Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, Tacos Baja Ensenada & Siete Mares - An Analysis on A Few Los Angeles Fish Taco Joints

Here at the eatdrinknbmerry laboratories, we strive for accuracy in gastronomical studies and never stop searching for the tastiest, palate-pleasing food. While most people are too quick to voice opinions on food without really trying any other place with the same type of food, we find it important to provide our take on as many places as possible. Saying bold things like "hands down", "the best in (insert geographical area)" and mean things like "you've got no f_____ tastebuds" can often lead to some pretty heated discussions that could trigger off another LA riot – those are simply unnecessary. People have the right to like what they like right?

At eatdrinknbmerry laboratories, we try to break down food to its simple components. Well not too much, otherwise we wouldn't have anything to eat.
We are human, too, and enjoy stuffing our faces.

And if necessary, we will dig deep... really deep, and get into it.

In this latest experiment, Case Study #32168, we focus on the fish tacos of Los Angeles and try to find the best ones, without having to drive the 48,328 miles to Ensenada, where fish tacos were born. We first decided to study fish tacos after a friendly recommendation to The Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, in Los Feliz. I, myself, have driven by many times on the way to Yuca's and have been taken back by the bold name. But after the first time I decided to stop by, I'm up to a dozen visits. I can honestly say, I'm hooked. Instead of writing a post solely on BFTIE, we researched the local favorites on Chowhound and gave them a shot. Here is our report.

Tacos Baja Ensenada East Los Angeles

Subject #1: Tacos Baja Ensenada, East Los Angeles

I've heard and read about this fish taco joint in the East LA proper. It's supposedly one of the better places in LA. I drove from Silver Lake to East LA by street just to check out all the restaurants around there. We were like kids in a toy store, pointing and pondering about how good the food must be over here. We arrive at TBE, which looks like it was a hamburger joint in its previous life. We walk in and the first thing we see is the ceviche bar and salsa station. I take a look at the ceviche and my eyes grow large. Whoa. So many kinds of seafood for ceviche and cocteles. No. Not this time, we had to research the fish tacos. We order 2 fish ($1.45 each) and 2 shrimp ($1.95 each) tacos but the cashier directs our attention to the combos. What?! Two fish tacos, rice, beans and a drink for $4.50. Awesome. How do you guys live?

Tacos Baja Ensenada Chilis with Chile

While waiting, J and I started to get our fish taco condiments: salsa and limes. But I noticed some boiled yellow peppers rained on with chile spice. Afraid it would be too spicy, I took a small lick and oh man, so good. Reminded me of that mexican candy I used to eat, called Lucas – which was basically chile salt (a big seller for ice cream roach coaches). I ate two large yellow chiles. So tasty.

Tacos Baja Ensenada Fish Tacos

After a few minutes, we pick up our order and take in the smell of freshly fried batter. The taco itself is quite large. Large enough to have things falling out after one bite. First bite: CRUNCH. Very nice, loved the texture of the batter. Tasty and crunchy. But way too much batter for me. The crema sauce was very tasty and the proportion of salsa/cabbage to taco was a little more than packed. One of these combos is sure to get you full. FOR ONLY $4.50!

Tacos Baja Ensenada Shrimp Taco

By the time I finished the fish taco, I saw that my shrimp taco had gotten a little soggy from the cabbage, salsa and crema (cream) on top. I took a bite out of the shrimp and immediately frowned when the batter came off the shrimp completely. Soggy, but very tasty! I wish I had ordered these separately so that I could hear that delicious crunch in the taco.

Overall. Very tasty fish and shrimp tacos. I liked the shrimp over the fish. Tasty crema. Love the crunch in the batter, but after a few bites, the batter made me feel like crap. I highly recommend ordering one taco at a time if you're into texture. The rice is VERY tasty here. It's loaded up with caldo de pollo (chicken bouillon cubes) and butter. I'd definitely be back here if I'm in the East LA area. But from the Silver Lake area, it's just too far. Also, on Wednesdays, it's $1 fish taco days. I'm not complaining about that!!!

Some debates on Tacos Baja Ensenada here and here. And by my gluttonous friend.

El Siete Mares Silver Lake

Subject #2: El Siete Mares, Silver Lake

Instead of eating at the El Siete Mares (The Seven Seas) restaurant, we went for the take-out side next door, called El Siete Mares Playita (Little Beach). This is a favorite for the residents of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz and Atwater Village... with another 22 locations all over SoCal.

We ordered 2 fish ($2.29 each) and 2 shrimp ($3.29 each) tacos. Much pricier. These better be good I thought to myself. I hear the bell ring and the cashier signals me to pick up the order. I did a double take, as these tacos were huge. Tacos that were roided up like the MLB... daring you to finish both of them in under 10 mins. The tacos actually laughed at me. No wonder they were so expensive, it was filled with at least 3 big pieces of battered fish/5-6 shrimps, piled with cabbage and salsa. No joke, these were massive.

El Siete Mares Fish Taco

To an ant, this would be Mt. Everest. The fish taco was very tasty but the proportion of fish and cabbage to tortilla was just way off. Some major imbalance going on. I can understand that there are the more-for-your-money eaters and the taste-for-your-money eaters out there, but this was just ridiculous. I took out 2 pieces of fried fish and set them on the side so that I could enjoy my fish taco in a NORMAL manner.

El Siete Mares Shrimp Taco

Now time for the shrimp. Shrimp taco was still hot when I bit ito it, and the batter was quite light. It had excellent crunch and was very tasty.

Overall: With combos priced at $6-8, it's totally understandable. Prices are higher, but quantities more than compensate for it. You don't NEED rice or beans b/c the portions are very large. Chips and salsa are the perfect compliment. El Siete Mares is good. As of now, I'd eat the shrimp taco at TBE and ESM again.

And now for Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, in Los Feliz.

Best Fish Tacos In Ensenada Los Feliz

Subject #3: Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, Los Feliz

I first came here on a friend's recommendation and have been eating here weekly. I've seen the same people here before too. This place is run by Joseph Cordova, who used to sell his tacos at at market in Atwater Village, and opened up BFTIE around July. Cordova speaks fluent Spanish, as does his mom, who usually works the cash register. They've got a eat-now-pay-later way there.

Best Fish Tacos In Ensenada Sign

Walking in, you'll see that this place has a simple set-up. You've got the lady in the front frying tacos over a small round fryer. You've got the drink fridge behind the cashier. You've got the salsa bar to the left with 4-5 kinds, ranging from wimpy to ring-of-fire hot. You've got scattered stools, tables and a counter top for those that like to stand and eat. And then you've got the 3-item menu: fish ($1.50), shrimp ($2.00) or drinks. Unfortunately, you cannot get a drink taco. Might be bad.

Here's why I like BFTIE, compared to the other place. You pay and walk up the frylady, and tell her your order. She cooks the tortillas to a nice crispiness, with slight burn spots and adds either 1.5 pcs of fish or 3-4 pcs of shrimp. Definitely a smaller portion, but balance is extremely important to me when eating tacos. Then, you walk up to the bar and style your own taco. You start with the avocado salsa, then the finely shredded cabbage, your choice of wimpy -> ring-of-fire hot salsa, a nice radish relish which is new to me and the big tub of crema with a spout. You are in complete control. This makes people blame themselves for making a shitty taco vs. pointing fingers at Joseph and his frylady. I make my tacos with the avocado salsa, tons of cabbage, salsa and just a lil' bit of crema. And they are wonderful.

Best Fish Tacos In Ensenada Fish Taco

Cordova is an ex-wholesale seafood guy, and his experience shows. He uses a type of farm-raised fish called basa, which is a type of catfish native to the Mekong Delta area. Because Joseph's batter is so light, you're actually able to taste the sweet flesh of the fish. It's not sandy/gritty tasting at all. The fish is fried perfectly. As you can see, I use the condiments sparingly, compared to TBE and ESM which gives you no option at all.

Best Fish Tacos In Ensenada Shrimp Taco

Every time I eat the shrimp tacos, I always wonder where he gets it. It has a great sweetness and crunch to it that makes me want to eat more and more. The batter tends to be a little heavier on the shrimp b/c of the shrimp's small mass, but you can definitely taste it. J and Immaeatchu cannot refrain from ordering shrimp only. I myself, actually like the fish better.

Best fish tacos in Ensenada? I'm not sure – never been. Best fish taco in Los Feliz area, for me yes. BFTIE is addicting – I think about them every week. I find that some of the best places to eat at are always the ones with a simple business plan. Serve two type of tacos, but make sure they are the best they can be. At BFTIE, they do not serve beer, but you can drink out in the patio. Just run up to Cap n' Cork up the street for some good beer. My only caveat with BFTIE is that it hurts my wallet. If you have 4 shrimp tacos, like J usually does... that's $8 with no sides or drinks. But sometimes, you just need to cut to the chase. Cordova used to be more strict on the 1 taco-order-at-a-time rule when he first opened, but is more lenient now. But why risk the chance of making your tacos soggy. Just get one at a time and chill out there with a beer. Also, BFTIE doesn't have a phone number. Memorize their schedule like I have, everyday from 11-8 and closed on Mondays. Read more about them on this Chowhound thread.

In conclusion, all the tacos I've tried were delicious. If you want to get full, go to El Siete Mares. I like their fried shrimp taco, but haven't had their ceviche/cocteles, which I hear is tasty. If you want one of the LA originals and are looking for the best value, go to Tacos Baja Ensenada in East Los Angeles. The rice and beans are very good. But if you want to try a different style of tacos and ONLY tacos.... with basa fish, sweet shrimp, and the option of customizing your own taco, go to Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada. Again, all the places made me happy. Click image for a larger view on the fish taco analysis. I threw in Rubio's for the hell of it. It's not bad there but it's not that good. It's kind of a place I would go to if I found myself stuck in a mall food court with only a mongolian bbq, philly cheese steak grill and chinese/japanese/korean fusion place to choose from.

When I have time, I will add El Taco Nazo and Senor Fish (Little Tokyo) to the posting. Thanks for reading.

Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada
1650 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tues - Sun 11 am - 8 pm

Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 887-1980

El Siete Mares (Playita)
3131 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 665-0865


Jeni said...

D...those lab pics are so gross. STOP!

LOOOOOOOOVE Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada. Let's go tonight.

Taste-Buzz said...

Don't forget to also try out Maria's fish tacos (estilo Ensenada) in the Grand Central Market.

One Food Guy said...

"Facking awesome!"

Great post! I love tacos! I recently ate some delicious tacos somewhere in Puerto Rico. I have no idea where I was, somewhere on the side of the road, eating with the locals. My Spanish sucks so I could only say I wanted two tacos, but man they were good!

Hillary said...

Great post! I've never had a fish taco! Perhaps I should try one? :)

Daily Gluttony said...

aww maaaaan, i gotta go try sounds so freakin' good!!!!

and don't even talk to me about rubios. it's one of those places i am forced to go to because pickins are slim around where i work. i think their fish tacos are quite tasteless.

monkey_see said...

OHHHH man! What a great review . ..

wish I would have know about it, I would have met you at TBE on whittier blvd. I'm just 5 minutes away from there!

You should do a full review of Olympic Blvd. the Mecca of Taco trucks! That could take MONTHS!

Rasa Malaysia said...

I need to find a Mexican restaurant that serves Siete Mares, the seven sea seafood soup...I can't seem to find any. :(

elmomonster said...

Drooling, especially for the last one you tried. So far I've only tried El Taco Nazo. There used to be a branch in Chino Hills, where my family lives. Now it's a Senor Baja, and it's not quite as good.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

J, leave my laboratories alone!

tastebuzz, will do. I've been wanting to check out the Grand Central Market.

OFG, hey man. I think you learned the most valuable piece of spanish!

Hillary, yes go now! thanks for stopping by.

DG, let us know when you wanna go. We'll have our lunch date there.
Rubio's is only good if you have their coupons or go on their $1 day haha.

Monkey, do you eat there a lot? Next time i go, i'm going to hijack the whole tub of yellow chilis.

RM, TBE and El Siete Mares, i think, both serve the 7 seas soup... which sounds great.

Elmo, I'm going to update the posting once I try El Taco Nazo. Seems to be a chowhound favorite.

j! said...

Tacos Baja on Wednesday has $.99 fish tacos special. Those peppers are amazing. Agreed that the batter is a bit too thick, you do notice a big strip of whole flaky fish. Their mixed seafood cevice is better and cheaper than 7 Mares, IMO. They add more seafood and tiny chopped cucumber.

7 Mares is great if you go during a lunch/dinner rush, I've noticed. If you go at on of their downtimes, the fish is cold and not as crunchy. The last few times I went there, it was more batter bits than fish.

Daily Gluttony said...

we went here today...good choice, man, good choice. great tacos, love the condiments bar and joseph couldn't be nicer. thanks for the rec...i just wish it were closer!!!

have a happy new year & a kick ass time in mexico!

Bon Vivant said...

Love it!

El Siete Mares restaurant sucks but the taco stand is one of my guilty pleasures.

When the weather gets better, and after NFL season, I'm going to host a F'iz/Silver Lake Taco Walko via Pleasure Palate. Consume calories while burning calories.

Joe Chapala said...

I love fish tacos!

Taco Fish La Paz in Guadalajara, Mexico has a stand on Avenida La Paz in Guadalajara sounds like ‘Taco Nirvana’.

My experience in Mexico is that some of the best places to eat are those that are off the beaten path that the locals frequent.

I’ve been looking for good places to eat in Guadalajara and Taco Fish La Paz in Guadalajara sounds like just the place.

Fortunately, I live in Ajijic, Jalisco so the trip is a short one.

My mouth is watering,


Joe Chapala
Casa Preciosa Ajijic, Mexico

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Anonymous said...

El 7 Mares! Man that's like a Mexican Sam Woo! El Taco Nazo will smash any taco spot in a gentrified hipster areas....thats us food people getting sh*tty Chinese food in Chinatown...except for tourist...Chinese dont even eat in Chinatown...Do they even eat lengua on the westside?

Anonymous said...

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