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Fish Taco Smackdown

Like the tines of Neptune’s trident, three restaurants vie for the title

by Aidan Morgan

It is a truth not universally acknowledged, but a truth nonetheless, that Regina is not the fish taco capital of the world.* We’re not really the capital of anything where fish are concerned, but fish tacos in particular rank pretty far down that list. But the tortilla-bound treat has been slowly migrating northward from its birthplace of Baja California, finally arriving in our fair city.

Confusingly, Baja California is not part of California at all. Attached to the underside of the state like a very friendly lamprey, the Baja California peninsula contains Tijuana, Playa de Rosarito and other iconic bits of Mexico.

The Baja taco de pescado is a traditional street food served on both Baja coasts. It consists of whatever fish is readily at hand, a thin avocado sauce, and a whack of red and green salsa. Batter and deep-fry your fish, throw it on top of a shredded cabbage salad, wrap it all up in a corn or flour tortilla, and there you have it: a fish taco. They’re delicious. The trick is to eat it without giggling like some seventh grader on a class trip.

Ever since I tried one in a San Diego restaurant, I’ve been a fish taco enthusiast. I thought I’d take my taste buds (and the rest of me) around Regina to find out who makes the best fish taco in the city.

ORIGINAL JOE'S
3806 Albert St.
206-0400
Long Beach Fish Tacos ($13.99)

In a recent article for Atlantic Magazine, economist and food eater Tyler Cowen warned people away from restaurants full of “beautiful, laughing women.” In his dismal, determinist, headline-grabbing way, Cowen was implying that restaurants which pull in an attractive crowd of females are more interested in extracting money from hopeful guys than serving quality food.

I don’t buy into the idea. Plenty of restaurants feature beautiful people scarfing down excellent food. But Original Joe’s flirted with proving Cowan right. The clientele looked happy to be there, but the fish tacos (three per order, with a side of mixed greens) were a mistake.

In short, they tasted fishy. I could tell you that it was blackened mahi-mahi, served with a chili lime sauce on a bed of shredded lettuce in a flour tortilla. But the presence of trimethylamine — the chemical that less-than-fresh fish flesh generates — is a deal breaker. A fellow Knight of Appetite who tried the same dish on a different day claimed that her fish tasted like “nothing much at all,” but that’s a recommendation on life support.

EARLS RESTAURANT
2606 28th Ave.
584-7733
Dominical Fish Tacos ($14)

Goodbye, Los Cabos chicken taco. Under cover of night, the Dominical fish taco has taken your place. Like its predecessor, the tacos are served on small flat tortillas, which makes them look like they’re sleeping (don’t ask me why I attribute consciousness to tacos). Like Original Joe’s, Earls uses a flour tortilla, but their fish (wahoo marinated in coriander) is light years better. The dish also comes with a serving of sauce that seems to be Valentina hot sauce mixed with crème fraiche. It definitely tastes like an Earls dish — fresh, bright, citrusy, leery of giving offense.

FLIP EATERY AND DRINK
1970 Hamilton St.
205-8345
Flip Taco with Seared Catfish ($14)

Places like Flip present me with a dilemma. While I may not enjoy some of their dishes as much as those of other restaurants, I usually find the food more interesting and ambitious. Case in point: the small daub of arugula-pesto hummus that accompanied my fish taco. I pictured a perplexed chef staring at a crisper full of arugula, thinking “What do I do with this stuff?”

I’m not sure that the answer was to blend it in with a pesto hummus, but I appreciated the use of unexpected ingredients and the willingness to surprise diners. If the server hadn’t told me about the arugula, I would have driven myself crazy trying to figure out the astringent aftertaste.

Flip was the only restaurant I visited that used corn tortillas and went with a freshwater fish (catfish, in this case). The dish also comes with vinegar marinated onion rings, which is a common Baja condiment. The fish was seasoned more lightly than the Earls version, but that just allowed the flavours of the pico de gallo and the chili lime sauce to come through.

Congratulations, Flip Eatery! You win the Fish Taco Challenge. You may claim your crown of fish. And if you don’t mind, please claim it quickly. I left it out on the back porch last weekend, and its driving all the neighbourhood cats crazy.

* Now that I've written that sentence I can die happily in the knowledge that my work on Earth is done. Having read that sentence, some of you might even take pleasure in the news.