The Quest to Find the Ultimate Fish Taco
A journey through Baja revealed boundless variations on the coastal classic—these three recipes were the best of the bunch.
I’m a New England kid and whenever I travel, I’m always on the hunt for regional seafood specialties—from New Orleans’ crispiest fried oyster loaves to Patagonia’s cheesiest crab dip to to my own home state’s briniest bowl of chowder, meals from the sea always make me feel a little more at home in a new place. So when I was planning my beach vacation to Mexico recently, I knew I’d only be lounging poolside for so long before the itch to find some exceptional fish tacos kicked in. That’s how I wound up at Paradero, a new sea-to-table hotel in Todos Santos.
Todos Santos is an agriculturally rich oasis in the blistering desert of Baja California Sur, some 50 miles north of Los Cabos. Separating the hotel and the Pacific Ocean is a sweeping poblano chile field that creeps up the Sierra Laguna Mountains. Some guests decompress by pool or under the stars in rooftop hammocks. Others take organic agriculture classes on the on-site kitchen garden or mountain bike through the surrounding farm country. And sure, I certainly did some of that—but like I said, I was mostly there for the fish.
Baja is well-known for its excellent and diverse seafood. On an earlier visit to the region, I had dived deep (literally) for a beloved local bivalve and enjoyed mounds of ceviche and aguachile. The peninsula’s fish tacos are particularly legendary, though, so I asked Paradero’s mountain biking guide, Diego Bautista, to show me around some of his favorite taco spots in town. Fast-talking and tall, Bautista is a Todos Santos local who lights up when asked about his hometown’s restaurants. “We really just have the best seafood here,” he told me, “so much better than Cabo.”
Unlike densely developed Los Cabos, Todos Santos (T.S. to locals) is quiet. At least for now, there’s plenty of high-quality local fish to go around to both no-fuss stools-in-the-sand restaurants and to more formal, chef-driven kitchens like the one at Paradero. When most think of Baja-style tacos, they imagine battered and deep-fried white fish—and we certainly sampled a lot of that in T.S. Most notable was the version served at Barracuda Cantina, which is Bautista’s favorite in the region. The cooks at this beachside restaurant coat fat strips of the day’s catch—grouper, when I was there—in a featherlight beer batter, then top the golden-fried fish with a crunchy slaw, fiery habanero salsa, guac, and a sprinkling of pico de gallo. It’s an exceptional example of the familiar style, best enjoyed between sips of one of the cantina’s tart-smoky-sweet mezcal cocktails.
After a short detour to Bautista’s favorite cevicheria, we got back to the taco task at hand. We headed further into town where the folks at Santo Chilote were making a more freestyle riff on the region’s battered-and-fried fish. There, sweet coconut-crusted shrimp are served unadorned atop chewy flour tortillas, and diners are free to top their own tacos, salad-bar style. My guide walked me through his preferred fixings: a few dots of fruity, Caribbean-style habanero sauce, pickled jalapeños, a generous drizzle of cooling crema, and a squeeze of lime. I followed his lead and didn’t regret it.
Back at Paradero, executive chef and Pujol alum Eduardo Ríos takes a more refined approach to the fish taco. His team nixtamalizes heirloom corn for handmade tortillas, which are fired off twice a day on a traditional wood-fired clay comal. Here too, the menu varies with the day’s catch. When Bautista and I returned to the hotel, stuffed from our hours-long eating excursion, Ríos was frying soft-shell crabs, which he then perched atop a tangle of tomato-pepper slaw, basil guac, and warm corn tortillas. A dollop of sesame salsa roja balanced the sweet crab with a fragrant and peppery heat; I devoured the thing in three, maybe four bites. While Ríos’s preparations are certainly more elegant and complex than the tacos we enjoyed in town, the chef doesn’t stray far from the spirit of the local formula, so rooted in impossibly fresh seafood.
The beauty of Todos Santos’ many tacos is, in part, their simplicity. While I couldn’t take Baja’s breathtaking backdrop with me, these days I find a glimmer of vacation by sourcing good-quality fish closer to home. If you’re staycationing this season, these recipes are a great way to make the Mexican seaside seem just a little bit closer.