When I say, "Fish tacos", I get two reactions. One, the snickering when someone is thinking I'm referring to a part of the female anatomy; and the second is a look of genuine disgust. "Fish tacos? Are you nuts? Fish on taco shells?"
Well, yeah. Fish on taco shells. In fact, we make them from time to time and I posted the recipe earlier this year.
I first had a fish taco in St. Louis at a place called Flaco's Tacos. It was one of my more favorite places to eat when I would go down there. The fish tacos were made of a flaky, warm white fish with lettuce and pico de gallo. They were great.
(An aside - there are some places that advertise "Baja-style" fish tacos. They're basically fish bits that are breaded in a beer batter, deep fried and placed on taco shells. But beware of the restaurants in the Midwest that have fish tacos on their menu. Do NOT get taken in by these poor excuses for fish tacos. Most of these fish tacos are nothing more than deep fried, breaded fish - fish sticks, if you will - put on taco shells. They're horrible.)
Actually, my brother and sister-in-law turned us on to fish tacos. They lived in the San Diego area for a number of years and they longed for the little stands down by the shore that sold fish tacos. They took us to Flaco's during a long weekend trip to St. Louis and I was hooked. Flaco's, I was told by them, was about as close to getting authentic fish tacos in the Midwest that you could find.
Unfortunately, Flaco's went out of business about four or five years ago. There are people in St. Louis that still talk about that place.
Fast forward to this year and my recent trip to Denver. Just walking distance from my hotel was a Wahoo's Fish Taco restaurant. I had to try one.
I'd actually heard about Wahoo's Fish Taco for a number of years. Wahoo's is a chain of semi-fast food places that originated out of Southern California. Three brothers, Wing Lam, Mingo Lee and Ed Lee grew up working in their parent's restaurant in Brazil. They moved to the United States when the boys were teenagers and their parents opened up a Chinese restaurant in Orange County.
During their time off, the boys would go to Mexico to surf. They fell in love with the local cuisine - fresh white fish served with cabbage and pico de gallo on a soft corn taco shell. As they began to get busier in their family's restaurant, their trips to Mexico became few and far between. They missed the taste of the fish tacos that they enjoyed during their surfing outings.
They decided to open a fish taco stand. The first Wahoo's Fish Taco opened in Costa Mesa, CA in 1988. Their taco recipe stayed true to form to the original Mexican recipe - grilled or steamed white fish on a soft corn tacos with cabbage and pico de gallo. It was an immediate hit and they quickly opened up two more restaurants. Today, there are over 30 Wahoo's Fish Taco stands - mainly in California. But they do have locations in Colorado and Texas.
Wahoo's has expanded their menu to include beef, chicken and veggie tacos. They also have basic Mexican food including enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas.
It was late in the afternoon after the last day of the CEDIA Expo and I was out running around doing some errands. I was heading out of the hotel and I saw the sign for Wahoo's and I thought, "I've got to get one." I didn't think it would spoil my dinner because we weren't going to eat until much later that evening. And I was only going to have one.
I walked in and the decor was kind of funky chic, sort of surfer themed made up to look like you'd just walked off the beach into the place. Wahoo's is counter order only and I ordered a fish taco, regular (you can also get them blackened) and a bottle of Sol. It's tough to find a restaurant that sells Sol beer.
I went to sit in a somewhat spacious seating area where a smattering of 20-somethings were hanging out watching the Denver Broncos football game on a couple of 42" plasma televisions. Within two minutes, a guy brought out my fish taco. I dug in.
It reminded me a lot of the fish tacos from Flaco's. Except I was pleasantly surprised by the cabbage on the taco. It gave it a nice little flavor and it didn't wilt like lettuce does when you match it with something warm.
For a semi-fast food place, it was good. Damn good. I highly recommend at least TRYING a Wahoo's Fish Taco if you see one. I don't know how well they'd go over here in the Midwest (if they didn't fly in St. Louis, you'd have a tough time getting one to work in Iowa). So in the meantime, I'll just have to keep making my own at home.