Photo by Michael Gardiner
Taco de pescado y consomme
About a month ago I wrote in this space that San Diego tacos suck and “the problem isn’t them, it’s us.” We’re getting the tacos we deserve, the ones we’ve asked for. It didn’t take long for me to be informed of the error of my ways.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” opined one Facebook friend. Others informed me I’d simply been to the wrong places (some suggesting ones I had already frequented). But one, Chris Mejia of Baja Test Kitchen, brought me to a place that proves it’s not all San Diego tacos that suck, just the gringo versions.
The place in question, Mariscos y Birrieria El Prieto (3031 Main St.) in Chula Vista, isn’t exactly a restaurant and it isn’t exactly a taco truck. It’s two taco trucks permanently facing each other across a de facto courtyard defined by a large blue pop-up tent. On the east side of the courtyard is a mariscos (seafood) truck, on the west side is a birria truck. Patrons order from each truck separately and as many times as they want.
Both trucks are good, but the mariscos one is better. Their fish taco is, perhaps, the best I’ve tasted. It is neither Rubio’s ordinary nor trendy tempura-style (though there is a case to be made that the origin of fish tacos lies in the tempura style). This, though, is fish taco perfection. The batter is crispy, shiny and golden and the fish inside was moist and flavorful. With a squeeze of lime and a few squirts of the nuclear orange habanero salsa, the brilliance of the San Felipe-style fish taco reveals itself.
The shrimp taco is good too, but would be better still if the shrimp were larger. A better choice is the shrimp aguachile tostada: fresh (and raw) shrimp “cooked” only briefly in a lime-based sauce with chile, hot sauce, salsa negra (think chipotles, soy sauce and molasses) and accompanied by thin-sliced onion and cucumber. It is refreshing, full of character and flavors that wake up the whole palate. It may have been a little heavy on the salt, but it was nothing close to boring or ordinary.
The birria tacos from the other truck are good, if not great: full of the sweet spices that define birria but lacking a bit of the vinegar and salt that balance out the savory and sweet spice flavors. The free consommé (broth from the birria), on the other hand is perfection: deep, mysterious and soul satisfying. Frankly, the fish consommé a la diabla from the mariscos truck (also free) is equally good.
A better bet from the birria truck is the Taco Loco. A combination of al pastor, carne asada and crispy tripe, it certainly may sound crazy but it makes sense in the mouth. It is a symphony of the meaty, savory and minerally all tied together by the caramelization of the meats.
The food from these trucks is not exactly dietetic. In fact, scratch that, it is not for anyone trying to diet. Physical trainers and cardiologists are not exactly going to be happy the choices on the menu, but for patrons, this food will satisfy the soul.
More importantly, these are not gringo tacos and they do not suck.