2816 Historic Decatur Road #116, Liberty Station
718 Ventura Place, Mission Beach
2633 South Coast Highway 101, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
It sounded like a great idea — attend the annual fish taco contest put on by the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. Not only do a dozen or so local restaurants hand out fish tacos, but each one's paired with a selection of craft beer. It sounded like a three-hour vacation. Right until I tried to eat 12 tacos and drink as many beers. This wasn't a vacation, it was an endurance trial of gluttony.
The whole thing went down on the patio of Stone Liberty Station – a huge paean to dining, drinking and landscaping, complete with full bar, footbridges, koi ponds and open flames. Guests paid 45 bucks for a plastic punch card on a lanyard, entitling them to tacos and drinks. For the better part of three hours we all hustled from food station to station, feeding in constant motion, like sharks.
We also voted. Each guest received two wooden tokens to serve as votes – drop your tokens at the booth of your favorite taco makers, and their total would be tallied at the end of the night to determine a victor.
The winner, for the second year in a row, was Mission Beach's Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill, serving grilled dorado (aka mahi mahi) on a cotija-crusted flour tortilla with beer-brined escabeche slaw, lime crema, spicy guacamole, tobacco onions, and fried cilantro.
I happened to eat this one first, as it held a key position right next to the entrance. I can't know whether this proved an advantage overall, but I can say I devoured this one in its entirety and truly relished every hungry bite. Had it been my twelfth taco of the night I cannot be certain I'd have attacked it with the same zeal. That said, there's no faulting Sandbar's victory – this has twice proven an excellent taco, beautifully served on a corn husk.
Second place winner Tower 13 out of Cardiff battered and fried its mahi in a taco, served on a tiny corn tortilla with mango salsa. This decidedly simpler taco riffed on the beloved Baja style, and though I bit into it assuming the mango would turn me off, it proved one of my favorites of the night, despite the fact I was nine tacos deep at the point and taking steps to ration.
Butterfish, monk fish, rock fish, albacore, shark, seabass, and swordfish were all on hand, and I didn't even try the shrimp ceviche offered by Oceanaire, because shrimp is a disgusting bottom feeder. (And because I'm allergic.)
Admittedly, there were a few tacos I ditched after a bit or two, as I realized early on I wouldn't otherwise make it to the end. One other one I did finish was the smoked albacore beauty offered by Tequila Bar, out of the Marina District Marriott. Served on a corn tortilla with habanero cream, the smokiness really distinguished it from all the other tacos of the night, earning it enough votes to finish in third.
I gotta say, though, many other tacos would have been worthy winners, so I'll go ahead and name some worthy contenders.
Fish Taco TKO Competition 2014 Part 2