sat, 4–7 p.m. $1 off pints, wells, select wines; $3.50 sparkling wine; $5 wine; $4.75 margs.
- Max Cap: 420