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Karina’s Ceviche Bar ‘n Tacos: Smart tacos

“Fish learn faster than dogs!”

Marina Mixto: Shrimp, octopus, bay scallops. Serrano peppers, lime juice: sabroso!
Marina Mixto: Shrimp, octopus, bay scallops. Serrano peppers, lime juice: sabroso!

“Oh no!” This is Diane. New to ’Diego. She has just picked up her gobernador taco, chomped in, and watched a splot of orange taco juice squirt out onto her shirt. Her white shirt. “Tacos!” she says. “I knew this was going to happen.” 

Place

Karina’s Ceviche Bar ‘n Tacos

1852 National Avenue, San Diego

Five minutes ago, we were walking along National Avenue, wondering where we could get something to tide us over until tonight. Because, truth be known, it’s lunchtime, but this is gonna be brekky. 

“How far are we from downtown?” she asked. 

“Hey, this is better than downtown,” I said. “It’s the Barrio. All kinds of interesting food.”

Second equal - Gobernador taco (left), all shrimp and cheese, and the pulpo (octopus).

“All kinds of interesting tacos?’”

So hey, menu-wise, she asked for it. And wouldn’t you know it, just now we’re walking past a fish market that is... well, was. Fish market ain’t no mo’. Now it’s been gussied up; now the sign says “Karina’s Ceviche Bar’n Tacos.” 

“OPEN,” says another sign. 

Abierto,” says Diane, to show she knows some Spanish. 

Loncha?” I say. 

Almuerzo?” Diane says.

Bocadillo?” I say.

Comida?” she says. 

“You win,” I say. “Hungry?” 

Loncha, si. Desayuno no! Last one in pays!”

OK, so all this results in both of us struggling to be first through narrow entranceway, and both of us bursting into this large space where the fish market used to be. Now, wow, it’s this blue-gray space with a counter on the right, a fish counter behind, and long community tables filling up where the fish displays used to be. One or two people are hanging out at the counter. 

Surf and Turf, $6.50 and worth it.

“For here?” says Alejandra, and she hands us menus.

Being seafood, things are not always cheap, but I see plenty of deals. And exotic-sounding stuff: Mango Tuna Jalapeño Sashimi, anybody? Costs $12. It’s ceviche, and as Alejandra’s friend Rosa points out, lemon juice acids serve to “cook” the tuna flesh, so you don’t have to worry about the dangers of eating raw. A plastic cup of Campechana (shrimp, octopus, and scallops) costs $13, a whole pescado frito is $13 per pound, and quesadillas start at $10 for cheese, go up to $12.75 for al pastor chicken, thru $13.75 for rib eye, to $14.25 for shrimp. And a usual array of ceviches, seafood cocktails ($13), and even surf & turf fries ($15). 

But it is the tacos that catch my eye. Why? Precios! Here we’re talking $4.50 for fish tacos, and $5.50 for a whole array of other tacos: shrimp, rib eye, marlin, bacon-wrapped shrimp, seared ahi tuna, and Del Mar: a combo of octopus, scallops and shrimp. “You choose,” says Diana. She doesn’t know so much about tacos or more specialized Mexican dish presentations like Molcajetes — the $22 volcanic rock bowl filled with grilled shrimp, steak, mushrooms, and cheese — or my other favorite, fajitas (a combo of shrimp and rib eye, sautéed with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, which they serve on rice with tortillas, for $17.50). Not cheap, but almost worth it, just for the sizzling hotplate presentation. Pretty sure they’ll do that. Everybody else does.

So I am suggesting taco ideas to Diana: “How about shrimp, Baja-style? Or pulpo — octopus?”

“No octopus,” Diana says. “Too intelligent.”

“Seared ahi tuna?”

“Too intelligent.” 

“Tuna? They’re just fish.”

Ms. D’s eyes light up. “Fish learn faster than dogs! Don’t you keep up with research? Lemme look it up…yes. Oxford University: ‘In many areas, such as memory, fishes’ cognitive powers match or exceed those of “higher” vertebrates, including non-human primates.’” 

Alejandra’s got her electronic order pad suspended in front of her as she watches the ping-pong match. Diana finally compromises on a pulpo taco, gobernador (shrimp and cheese), and a surf and turf (steak and shrimp). That one costs $6.50. Diane’s also desperate for a Mexican Coke (a large plastic bottle of it for $4), and I get a Sangria Señorial, that wine-tasting grape juice Mexican classic ($4). 

Alejandra (left) and Rosa - Life of the party!

Have to say, these tacos are exceptional. Big, fresh-cooked, and full of flavor. The pulpo is not too rubbery, but the cheesy gobernador is Diane’s fave. “This is against all my principles. I usually don’t like to mix cheese with fish, but this worked.” For me, it’s the surf & turf. Scrumptious marinated steak with, yes, shrimp. Something about the squelchy but utterly seductive shrimp, c/w the stronger steak flavors, and avocado — a lot of avocado — all in a golden, marinated corn tortilla. And this sells it to me: the wild pile of crispy fried onions on top.

So we finish all that, and then I get greedy. I see Alejandra stepping by with a mess of seafood on an enamel plate on a bed of ice in a bowl. The Ceviche Mixto plate. Oh man. “Let’s split it!” I say. Diane nods. I order, and we get this great sea of cooked shrimp and octopus, plus bay scallops, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, cucumbers and serrano peppers, all “cooking” in lime juice, with a pile of tostadas on the side. It’s good, but it’s too much. “Way too much,” says Diane. “Whose idea was this anyway?” Worst is, we ordered the plate ($14.50) and not just the tostada ($6.50). 

We box it up, and start to head out. “This is the Contreras family’s new place,” says Rosa. “They started in Chula Vista maybe 30 years ago. Now they have six places around the county. All run by the family. This is the newest. They get all their fish from Ensenada.”

“This was the most delicious meal since I arrived in California,” she says. “Except…”

“Except what?”

“Except I spilled that sauce on my white shirt! Do you people all eat with your hands in Southern California?” 

“Speaking for myself, yes,” I say.

  • The Place: Karina’s Ceviche Bar ‘n Tacos, 1852 National Avenue, Barrio Logan, 619-876-5050 Hours: 11am-8pm daily; Closed Sunday; Happy Hour 3-6pm daily
  • Prices: Campechana (shrimp, octopus, and scallops), $13; pescado frito (whole fish), $13 per pound; cheese quesadilla, $10; al pastor chicken quesadilla, $12.75; rib eye quesadilla, $13.75; shrimp, $14.25; seafood cocktails, $13; surf & turf fries $15; fish tacos, 4.50; shrimp taco, $5.50; bacon-wrapped shrimp taco, $5.50; seared ahi tuna taco, $5.50; ceviche mixto, $14.50 (plate), $6.50 (tostada); molcajete (volcanic rock bowl of seafood), $22 
  • Buses: 12, 901, 929
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Logan and Beardsley (12); 10th Street and Park Boulevard (901); Main and Beardsley (929)
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan
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Ceviche and Secrets at Coya Peruvian

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Marina Mixto: Shrimp, octopus, bay scallops. Serrano peppers, lime juice: sabroso!
Marina Mixto: Shrimp, octopus, bay scallops. Serrano peppers, lime juice: sabroso!

“Oh no!” This is Diane. New to ’Diego. She has just picked up her gobernador taco, chomped in, and watched a splot of orange taco juice squirt out onto her shirt. Her white shirt. “Tacos!” she says. “I knew this was going to happen.” 

Place

Karina’s Ceviche Bar ‘n Tacos

1852 National Avenue, San Diego

Five minutes ago, we were walking along National Avenue, wondering where we could get something to tide us over until tonight. Because, truth be known, it’s lunchtime, but this is gonna be brekky. 

“How far are we from downtown?” she asked. 

“Hey, this is better than downtown,” I said. “It’s the Barrio. All kinds of interesting food.”

Second equal - Gobernador taco (left), all shrimp and cheese, and the pulpo (octopus).

“All kinds of interesting tacos?’”

So hey, menu-wise, she asked for it. And wouldn’t you know it, just now we’re walking past a fish market that is... well, was. Fish market ain’t no mo’. Now it’s been gussied up; now the sign says “Karina’s Ceviche Bar’n Tacos.” 

“OPEN,” says another sign. 

Abierto,” says Diane, to show she knows some Spanish. 

Loncha?” I say. 

Almuerzo?” Diane says.

Bocadillo?” I say.

Comida?” she says. 

“You win,” I say. “Hungry?” 

Loncha, si. Desayuno no! Last one in pays!”

OK, so all this results in both of us struggling to be first through narrow entranceway, and both of us bursting into this large space where the fish market used to be. Now, wow, it’s this blue-gray space with a counter on the right, a fish counter behind, and long community tables filling up where the fish displays used to be. One or two people are hanging out at the counter. 

Surf and Turf, $6.50 and worth it.

“For here?” says Alejandra, and she hands us menus.

Being seafood, things are not always cheap, but I see plenty of deals. And exotic-sounding stuff: Mango Tuna Jalapeño Sashimi, anybody? Costs $12. It’s ceviche, and as Alejandra’s friend Rosa points out, lemon juice acids serve to “cook” the tuna flesh, so you don’t have to worry about the dangers of eating raw. A plastic cup of Campechana (shrimp, octopus, and scallops) costs $13, a whole pescado frito is $13 per pound, and quesadillas start at $10 for cheese, go up to $12.75 for al pastor chicken, thru $13.75 for rib eye, to $14.25 for shrimp. And a usual array of ceviches, seafood cocktails ($13), and even surf & turf fries ($15). 

But it is the tacos that catch my eye. Why? Precios! Here we’re talking $4.50 for fish tacos, and $5.50 for a whole array of other tacos: shrimp, rib eye, marlin, bacon-wrapped shrimp, seared ahi tuna, and Del Mar: a combo of octopus, scallops and shrimp. “You choose,” says Diana. She doesn’t know so much about tacos or more specialized Mexican dish presentations like Molcajetes — the $22 volcanic rock bowl filled with grilled shrimp, steak, mushrooms, and cheese — or my other favorite, fajitas (a combo of shrimp and rib eye, sautéed with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, which they serve on rice with tortillas, for $17.50). Not cheap, but almost worth it, just for the sizzling hotplate presentation. Pretty sure they’ll do that. Everybody else does.

So I am suggesting taco ideas to Diana: “How about shrimp, Baja-style? Or pulpo — octopus?”

“No octopus,” Diana says. “Too intelligent.”

“Seared ahi tuna?”

“Too intelligent.” 

“Tuna? They’re just fish.”

Ms. D’s eyes light up. “Fish learn faster than dogs! Don’t you keep up with research? Lemme look it up…yes. Oxford University: ‘In many areas, such as memory, fishes’ cognitive powers match or exceed those of “higher” vertebrates, including non-human primates.’” 

Alejandra’s got her electronic order pad suspended in front of her as she watches the ping-pong match. Diana finally compromises on a pulpo taco, gobernador (shrimp and cheese), and a surf and turf (steak and shrimp). That one costs $6.50. Diane’s also desperate for a Mexican Coke (a large plastic bottle of it for $4), and I get a Sangria Señorial, that wine-tasting grape juice Mexican classic ($4). 

Alejandra (left) and Rosa - Life of the party!

Have to say, these tacos are exceptional. Big, fresh-cooked, and full of flavor. The pulpo is not too rubbery, but the cheesy gobernador is Diane’s fave. “This is against all my principles. I usually don’t like to mix cheese with fish, but this worked.” For me, it’s the surf & turf. Scrumptious marinated steak with, yes, shrimp. Something about the squelchy but utterly seductive shrimp, c/w the stronger steak flavors, and avocado — a lot of avocado — all in a golden, marinated corn tortilla. And this sells it to me: the wild pile of crispy fried onions on top.

So we finish all that, and then I get greedy. I see Alejandra stepping by with a mess of seafood on an enamel plate on a bed of ice in a bowl. The Ceviche Mixto plate. Oh man. “Let’s split it!” I say. Diane nods. I order, and we get this great sea of cooked shrimp and octopus, plus bay scallops, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, cucumbers and serrano peppers, all “cooking” in lime juice, with a pile of tostadas on the side. It’s good, but it’s too much. “Way too much,” says Diane. “Whose idea was this anyway?” Worst is, we ordered the plate ($14.50) and not just the tostada ($6.50). 

We box it up, and start to head out. “This is the Contreras family’s new place,” says Rosa. “They started in Chula Vista maybe 30 years ago. Now they have six places around the county. All run by the family. This is the newest. They get all their fish from Ensenada.”

“This was the most delicious meal since I arrived in California,” she says. “Except…”

“Except what?”

“Except I spilled that sauce on my white shirt! Do you people all eat with your hands in Southern California?” 

“Speaking for myself, yes,” I say.

  • The Place: Karina’s Ceviche Bar ‘n Tacos, 1852 National Avenue, Barrio Logan, 619-876-5050 Hours: 11am-8pm daily; Closed Sunday; Happy Hour 3-6pm daily
  • Prices: Campechana (shrimp, octopus, and scallops), $13; pescado frito (whole fish), $13 per pound; cheese quesadilla, $10; al pastor chicken quesadilla, $12.75; rib eye quesadilla, $13.75; shrimp, $14.25; seafood cocktails, $13; surf & turf fries $15; fish tacos, 4.50; shrimp taco, $5.50; bacon-wrapped shrimp taco, $5.50; seared ahi tuna taco, $5.50; ceviche mixto, $14.50 (plate), $6.50 (tostada); molcajete (volcanic rock bowl of seafood), $22 
  • Buses: 12, 901, 929
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Logan and Beardsley (12); 10th Street and Park Boulevard (901); Main and Beardsley (929)
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan
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Previous article

Ceviche and Secrets at Coya Peruvian

Sweet potatoes are the tip-off to a different tradition of cured seafood
Next Article

L.A.Times reporters knock Patrick Soon-Shiong's daughter

Blocking of Illumina-Grail deal casts cloud on Scott Peters money raising
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