Pescadores de Ensenada, Los Angeles. Pedro Montes, the Atwater Village Fish Taco Man.
On the eastside of Los Angeles, it really isn’t difficult finding good latino food. There you’ll find Mexican tacos vendors and marisco restaurants (seafood), Salvadorean restaurants and iglesias (churches) dispensing the delicious pupusa and my favorite of them all, fish tacos. What’s not to be loved when you have a beautifully fried piece of fish, topped with crisp cabbage and pico de gallo, your choice of salsa and sweet, Mexican cream or mayonnaise held by a warm slightly-toasted corn tortilla. It’s the ultimate hot and cool snack.
Fish tacos have always been a favorite of Angelenos and if you ask them, they will each have their go-to joint for fish tacos. In East LA, there’s Tacos Baja Ensenada which serves huge battered pieces of fish worth every bit of your money. In La Puente and Baldwin Park, there’s also El Taco Nazo which I’ve never tried but heard great things about. In Los Feliz, there’s Joseph Cordova’s Best Fish Taco in Ensenada which serves some tasty fish and shrimp tacos along with funky salsas made with fruit. In Silver Lake there are three spots: El Siete Mares, Tacos Delta and of course, Ricky Piña’s fish tacos. At El Siete Mares (The Seven Seas), you can get really tasty fish tacos for only $1 on Tuesdays. Tacos Delta is known for their chilaquiles but since the Jaliscan family started offering fish/shrimp tacos, I’ve been seeing more and more people eating them. Ricky Piña started as a one-man-taco-stand and was an overnight success through the help of social media. He really changed the game in the Eastside as far as serving authentic Ensenada-style tacos and gained a huge following. And the fish taco scene only gets better again. I’d like to introduce a new addition to the Ensenada-style fish taco scene, Pescaderos de Ensenada of the Atwater Village farmer’s market.
Atwater Village is a neighborhood located just north of Silver Lake, east of Los Feliz and south of Glendale. It has been said to be the area where people from Silver Lake or Echo Park move to raise their family since it’s mainly neighborhood homes versus apartments. Also because Lo$ Feli$ is too expen$ive. With the addition of a farmer’s market and the amazing Proof Bakery, this area has become part of my morning routine on Sundays. Though the farmer’s market is quaint and miniscule compared to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, I always find what I need and have a reduced chance of being trampled by the Stroller Mafia usually present in Hollywood. Food-wise, you’ll actually find enough to eat. I’ve been here enough times to know exactly what food odors will be present in the air. There’s Big Mista’s BBQ, where you’ll find smokey ribs and brisket. There’s a Salvadorean lady offering a wide variety of pupusas and refreshing jugos (juices). And there’s an Asian guy offering up some marinated grilled chicken. But on one of the Sundays, I smelled something new. Something being fried, but not like fried chicken. That distinct, light smell of hot oil and beer that could only be from one thing: fish tacos.
I walked up and was immediately greeted by this amiable gentleman named Pedro Montes. Before I could start asking him questions about his fish tacos he asked, “Would you like to try a sample of our Ensenada-style fish tacos?” Who me? Do I look skinny to you? Of course I’ll take a sample Mr. Costco! He cut up a fish fillet and handed it to me on a napkin. “Go ahead and add some cream and salsa,” he said. I took a bite of the fish which was crispy and well-seasoned. I could tell he used my favorite fish used for fish tacos – basa. Basa is a farm-raised catfish native to the Mekong Delta area in Southeast Asia. This fish is also used by Best Fish Taco in Ensenada and Ricky’s Fish Tacos. It doesn’t have that sandy and gritty taste like most catfish and has a subtle sweetness to it that can only be tasted when the batter is light. I don’t like it when you can’t taste the fish in a fish taco (*ahem Rubio’s) or fish & chips.
I then asked Pedro, “Can you get angelito fish from Ensenada?” He smiled and right then he knew I was serious about fish tacos. “You know about angelito fish?” Though I’ve never tried it, I learned from Ricky Piña and Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA that the traditional fish in fish tacos is actually not a fish, but a type of shark native to the Baja waters called angelito. And I’ve been dying to try it. When I was in Ensenada years ago, I was too young to care that I was eating not a fish but a shark for breakfast. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of any fish taco vendors driving down to Ensenada just to get that particular fish. But I thought I’d ask Pedro anyway.
I was reeled in by the samples. “Two fish tacos please!” Seeing that there were already a few pieces of already-fried fish, I asked for some cooked to order because I like maximum heat and crunch. I took the opportunity to hear Pedro Montes’ story. Pedro was born in Ensenada but his parents were originally from the Tequila region of Jalisco (about an hour drive outside of Guadalajara). He was raised on fish tacos and tells me all about the fish taco scene in Ensenada. Everyday, fisherman (pescadores) bring in their daily catch to sell at the Mercado Negro. The competition is fierce with over 25 different fish taco vendors selling fish tacos made with exactly the same fish and traditional frying-in-lard technique (manteca). I asked him then, how do vendors differentiate themselves. Do they do anything unique to the fish tacos? He declined and said, “No, when you’ve got fierce competition, you’ve got to split hairs and it all comes down to customer service.” He said many vendors will lure you in with free samples, throw in some free drinks or even offer you the “you don’t like, you don’t buy” deal. He said to me, “I believe in offering the best customer service and healthier options.”
Beautiful basa. Pedro does not use the traditional method of frying in manteca lard, but rather grapeseed oil which is healthier, more flavorful than Canola/vegetable oil and has a higher smoking point.
At Pescadores de Ensenada, you’ve got many toppings you can add to your fish taco. Though a traditional fish taco is angelito fish, cabbage, pico de gallo, salsa and mayonnaise, Montes offers a lot more for extra customer service points. In addition to the mayonnaise, you’ve got the slightly sweeter crema mexicana (Mexican sour cream), chipotle mayo, guacamole, red/green salsas and pickled habanero/red onions. The corn tortilla he uses is a brand called Diana’s which I think has great flavor for a tortilla. Pedro makes an excellent fish taco even though it is not fried in delicious, porky lard. Jeni and I could have easily eaten a third one.
But what I actually liked more than Pedro’s fried fish taco was what he calls his “naked fish tacos” (tacos encuerados). I really enjoy steamed meat tacos (tacos al vapor) and had to try these. Pedro takes the raw basa fillets, adds some Mexican seasoning (sazonador) and a few thin slices of habanero chile. He wraps them tightly in foil and his cooks heat them in a pan over the griddle for about ten minutes. The result is a nicely seasoned, fillet with all of its natural juices retained and it’s really delicious. Nice habanero kick too!
I’m really hoping one day Pedro will bring some angelito to fry up. Come say hello to this gentleman!
Pescadores de Ensenada
Owner: Pedro Montes
3250 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Sundays 9 am – 2 pm
Saturday 9 am – 2 pm (Downey Farmer’s Market on 2nd Street/Paramount Blvd.)
At the end of the day, fish tacos are something I enjoy eating. Rather than bashing a restaurateur’s hard work, time and money saved up, I’ll point out the good things about each fish taco joint mentioned earlier. I believe in helping out those that deserve recogntion. We all have different tastes and you’ll just have to find the one you like best without putting a place out of a business. Right, Yelp? Just enjoy.
Ricky’s Fish Tacos, Silver Lake. Ricky is originally from Ensenada and one of the nicest guys and has been doing this for nearly 3 years. His fish tacos have a nice crunch and it’s always nice spending a weekend afternoon in his driveway location. Try his combo fish taco which contains both fish and shrimp. His crema mexicana is sweet and not too thick.
Pescadores de Ensenada, Atwater Village. Pedro’s best tacos are his fried and steamed fish. If you’re shopping at the farmer’s market, you’re in for a great snack. Grab a Mexican soda to go with this or one of the jugos from the pupusa lady right next to them.
Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, Los Feliz. I like Joseph’s shrimp tacos more than his fish tacos. He also offers potato tacos now. He offers the sweetest crema mexicana for those that like that. When I make fish tacos at home, I make it slightly sweet like his.
El Siete Mares, Silver Lake. If you’re hungry and happen to only have four quarters in your pocket on a Tuesday, it is your lucky day. Fish tacos for $1 is unheard of just try not to think about why it’s so cheap. They are very good here.
Tacos Delta, Silver Lake. If you’re eating their chilaquiles here, make it a happy meal with a fish taco. The family that runs TD is super nice and they serve a good sized fish taco. The shrimp taco is worth trying too.
Tacos Baja Ensenada, East LA. If size matters to you, you come to TBE. The fillets are large, heavily-battered and tasty. They’ve been here for decades and are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Via Mar Seafood, Highland Park. On Wednesdays, you can get TWO fish tacos for $2.25 and they are tasty.
La Estrella Tacos #3, Highland Park. Just up the street from Via Mar is this place which is most famous for their al pastor tacos served out of a truck on York Blvd. But their fish tacos are huge and messy – in a good way.
La Cevicheria, Mid-City. Though not an official Ensenada fish taco, this Guatemalan family knows how to make a tasty fish taco using haddock. I like it here a lot.