I'd been waiting all winter long for a warm, obligation-free Tuesday afternoon so I could race over to Ocean Beach. Why Tuesday, why O.B. and why so excited? Because when I start working Taco Tuesdays at South Beach Bar & Grille back into my regular rotation, I know that flip-flop weather is here again, and that makes me happy. Very, very happy.
Last week, on my first South Beach trip of the year, I was running late to meet a friend, so I didn't have time to park up at the top of Newport Avenue and slowly meander down toward the beach, as I like to do, gawking and browsing along the way. O.B. is my favorite local beach village, a place I've been fond of since high school, when a good friend (and Rugburns devotée) and I would wander around the neighborhood before shows at Java Joe's. South Beach was newly opened then, but I remember seeing the nighttime lines at the beachfront door and thinking that it seemed like it'd be good, frill-free place to eat and drink when I became bar-legal, and it was.
These days, I prefer doing my drinking elsewhere, but Mondays or Tuesdays will now and again find me standing in the bar's threshold, waiting semi-patiently for a table. Monday nights feature an all-night happy hour and a half-price appetizer menu, from which I could easily make a meal. Tuesday nights are even better because the primary reason for eating at South Beach-the seafood tacos-are all around $2.50 each until 8 p.m.
First-timers should beware that the setup at South Beach is pretty much a fend-for-yourself deal. The tables are first-come, first-served, meaning that there are sometimes clumps of people throughout the bar waiting to ambush you when you make a motion to get up to leave. All drinks have to be bought and retrieved at the bar, although food can be ordered from your table.
My friend and I scooted in at 5:30 p.m. and got some pints to sip on while we scanned the room for an open cocktail table. Eagle eyes and a silent plea found us seats in 10 or 15 minutes, so we quickly placed an order.
I've been in an octopus state-of-mind lately, so I was looking forward to the fried baby octopus, which is batter-less, quick-fried and less than $4 during happy hour. They're served with a side of horseradish cocktail sauce, but I prefer them with a simple squeeze of lemon. Warning to the squeamish: You get the whole octopus. My friend, usually a fearless eater, decapitated each octopus and ate only the more familiar tentacle portions-but, luckily, I'm the clean-up crew of the operation, so I happily ate the more tender heads while he went on a beer run.
I'd requested something local, so he brought me back a West Coast IPA from Green Flash that mellowed a bit as I drank it, though I found his toasty Rogue Hazelnut Brown Ale much more sessionable. Its subtle sweetness was nice with the ceviche cocktail, a ketchup-y concoction of raw mahi mahi, wahoo and shrimp in a tomato sauce, served with tortilla chips. I used to be a fan of South Beach's ceviche, but now I'm finding it just a little too sugary. The appetizer menu has a taco platter for around $6 during happy hour that includes a grilled mahi, wahoo, shrimp, Baja (fried fish) and fried calamari tacos-it's a darn-good steal, but we weren't that hungry, so we shared a few more à la carte tacos. I had to get my favorite, the fried oyster taco-four plump, crisp and creamy-centered oysters anchored to a tortilla by a bit of melted cheese. We also ordered a mahi taco, marinated in a fruity glaze and then grilled, and a fried pollack taco-both fresh and flavorful. The default tortilla option is flour, but you can request corn tortillas instead. I also always get the white sauce and salsa fresca on the side so I can customize my tacos. It's best to order the tacos à la carte-the rice and beans aren't outstanding and serve mostly as filler.
All told, our bill came to way under $20 for a sufficiently tasty meal and some of the cheapest seaside eats to be had in town. There was a group hovering hungrily around our table, so we paid and walked out into the still-pleasant night.