Oh Baby, I Was Bound for Mexico

What? No cooking, gardening or blogging? Where the heck did she go? Well, Mexico, for starters. For weeks, I have been planning a surprise 60th birthday party for my mom at her new home in Baja California. Family flew in from Colorado and San Francisco and drove down from Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. Our merry band of travelers gathered at my parents’ cliffside casa and spent the kind of time together that only family can. The laughter and celebratory beverages incited outbursts of spontaneous dancing and singing. I had the whole party belting out the words to my favorite Cake tune, “I don’t know much about Cinco de Mayo. I’m never sure what it’s all about…Oh baby, I was bound for Mexico.” The sun shone all weekend, glinting off the ocean. My mom glowed with happiness in her feather boa and birthday tiara. The surprise party was an absolute success, and the most fun I’ve had in ages.

I love watching my parents dance together.

By the end of the weekend, I had eaten some form of fish taco every day. I tried the just-average fish tacos at my parents’ favorite bar, Splash, situated on the waterfront where waves crash against black rocks sending plumes of foam skyward. Fish tacos were the Sunday night family meal prepared by my brother and husband, and they were great, but I longed for fish tacos at Mariscos la Alegria, a roadside restaurant in Primo Tapia. The owner, Flor, who is always there, battering fish and patting out tortillas to order, is the queen of fish tacos. Carlos tells everyone who ventures with us to Mexico, “These fish tacos will change your life.” I have been eating at Mariscos la Alegria for seven years. It is usually the first meal of the day, breakfast of champions with ice cold beer, followed by an afternoon at the beach. Every trip south of the border demands a stop at the happy storefront painted with fish and a purple octopus. In fact, this is the first time I have bothered to eat fish tacos anywhere else, and it will be the last time. Why mess with perfection?

We stopped on the last morning of our trip, on our way north to the San Ysidro border crossing. Flor always remembers my husband. She welcomes us with a smile and we exchange greetings and a few words in Spanish. She knows exactly what we want, tacos de pescado y cervezas, but she asks anyway. “Tortillas de harina o maiz?” Flour or corn? We answer, “Harina, por favor,” and she sets to work making fresh flour tortillas, grilling them on the comal until they are speckled brown on both sides. The tortillas are lusciously tender, but strong enough to fold around two strips of golden fried “sea bass” (which sparkles with freshness, but cannot actually be sea bass for $2 a pop) and all the trimmings: self-serve bowls of shredded green cabbage, pickled white onions, pico de gallo, smoky salsa, and crema Mexicana. Flor sets out a plate of tiny halved limes for us to squeeze over our tacos. The batter is thick, yet crispy and light around juicy flakes of fish. We order ceviche, tangy lime-cured fish minced and slathered on a tostada with sliced avocado, and the magnificent coctel of shrimp, octupus and clams in Clamato sauce served in a tall glass like an ice cream sundae. Everything is bright with the flavor of the ocean. Everything is right in the world, for another half hour we are on vacation. Then it’s back in the minivan, some with hangovers in tow, for the gridlocked border crossing.

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8 Comments on “Oh Baby, I Was Bound for Mexico

  1. I want a fish taco now!

    I also used to question the “sea bass” when I saw that on menus. Can’t really be sea bass, right? Well, I have learned it’s a broader term than what I thought. The thing to remember is not all sea bass is what we are accustomed to think of as Chilean sea bass or black sea bass. Here is a quote in response to a question I asked a long time ago on a food blog (credible source, IMO) –

    “The fish you had, if they told you sea bass, was in fact a white sea bass from the Pacific Coast, in Spanish, corbina. It’s a member of the croaker family, not a Chilean sea bass, if that’s what you mean, but indeed a sea bass. These are also in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific alongside Sinaloa. Hence the price.”

    Kind of like a sushi restaurant says is snapper… that ain’t no snapper you are eating! Most likely a tilapia if you are in SoCal or rockfish if you are in the NW.

    Bottom line is… those fish tacos are delicious! I know, because I have had them.

    • Thanks, Tyler. Now Carlos says she told us they were halibut, but I still think she said sea bass. Anyway, thanks for sharing your info.

  2. Love the pictures and the comments! And to anyone reading this, Kirsten threw me the best darn party imaginable!! It makes me want to turn 60 again! (And maybe I will do that, next year, and the year after, and the year after…)
    She is right – the fish tacos at Mariscos are absolutely incredible!

  3. My mouth is watering. And truth be told, your rhythm and word choice is what did it.

  4. As I sit, cushioned by a “free” beach towel (that I still have) and sprinkled with road dust. There isn’t anything better.

  5. Happy Birthday to your mom! On your drive back to LA, you should go to South Beach in Ocean Beach, San Diego. It’s on Newport Ave, right by the ocean and has the BEST fish tacos I’ve ever had. World famous. Amazing. Worth the detour. Mahi tacos are the best ones…

  6. Pingback: ¡Oysters, Otra Vez! « Oranges and Avocados

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