When I started this, I figured finding a good fish taco in Manhattan would be expensive and annoying. Expensive because I had seen fish tacos on the menu at fairly nice restaurants, and annoying because I knew they would insist on dressing it up in all kinds of foodie bullshit. Worse, I feared the dreaded grilled fish taco, I perversion of the Baja form that I hold so dear.
First, a geography lesson. Baja California is not in the United States. In fact, Baja California is the narrow strip of land that juts out south of San Diego, and separates the Gulf of California from the rest of the Pacific Ocean. Like many regions of Mexico, it has all its own bullshit. Most importantly, they make a fish taco down there that absolutely kills it. Going down there, surfing, and eating lobster and fish tacos is basically the best thing a person can do in the world.
I didn’t have high hopes for Pinche Taqueria. Mostly because it’s in fucking Nolita, of all places. But I was accompanied by the lovely Candice of Soho Lunch, so I didn’t really care so much. The interior was nice, but a little too clean, gringo-like. They would have passed a health inspection, never a good sign. We went to order and asked the guy behind the register if the fish tacos were fried or grilled. He looked at me like I was crazy for a second and said, “Fried, obviously, in a beer batter we make here ourselves. They’re Baja style.” I was dumbstruck. Wait, what? He introduced himself as Jeff and told us that he had moved the entire place from Tijuana, where he has owned a taco shop for years. He had a house in San Diego. He travelled to Puerto Nuevo all the time. All the kitchen equipment came from Baja, all the meats, all the spices, everything. My jaw was literally on the floor. I wanted to kiss him on the mouth.
Restraining myself from jumping over the counter and gnawing on whatever I could find, I played it cool, ordered an al pastor, a fish and a Pacifico and sat down with Candice. Candice is from Houston but has been living in the city for seven years. She runs a jewelry company. Her blog is really funny in kind of a twisted way, and it makes me feel embarrassed for taking myself so seriously. Really though, you don’t want to see me with my shirt half off.
The tacos arrived. I ate the al pastor first. It was filled with great juicy morsels of meat dripping grease. The saucing was nice, cool, refreshing…just a touch of guacamole. Onions and fresh cilantro were excellent. I came up for air gasping, red pork all over my face and hands. Candice looked at me sideways, so much for making a good first impression.
I eyed the fish taco, mentally preparing myself for the disappointment when it inevitably didn’t meet my exacting standards. I picked it up and bit in. Wow, not half fucking bad. Delicious fried exterior and perfectly cooked, flaky white mahi mahi on the inside. Sauce was a little cabbage, cream and guacamole, perfect. I added some salsa. I devoured the thing, then grabbed my beer and closed my eyes and tried to pretend I was in Baja. Nope, still downtown NYC. Jeff came over and we chatted for a little about why there are so few good tacos downtown. I told him he was doing a public service.
Nice guy, nice spot, cold beer, cute girl and a really good fish taco. What else could you ask for?
Pinche Taqueria (which means Fucking Taco Place, or Goddamn Taco Place)
227 Mott St.
Manhattan, Nolita, NYC