Baja is filled with great valleys, big sand and surf, rich volcanic soil, and even richer cuisine. It's also the home of Tecate beer and the ever popular fish taco.
Although you can find what might be defined loosely as a fish taco throughout the pescado-loving world, and certainly in our fair city, the good people that brought us the dish might take exception with the way it's translated.
From my travels, I would define a baja fish taco as a fresh tortilla, preferably house-made, a grilled or fried shard of fish tossed with red cabbage, onion and cilantro, and doused in a chile-infused mayo-based sauce.
In our portion of the culinary universe, we enjoy our Tex-Mex with reckless abandon. We often dismiss what is fondly referred to in these parts as Mex-Mex. The expertly roasted meats, flavor-rich sopes, and the intensely concocted moles are rarely translated with the care and love as is done by its indigenous people.
What we lack in more authentic Mexican cuisine we make up in our saucy enchiladas and deep-fried chimichangas. But the Baja-style of fish tacos is simple to reproduce and easily prepared locally with the proper attention to quality ingredients. Fresh tortilla, quality fish grilled or fried and a spicy crema. So simple, so elusive.
Today we explore the fish taco and attempt cut through the hype about authenticity. Are we getting the real goods at home or will we simply need to make our summer vacation plans around a decent taco stand?
In seeking today's Toque challenge I wanted to take a peek at a few new entries in the taco-loving market. This explosive dining option has been increasing with fervor and still seems to be gaining momentum.
Earlier this week I ducked into Rusty Taco. The name might make you giggle, but comes from the owner, Rusty Fenton who's roots are deep in the Tex-Mex market, a co-founder of the Uncle Julios' empire.
For less than five bucks at Rusty Taco, you can get a taco and a beer and lounge on the abundant patio facing Greenville Avenue while listening to one of the better stocked old-school jukeboxes in town.
I found my seat at the bar after ordering a Shiner and both fried and grilled fish tacos. Sitting at the bar enables you to see the tacos being assembled. The staff is quick and efficient, contrary to early claims of slow-to-no service that plagued the restaurant's opening weeks.
Within minutes I had a few baskets of tacos, and it took little time to execute my attack. A few bites the grilled taco was no more. A few bites more the fried taco vanished.
The grilled tacos seemed to lack much in the way of flavor, as there wasn't much fish to grasp a taste. But the fried fish had more in the way of texture and the sabor I was seeking. The fish was crisp and had a delicate, sweet fish flavor. For the health conscience, there's not much in the way of fried that the abundance of crunchy red cabbage didn't displace.
All the ingredients were there, and the stars were properly aligned making Rusty's a fine example of the Baja fish taco. Including the house-made torts I craved.
Next stop, Fuzzy's.
Fuzzy's Tacos is a phenom perpetuated at many college campuses. Almost all Fuzzy's are near a campus, including the Richardson location, a skip away from UTD.
As you walk into a Fuzzy's, you'll find all the trappings of a college dive, including the banners and shirts of the local teams. And then there is the large sign of a fish that screams, 'Eat Me.' Happy to oblige.
It was late for a lunch, almost 3:30, and there was a small line at Fuzzy's and the restaurant was half-filled with students tapping away at their iPhones while devouring chips and one of the many taco combinations Fuzzy's offers.
Again, I ordered the fried and grilled fish. I sat waiting a few minutes for my late lunch in happy anticipation of the heavily hyped Fuzzy taco. My first.
Upon arrival, I was astounded by the abundance of lettuce. Nearly half head of shredded iceburg. No cilantro. No onion. No spicy sauce, just a thin mayo. The grilled fish was the most disappointing. More like minced whitefish tossed on a flat top to give it color, but otherwise indistinguishable. Sad.
The fried fish had more promise, and was billed as a tempura fish taco. I had visions of a lovingly battered and fried fish lazily perched, begging me to take a bite. Instead it was a nearly cold, wet crust that even the Gorton's fisherman would wish to avoid.
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From the world of advertising we learn to sell the sizzle not the steak; same when it comes to tacos. But it's nice to know that we do not necessarily need to keep our passports at the ready for a Los Cabos holiday when all we really want is a nice hot basket of freshly made tacos and a cold, cheap beer.
For their use of fresh ingredients including deliciously prepared tortillas and a crazy spicy chipotle crema, we award this weeks Toque to Toque bragging rights and all the pageantry that goes with the title to Rusty Taco. Well played my friend.
4802 Greenville Ave.
Fuzzy's Taco Shop
561 W. Campbell Rd.,