Baja Fish Tacos - Santa Ana
Contrary to what you may think, fish tacos are to be avoided at Baja Fish Tacos. Despite actually being deep-fried, they are inexplicably non-greasy and desperately lacking in flavor exactly because of it. To top it off, they're dry, lifeless. No amount of the restaurant's pico de gallo will ever hope to revive the sorry things.
The pico de gallo should be saved for a nobler purpose: as the amigo to the hot chips. For $2.25, you get a basket of chips scooped from heated receptacle by your cashier, and an empty Styrofoam bowl. The bowl is your license to go loco at the salsa bar.
If you don't pay the premium, the salsa bar is free, but then you're relegated to those little thimbles they provide. And for the chips -- they're the thin and homemade kind -- you'll need as much as two heaping bowls. You'll savor every chunk of fresh tomato, every bit of spicy onion, and every fleck of cilantro, which may or may not get stuck in your teeth for hours of unintended embarrassment.
Besides the chips and salsa, I always get the Enchilada Combo ($7.60), wherein two rolled corn tortillas get stuffed with your choice of fish, shrimp, chicken, carne asada, or if you're into it, cheese. The pair gets draped in red chile sauce and smothered under a thin veneer of more cheese which is melted under a broiler until all is bubbly and oozy.
Carne asada is my protein of choice most of the time. And why not? It's essentially fire grilled steak, hacked to itty bitty chunks, with some of the edges burnt crisp almost to ember.
Its gritty char, the velvet of the cheese and the acid tang of the enchilada sauce meld into something worthy of a telenovela -- cheesy, sultry, and full of scene-stealing actors.
Flanking it on both sides, the rice and beans aren't just mere supporting players. The beans are so blubbery it's almost soup; but as soon as you rake it up with a fork, it seems to congeal at the cooling touch of the metal -- a sign that lard is probably the secret ingredient. Then there's the rice. It's as fluffy as cotton, almost as flavorful as the rice they serve with Hainan chicken.
These two sides, in my opinion, are the best rice and beans north of the Rio Grande and west of the Mississippi. When I'm not particularly hungry, I just order a bowl of it, scarf it in spoonfuls with plenty of the pico de gallo and call it a meal.
But try to come when you're famished enough to finish a whole combo enchilada plate, if only so that you can waddle out of the restaurant picking your teeth and groaning "Ay, mi estomago!"
Baja Fish Tacos
3664 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
*Special Thanks (and apologies) to Monster Munching champion and reader JB for reminding me to do a review on this place -- one of my faves!
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