If you've never road tripped through the outback of Baja, Mexico, let me paint a picture for you: Last January I headed down to a tiny village on the Sea of Cortez to take some sailing lessons. After you fly through Tijuana (and trust me, you do haul ass), blaziní down Highway 1 is a heart thumping mix of desolate, winding mountain roads, pitch-black desert nights, machine-gun-toting faux border guards, curious roadside cattle and lonely Pemex gas stations.
Baja is gun-slinging Mexico at its finest and the most addictive thing about the dusty back roads are the crispy fried fish tacos. Tiny stalls that only serve tacos litter the roadside shantytowns and you'd never know it 'til you stop, but the little chicas running the joints give Mr. Bayless a run for his dinero.
Since my return to Chicago, I have been trying to track down fish tacos, Baja-style and it's not an easy task. First off, down there, they come fried, not char-grilled. And there is definitely no cheddar cheese, no diced tomatoes and no chopped cilantro sprinkles; the ingredients are kept quite simple with only firm white fish fried up tempura-style, a tasty sour cream sauce, shredded cabbage and lots of fresh lime, all loaded up onto a soft tortilla. I thought that I was never going to find what I was looking for until a recent visit at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Twisted Lizard. I usually drag all my out of town visitors here and get them good and liquored on insanely potent margaritas, then let 'em loose on the streets of Chicago. Clean, honest fun, you know?
But on an impromptu trip there a few months ago, I noticed a little sign on the table praising the beer-battered fish tacos. Immediately intrigued, I ordered up a platter of them ($9.75) and out comes this massive dish loaded down with what seemed like piles of fish tacos. Simply put, they were awesome! Huge hunks of perfectly fried Corona beer-battered cod, covered with crispy purple cabbage (shredded and mixed with just a touch of lettuce), and then all lightly coated in a super-spicy chipolte sour cream/mayonnaise sauce. What better mix is there than that? There was a tiny sprinkle of Anejo white cheese crumbled on top, a stack of limes and the flour tortillas so soft and chewy that when I bit into them I breathed in Mexico at the same time.
They're not the most delicious tacos I've ever had, but sometimes it doesn't have to be the best; it just has to be good enough to bring back the memories, in all their wild, sweet glory.
The Final Rave
Skip all chips, salsa, beans and rice. These tacos are so fresh and filling, tasting anything else before hand will wreak havoc on your palate.
KEEP IT GOING:
Read it: Myopic Books
Roam the dusty aisles of this shop and get adventurous like Hemingway did; just grab a compass and follow his footsteps through Baja in "The Log from the Sea of Cortez."
Eat it: Matilda
Yep! Every Tuesday night is $1 tacos and $2.50 Coronas. Need we say more?
Drink it: Map Room
Bring your computer and get online with a couple icy cold Pacifico's leading the way. Try not to go belly up while atlas gazing, daydreamin' about warm, tropical nights and huntin' around the web for airfare deals out of this hellishly cold weather.
Get crazy with it: Tour Baja
Just chuck it all and head south for the winter. Start off with sailing lessons on the azure Sea of Cortez and end up in magical Loredo, the oldest town in Baja, with a local fave: you guessed it, fried fish tacos.