It used to be, a dozen years ago or so, that there weren't that many spots in town where you could find a decent seafood taco, much less a great one. Fast forward to 2012, and fish and shrimp tacos have gone through something of an evolution. There are plenty of fish in the sea now; you can barely drive a block through Boyle Heights, say, without running into at least one lonchero decked out in bright blue to mark its specialty in seafood. The fish or shrimp tacos on the menu inevitably are dredged in a seasoned batter and fried, and a trio of such tacos will cost little more than a few crumpled bucks. It likely will be money well spent.
As it happens, seafood tacos also are one of the very few substantive foods you don't mind eating when the mercury rises above 90. That is, if you could muster the energy to eat at all. If you could do that, then turn the page for your survival guide during another week of heat: Our list of the 10 best seafood tacos in the city.
10. Taco Nazo:
Taco Nazo's slogan is "the world's best fish tacos," and while the slogan is definitely a hyperbole, it is nonetheless a fine place to get a great fish taco. Its signature taco uses Alaskan pollock, fried to a nice crunch and nestled on top of two corn tortillas. The taco is a few bites at best; to slow you down, it comes with a chile guerito, lightly charred with a bit of seasoning. A few locations, including the El Monte shop, also serve beer, so you wash that taco down with a cool, crisp Pacifico. 9516 Garvey Ave., South El Monte, (626) 442-5671; 10316 Alondra Blvd. Bellflower, (562) 866-3306; 1267 N. Grand Ave., Walnut, (909) 595-0555; 163 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa, (626) 969-3664; 13032 Valley Blvd., La Puente, (626) 333-1166; 121 South Beach Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-8078.
Squeezed between the tire shops and the liquor stores and Maison du Pain on Pico is Sky's Gourmet Tacos, a happy, small place whose motto is "Mexican food with a splash of soul." This would be an unexpected combination that, like so many unexpected combinations in this town, actually works surprisingly well. Thus you have shrimp that is seasoned and spiced as you would for a Cajun cookout, but instead is tossed onto a slightly fried, seasoned, chewy tortilla and topped with lettuce, tomato and what they call "sassy sauce." (It is.) On the fish side, you have your choice of mahi, tilapia or salmon, though it's the sassy shrimp taco that probably will speak most directly to your soul. Don't forget to order what might be one of the best lemonades in the city. 5408 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; (323) 932-6253.
8. Taqueria Los Anaya:
Run by three brothers, Taqueria Los Anaya is a friendly, homey taqueria on a quiet stretch of Adams Boulevard between Crenshaw and La Brea. Both the fish (swordfish is used here) and shrimp tacos are simple things of beauty, topped with a small handful of Veracruz coleslaw and a dab of mildly spicy salsa. What puts these tacos over the top, though, are the delicious homemade tortillas upon which they rest: These are the perfect the size, texture and thickness to cradle that fried seafood. 4651 West Adams Blvd., L.A.; (323) 731-4070.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...
7. Via Mar Seafood:
The booths that populate the outdoor patio at Via Mar Seafood seem oddly out of context; they look like they belong in a diner where you should be drinking a cup of terrible coffee with greasy eggs rather than a taco stand where you're drinking a fine horchata with a very fine, if enormous, fish taco. The booths nonetheless do add a certain amount of charm, and that fish taco is definitely better than those greasy eggs. The fish can be ordered grilled or fried; choose grilled if you must, but the tender, fried version is even better. It's more crispy than crunchy, with a kick of seasoning in the batter that only heightens flavor. The squeeze of the lime definitely binds it all together. 5111 N. Figueroa St., L.A.; (323) 255-4929.
Out in Monterey Park, past 99 Ranch Market, past NBC Seafood, on a little island all to its own, is Dorados Cechiche Bar. Ricardo Diaz -- who also runs Cook's Tortas further down on Atlantic, as well as Guisados and Bizarra Capital -- has a house of ceviche here, so it's only natural that fish and shrimp tacos are on the menu as well. There are several options, including both grilled and fried fish, but what might be the tastiest is the queso con camaron taco, a rightly toasted tortilla filled with small shrimp, melted cheese and a spicy, zesty salsa. That, along with a cooling ceviche, is pretty much the most perfect thing you could do for yourself on a triple digit day. 440 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 282-8784.
Mariscos El Jato is a deep blue building with all sorts of sea life painted on its exterior wall, and when you walk in, it's as dark as an aquarium -- you almost expect a giant tuna to swim aimlessly above your head. But in case you still didn't know where you are or what you'll be eating, the huge bowl of cut limes that are delivered to your table should finally tip you off. On a big menu of seafood dishes, you can have a delicious fried shrimp taco with generous slices of avocado, or you can have a fish taco. Note the singular, as one fish taco -- three huge slabs of fish resting on two corn tortillas that have no business trying to carry all that weight -- is nearly enough to feed a small family. 2936 E. 4th St., L.A.; (323) 264-6590.
Keep reading for number 4 on ...
There are some people who make it a matter of routine to call Coni'Seafood before heading out to the Inglewood to confirm that chef Sergio Peñuelas is in the kitchen that day, sort of like making sure that Matt Kemp is on the Dodgers' starting line-up before committing to the drive to Chavez Ravine. As the story goes, then, the restaurant's famous pescado zarandeado tastes its best only when Peñuelas is there, not to mention everything else on the menu, especially a smoky, delectable, delicate marlin taco that is a perfect appetizer or side order to the snook. Lest you fail to confirm the chef's whereabouts before going to Coni'Seafood, rest assured that even if he's not there, the food is great. It just might not be sublime. 3544 W. Imperial Hwy., Inglewood; (310) 672-2339.
Over a decade ago, Tacos Baja Ensenada converted a burger stand into a taco one and began serving Ensenada-style seafood. Over the years, it has weathered all sorts of storms -- presidents, recessions, the beginning and end of The Sopranos -- but it nonetheless has consistently served up one of the best fish tacos in the city. These are strips of fish, delicately fried to a light crunch, topped properly with ribbons of cabbage, salsa and a swoosh of crema. You will eat one in a breath and a half and so you will eat three in less than a sentence. On Wednesdays, the joint runs its long-standing, and incredible, $1 fish taco special. 5385 Whittier Blvd., L.A.; (323) 887-1980.
The taco dorados de camaron at Raul Ortega's Mariscos Jalisco is an amazing affair: Shrimp is folded into a corn tortilla and fried until the ends are charred. Salsa is then ladled on top of this semicircle, avocado slices are placed on top and onions are showered on like confetti. How you eat this depends on how much you value your shoes; ideally, you'll perch on the ledge in front of the truck, with the plate carefully balanced on your lap. More likely, you won't bother with such formalities and will just start noshing the second the taco is handed to you from the truck's window, inevitably splashing your kicks with the bright red hues of the salsa. No matter. You needed a new pair of Converses anyway. 3040 Olympic Blvd., L.A.
And for our top pick...
Here's Ricky: A sunny guy in a straw fedora pulling basa out of a thick, well-seasoned, mustard yellow batter and carefully placing it in the fryer. As the fish bubbles and bubbles in the fat, Ricky asks how you've been since the last time you came around, and the people in line behind you also chat, sometimes retelling their own story of how they followed Ricky around in his early days as he set up in and around Sunset Junction before he finally found a permanent spot here, in the parking lot of a hair salon.
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SHOW ME HOW
Just in the nick of time, Ricky pulls out a perfect, delicate, now perfectly fried, strip of fish, places it onto a hot tortilla, tops it with with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo and hands it to you. It's your turn now, and you can apply as much, or as little, tangy crema and salsa as you'd like. Then you sit at one of the slightly uneven tables set down on the decline of the cement, and eat. It's light, it's crispy, it's tender, it's flaky. It's perfect. 1400 Virgil Ave., L.A. Ricky generally fries up Thursdays through Sundays between noon and 4:30 p.m.; check his Twitter feed for the most current information.
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