Something’s Fishy in the city: Tacos de Pescado

It’s Lent and time to make the big sacrifice: no meat. Many Mexicans do indeed forego the red stuff in spite of intense carnivorous cravings. Comida corrida joints offer vegetarian lunches, featuring cauliflower tortas or a fish fillet. Eating seafood, it seems, is punishment for many people here. This is a country with two abundant coasts both of which serve the capital within hours, providing us with mountains of fresh aquatic edibles. But Mexicans consume a tenth of the amount of fish as, say, the Japanese do. Too bad, because they certainly know what to do with it; some of the best dishes in the Mexican lexicon are seafood-based.

So a new trend for fish tacos, something previously rarely seen in the capital, is nothing but a good thing. Marisco stands and fondas tend to proffer the same menu of cocteles, tostadas and fried mojarras. But the seemingly obvious concept of fish prepared and heaped in a fresh, warm tortilla is harder to find than you’d think. Common along the northwest coast, in multiple variations, fish tacos are just starting to take off inland.

In the culinarily vanguardista Colonia Roma, two new hip fondas vie for attention across from each other like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford at a Hollywood gala . And a deceptively humble locale draws word-of-mouth-informed crowds in a quiet corner of the Condesa.

Tres Galeones Taquería de Puerto, the best of the bunch, is a smartly decorated retro-style quick lunch  spot, attracting the little-hat crowd and run by the affable 
Rodrigo Malvido. Trained at NY’s prestigious CIA, the chef returns to his homeland with hi-fi skills but keeps his feet firmly planted on native turf, quietly re-inventing standard puesto beach-fare. The locale is done with the nowadays requisite pretty mosaic floors, rough wood and glass outdoor tables. The eclectic ‘50’s-‘70’s music featuring everyone from Betty Carter to The Shirelles is so groovy you want to stay and just hang out and listen. The chalkboard menu offers tacos, at $20 pesos per, ordered by the piece, as well as tostadas and burritos. Pescado estilo baja is whitefish, battered, fried and served in a light tortilla with fresh pico de gallo and optional salsas to spike things up (a peanut infused sauce resembles, but is infinitely better than, Russian dressing). This, the gold standard of fish tacos, should be steaming, crunchy, fishy but not too, augmented but not overwhelmed by its accompaniments. It’s indeed a winner. So is the taco de pulpo al pastor: succulent octopus is dressed but not smothered in a heady, aromatic red sauce. Less successful is a rather acrid taco of carnitas de pescado – a mis-thought concept as fish doesn’t tend to lend itself to ‘confit’ style preparation; and the pork chicharrón scattered on top will send non-meateaters into a tizzy. Nobody’s perfect. Also worth mentioning is the caldo de camarón served as an amuese bouche – it is unusually rich, a frothy pink bisque with a pleasant chili kick. Tres Galeones is to be commended for its bold and creative yet unpretentious approach to streetfood.

Tres Galeones Taquería de Puerto
Jalapa 117 (just below Alvaro Obregón), Colonia Roma
Open 11:30-6, Monday - Saturday
3 tacos and a drink will cost around $75 pesos

Across the street, the concisely named Fish Tacos & Chips (Jalapa 122, open daily 11-7) is a simple décor-less outdoor fonda with only a few tables. They do this comforting Brit/Mex classic and do it well. The standard fish nuggets deep-fried capeado, i.e. in light batter, are fine if a bit dull, not unlike, in this writer’s experience, their old-world cousins. Better are fish fillets a la plancha – they’re sautéed fresh fillets served in a light wheat tortilla with roasted sweet peppers. The ‘topping bar’ includes lightly dressed cucumber chunks, almost like an Indian raita, and a sweet-ish shredded carrot salad, as well as the requisite thinly sliced cabbage and a few salsas.  A paquete includes two tacos and an agua del día--and at $50 pesos it’s easy on the budget.

Meanwhile, over in the Condesa, the bustling El Pescadito, (Atlixco 38, corner Juan Escutia, open daily 11-6, Saturday, Sunday 10-6) offers similar Baja style fried fish and shrimp as well as the tuna-like marlin, stir-fried with chili and heaped on a house made corn tortilla. The ‘fixins’ bar here includes creamy coleslaw, a comfort food for many, as well as several picante salsas. The malty agua de cebada (made from barley) goes nicely. But I’d avoid the queso concoctions on their menu – cheese and fish just don’t go.

 A few other places have been serving oceanic tacos all along:

Boca del Rio, Ribera de San Cosme 42, Colonia San Rafael, (near metro San Cosme) has been dishing seafood in this hangar-like location since the ‘50’s.

Pablo el Erizo, Montes de Oca 6, Condesa, does a delicate langosta para taquear.

Contramar, Durango 200, Roma/Condesa does a better carnitas de pescado as well as soft shell crab, and you can ‘see-and-be-seen’ while you’re eating them.

The strikingly designy Limosneros (Allende 3, centro) offers tacos de camarón that are pretty to look at and expertly prepared.