Baja-Style Fish Tacos Are The Unofficial Dish Of San Diego

San Diego has many things: idyllic beaches, temperate weather, and a bustling food scene, but the one thing that defines the city is its fish tacos. Baja-style fish tacos, to be specific, are a quintessential part of the San Diego experience, whether you live there or visit for a day. This taco combines the essence of the entire city in one bite. There is hot, tender fish encased in golden deep-fried galore, then there are crunchy elements with cabbage slaw, a refreshing helping of pico, and spiced crema.

The Baja-style fish taco comes from Baja, California, where fish has been served in corn tortillas for several millennia. The modern Baja-style fish taco, however, was a newer invention from the 1950s. Culinary historians believe that the method of deep-frying fish was borrowed from Japanese immigrants who were making tempura with the fish they caught in Mexico.

So how did the fish taco become the unofficial dish of San Diego? It was a pretty recent development that started in 1983, when the founder of Rubio's Mexican Grill, Ralph Rubio, brought the taco to San Diego. Enraptured by the tempura-style batter and the tender white fish, the restaurateur opened the first Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, and the dish eventually became popular among those who lived near the ocean and would even spread to higher-end restaurants and beach shacks alike. 

The Baja-style fish taco can vary in ingredients and flavors

As with many dishes, the Baja-style fish taco has variations and modifications, although it always contains a few key elements: It must be deep-fried fish served with pico de gallo, cabbage, and some creamy sauce. There's room to choose between the fish available to you or simply the fish you like the most. The most popular fish for deep-frying is cod, but there's also tilapia, halibut, Mahi Mahi, and bass, to name a few. 

As for the unnamed creamy sauce, some go for a dollop of sour cream, while others take the more involved and flavorful route of making special cremas. Avocado crema is a mixture of avocado, sour cream, mayonnaise, lime, and garlic, and it complements the tangy pico de gallo perfectly in this taco. There's also the spicier option of a Chipotle mayo, an orangey light sauce with tons of smokiness. Surely, everyone has their preferences when it comes to tacos, but the Baja-style fish taco is arguably the perfect snack, meal, or in-between for warmer days.