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Why Fish Tacos are a San Diego Essential and Five Solid Places to Eat Them

Katie Stokes
April 27, 2018
Credit: wanderluster

The fish taco was born 15 miles south of downtown San Diego in Baja California in the 1950s, but its origins are even older.

The Mexican peninsula has seen the influence of sixteenth-century Spanish explorers and Asian fishermen and traders, who are thought to have introduced the local population to the method of deep-frying fish.

Around the midcentury, in Ensenada and San Felipe (there is great debate as to which one was first), street vendors began selling fried fish on traditional, handmade tortillas topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, and creamy sauces to the fishermen and customers at local markets. Surfers from San Diego discovered the local delicacy, and one surfer in particular, Ralph Rubio, decided to bring the concept back home with him.

In 1983, Rubio opened the first dedicated fish taco joint in America on Mission Beach. Other restaurants soon followed suit. His little beachfront restaurant has since expanded into Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, a mega chain of 160 restaurants operating in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

The fish taco has since become the quintessential San Diego dish, representing our surfing culture, our fishing heritage, and our connection with our Latin neighbors to the south. Fish tacos are to San Diego what deep dish pizza is to Chicago, and with so many amazing options of places to try this hometown hero, everyone has an opinion on which spot serves the best version.

You'll find fish tacos at food trucks and ocean view fine dining restaurants, made in classic style with fried white fish and in newfangled grilled versions with a slew of unusual toppings. One thing's for sure, there is no shortage of fish tacos to enjoy in San Diego County.

Here at Edible San Diego, we love them all, so we put together this list as a starting point of solid options to lead you into the wonderful world of San Diego fish tacos. Deciding which one reigns supreme is up to you.

A Fresh Catch Take on a Classic

Oscar's Mexican Seafood opened their first location on Turquoise Street in North Pacific Beach in 2011, and this hole-in-the-wall shop is still our favorite. They use whatever fish is fresh in the market to make their classic fried fish tacos and their grilled fish taco of the day. You can expect to find everything from tuna to red snapper. They also serve smoked fish tacos, shrimp  tacos, octopus tacos and seafood combination tacos. The original is the most affordable option at $1.99 each, and they come simply adorned with a slice of avocado, pico de gallo, and cabbage. You can dress them up yourself with homemade creamy chipolte, chili sauce, or habanero crema while sitting at one of the long counters lining the front of the shop. Pro tip: Their fish ceviche is also out of this world.

Locaion: 703 Turquoise Street, North Pacific Beach, San Diego

Hours: Sunday - Thursday, 8am - 9pm; Friday - Saturday 8am - 10pm

Price: $1.99 for a classic

Oscars Mexican Seafood
Mich's Seafood

Hook-to-Table with a View

Mitch's Seafood was opened in 2008 by three fishing familes in Point Loma, and their heritage is evident in the seafood they serve, which comes almost exclusively from fellow fishermen who catch off the coast of San Diego and Baja. Bonus points, they only source and serve sustainably caught fish. You can't beat the location, directly on the San Diego Bay. Every table offers waterfront views from which to enjoy their beer battered cod or grilled local fish tacos along with local craft brews.

Location: 1403 Scott Street, Point Loma, San Diego

Hours: Daily, 8am-9pm

Price: Local fish taco $4, beer battered cod $3.75

Bahia Don Bravo
Taco Truck on the Boarder

Old School Taco Haunt

The family-owned Bahia Don Bravo opened on the southern edge of La Jolla in 1980, and not a lot has changed since then. The ramshakle shop keeps it simple, with crispy fried white fish topped with thin shreds of cabbage and a healthy dose of crema. They open at 9am, and best believe you will find a line of people ordering $1.49  fish taco "minis" for breakfast at this neighborhood standbye. In addition to fried fish tacos, they offer mahi-mahi, calamari, scallops, octopus, salmon, tilapia, and shrimp for a few bucks more.

Location: 5504 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla

Hours: Daily, 9am-10pm

Price: $1.49 for the "minis", $2.49 for the regular

Taco Truck on the Boarder

The stationary food truck, Mariscos German Beyer,sits just off the 5 Freeway, three exits north of the Mexican boarder in San Ysidro. Don't be detoured by the shabby looking check-cashing joint and liquor store in whose parking lot they have setup shop, their tacos are some of the best anywhere. They offer a ton of different types of fish taco, depending on what's fresh in the market, sometimes unusual ones like smoked mackrel, depending on the day. But the best bet is their classic pescado fried fish taco served on a corn tortilla topped with cabbage, crema, and pico de gallo. Major bonus? You will be handed a complementary cup of tomato seafood soup in a styrophom cup to sip while you wait. Pro tip: They (oddly) have signs saying "cash only", but they do in fact take cards.

Location: 3269 Beyer Blvd, San Ysidro

Hours: Daily, 8:30am-7pm

Price: $1.50 each

Fish Market Variety

Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill was opened in Mission Hills by two Ocean Beach natives 15 years ago as both a fish market featuring local catches, as well as a restaurant serving, among other things, the city's signature dish. As such, it is no surprise that the fish itself plays the staring role in their tacos. You can choose from around 20 different types of fish, which are grilled with chipotle chili and then served in massive five ounce portions atop a tortilla with cabbage, tomatoes, onions, house white sauce, and cheddar cheese.

Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill

Location: 3667 India Street, Mission Hills, San Diego

Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday, 11am-10pm; Saturday, 11:30am-10pm; Sunday, 11:30am-9pm

Price: beer battered cod for $5.25, grilled fish and shellfish tacos range from $4.75-$10

Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill
Felicia Campbell
Felicia Campbell is the author of the award-nominated cookbook and culinary history, “The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway...
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