1985 El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights
I'm not sure what's more disturbing, that I hold every fish taco I eat up to the standards set by a greasy street cart selling them for 85 centavos apiece on some desolate stretch of downtown Ensenada — or that I've yet to find any so rapturously good here in San Diego.
The good news is, I can just keep looking.
The latest effort brought me back to a familiar shopping strip on El Cajon Boulevard, to an inconspicuous looking storefront blandly declaring itself Bahia Mexican & Seafood Restaurant. I mean, the place is next door to a 7-11, so how good could it be?
Well, Sushi Ota also shares a wall with a branch of the overpriced convenience store chain, and that place turns out some of the best fish in town. So, hello Bahia, I guess I need to dull the edge of my 7-11 prejudice.
It doesn't look very big from the outside, and it's not spacious inside either, but man does it make up for it in color! With brightly painted tables and chairs featuring carved depictions of tropical birds and fruit, all sense of blandness dissipates quickly.
It's still just a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint, though, offering specials like two fish tacos with beans and rice for a little more than 5 dollars. In other words, a priceless contribution to the San Diego lunch scene.
Okay, I probably wolfed down five or six tacos at my little Ensenada spot for less than $3 US, but I'd be happy to pay a premium to avoid the three-hour drive and border crossing. For that I'd go maybe as high as $6.50.
They're crispy and flaky, and while the corn tortillas aren't the best, they're still better than flour. The salsa bar provides a tasty verde that puts the necessary finishing touches on this taco, plus some grilled onions and jalapeño to make up for the fact the pieces of fish are so small.
Of course, these little tacos can't beat the Baja surf expedition discovery of oily, beer-battered gold (word is, they're lard-free in this establishment). Nevertheless, these are surprisingly good. I could probably handle a second pair without taking more than a couple additional breaths, then finish off the rice and beans as a courtesy to the establishment.
There's a lobster enchilada and fish taco special I'm eyeing for my next visit, and someday, when I'm feeling particularly trod upon by the unjustness of the universe, I might even tackle the fish chimichanga. Because lard or no lard, there's no way that thing can taste "chimichanga good" and also be good for you.