Fish tacos are becoming an obsession. If you go around spouting off about food around town on a weekly basis, people start to ask questions along the lines of, "So where are the best fish tacos in in San Diego?"
I don't have a ready answer.
I can tell you a number of places to find a pretty satisfying fish taco, but I can't honestly point to one that blows the rest out of the water. Don't get me wrong — that I can tell you five or ten places worth trying is one of the great perks of living here. But if you press me for one that tops all others, my answer will change depending on whichever's closest.
And when I see one on the menu of a good seafood spot, "Voted Best Fish Taco in San Diego," I'm obliged to try it.
1775 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach
The TKO Taco at PB Fish Shop won the inaugural TKO Fish Taco Competition, part of the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival that takes place each November. You might say its foodie papers appear to be in order. Of course, that was 2011. Maybe now the shine has worn off a bit.
The Fish Shop operates the sort of see-it-before-you-buy-it fresh-catch seafood counter that got Blue Water featured on the Food Network. It's even gone whole hog on the nautical décor — or whole marlin I suppose, as there's a very large trophy fish replica hanging from a chain outside the shop.
Stands to reason their fish tacos would be good. The TKO pairs grilled mahi mahi with "tropical salsa" (code for mango) on a corn tortilla. Okay, so it's not the beer-battered Baja style I crave during every sunset, but I'm not sentimental. My only beef with mahi mahi is the name. Can't we all just agree that simply calling it mahi gets the point across? No one would waste their breath saying tuna tuna, or haddock haddock. I digress.
I got my taco and took some time to consider it. Would adding a nontropical salsa or hot sauce muddy my appreciation of the award-winning recipe? I'd already added the optional avocado — did the champion taco have a slice of avo, or was I marring the experience with my hardwired American more-is-better attitude?
Eating it was pleasant. Definitely a light-tasting fish, with a spicy fruity garnish in a respectable corn tortilla. (Fresh fish is their game, not griddlin masa.) It went down quick, and I wished I had some time before returning to work to pair it with a craft beer, as would have been during the contest.
I just question whether it embodies the true spirit of a taco. I mean, you don't slap black beans on a turkey kale wrap and call it a burrito. Not to get too philosophical, but can just anything be considered a taco simply by virtue of being contained in a small, hand-sized tortilla?
I gotta assume these contests favor creativity and effort. I'd really like to see them judge the actual everyday tacos that give this town its true flavor. Ultimately, this one ain't the drop-you-to-the-floor knockout fish taco I've been looking for. Just, as advertised, a TKO.