We continued on our Baja road trip and drove down to Ensenada, a port town where every day, long-line vessels and fiberglass sport-fishing boats come into port to unload a bounty of sea bass and yellowtail, sea urchin and lobsters, and many other delectable squishies of the sea.
We stayed downtown at a modest hotel, which was walking distance to everything. We loved exploring the el Mercado Negro fish market, an amazing building filled with booths selling beautiful, fresh seafood.
This booth had particularly fanciful and artistic displays
There were many stands selling Mariscos near the market, but I relied on Bill Esparza‘s ultimate guide to the best fish tacos in Ensenada, and we went straight to his number one choice, Tacos de Pescado de Ensenada on the corner of Juarez and Gastellum. It was away from the fish market and tourist zone, tucked along the sidewalk along a busy shopping corridor.
Look at this lineup… Gorgeous grilled jalapeños
fiery looking roasted chiles
A mesmerizing display with bowls of gorgeous salsas made with smoked jalapeño, avocado, some of the tomato variety, others appearing to glow with inner fires, fresh lemon wedges, a couple of squeeze bottles with sour cream, hot sauce, and a tub of mayonnaise with a knife stuck in it.
I wasn’t quite tall enough to get the shot of the fish frying, but you get the idea…
The fish was fresh from the fryer on a single corn tortilla, in its naked glory and ready for getting gussied up
We proceeded to add finely shredded cabbage, thin slices of onion, cilantro, and sauces to customize our tacos. Very pretty, no? Definitely, the best fish taco ever! The filet was perfectly cooked and encased in a savory batter that added just the right amount of crunch. A squeeze of the sour cream, a smear of mayonnaise, topped with the bright flavors of the spicy salsas, and crisp vegetables with the rich juicy fried fish rolled in the corn tortilla was pure bliss. $2 a pop.
Next, we drove over to number two, Tacos Fenix, at the corner of Calle Juárez and Calle Espinoza, which even Calvin Trillin has written about.
The overall experience was a bit gruffer, the service, the location, even the batter was thick and crunchy coating chunky filets of angel shark that were densely rich and juicy.
Less choices for the toppings, there was red and green salsa, salsa fresca, cream sauce, cabbage, and lime.
and a bowl of pickled onions that we especially liked. It was an excellent taco, better than most, but not as good as numero uno.
After the fish tacos, the other place that I had my tastebuds set on was the famous seafood cart La Guerrerense. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and brought it down to the hotel front desk, and was told that it was across the street and around the corner! We headed out and Mr. K picked up a clam at El Guero, one of many stalls selling fresh seafood along the streets.
We looked dubiously at the glop of ketchup, but underneath that were chopped slices of avocado, cucumber, onion, jalapeno, cilantro and avocado with lime, that created a heady mixture with the sweet flesh of clams that was fresh tasting and exciting.
We had to wait for the next day to find Sabina Bandera’s famous Mariscos La Guerrerense stand at the corner of First and Alvarado. It just was not there the first day. We arrived and stood there enthralled by the scene, while being serenaded by a fellow with a guitar.
This stand was established in 1960 and creates amazing dishes from the brilliantly fresh seafood available.
Sabina and her innovative tostadas has been featured on many food and travel shows, we saw it here on Anthony Bourdain’s Baja cuisine episode of his No Reservations show. The seafood options include fish, shrimp, octopus, sea snail, clams, sea urchin, mussels and sea cucumber. She makes and sells her own salsas using ingredients from her own garden, the big vat of Chilitos di mi jardin pictured below is killer, full of intoxicating flavors and aromas. We got a bottle and need to return to buy a case of it!
Mr. K and I had such a hard time deciding, it all sounded good! We started by ordering the two items on the menu that won awards at the LA Street Food Fest, in Pasadena, CA. Mr. K asked for the one which won the “Best in the Show” award, which turned out to be thick slices of sea snail topped with avocado. With the exchange rate, I’m not exactly sure but I think the tostadas were $4 each.
I had the sea urchin and clam tostada, a fantastic combination that I crave while looking at the photo below! The tostada has a layer of urchin mixed with finely chopped vegetables topped with sweet meaty slices of raw clam and perfectly ripe avocado, dosed with hot sauce a squeeze of lime and spoonfuls of Sabina’s housemade salsas.
After the overwhelming magnificence of our first tostadas, we finished up with a fish tostada that was Mr. K’s favorite because of the simple fresh flavors.
I chose the mixto, which had bits of octopus, clam, fish and shrimp, the flavors were breathtaking.
Later that day, we ventured over to an industrial area where I heard about a seafood cart that has been a locals only spot–closely guarded by Ensenada chef hipsters for the past decade. I came across this article while looking for restaurants serving urchin in Ensenada.
Mariscos El Pizón is located way outside the tourist zone, on the corner of Av. Dr. Pedro Loyola at Guaymas, and is open around 10a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday except Wednesday. We got there on a weekday afternoon and there were a couple fellows hanging out and a chorus of dogs barking across the road.
The chef Alan Pasiano had on a mask because he said he had a cold, which added an air of mystery, especially with the hat and the dark glasses…
A group of regulars joined us while we sat and watched chef Alan and his sidekick Saul Hernandez chopping and arranging our plates. They had an impressive assortment of hot sauces.
We were presented with a thing of beauty, slices of halibut lightly sprinkled with soy sauce, olive oil, slices of red onion and mustard straight out of the yellow squeeze bottle, the perimeter of the plate was ringed with sea urchin. The tart and pungent flavor of the mustard really set my tastebuds abuzz in a weirdly wonderful way
We finished by splitting an Urchin tostada, which he said was lightly cooked and was so good we didn’t sully it with any hot sauce at all.
That was it for our exploratory visit, we agreed that we must return to check out Muelle Tres which closes early so we must plan for it, and Benito Molina’s restaurant Manzanilla that we walked by but were too full to go in… And then there’s the nearby wine country, Valle de Guadalupe with many enticing restaurants to explore, and kayaking in the beautiful blue sea. We’ll be back for sure.