One of the many perks of living in South Florida is the beach. And that means plenty of beach food. Of course, not much pairs better with salt life than tacos and beer.
But we wanted this list to pay homage to the places serving the biggest and baddest of all the tacos: the fish taco. At their best, this grab-and-go dish is a fresh treat: steamy corn tortillas stuffed with big chunks of grilled or fried cod and mahi, a flavorful cabbage, and fresh pico de gallo. Such tacos have roots, however, served across Southern California but hailing from Mexico's Baja region, where this taco is said to have had its start.
In South Florida, where the mahi is just as fresh, these fish tacos are equally popular. There are tons of variations, but the requirements are the same, from the fresh-caught fish and hand-formed tortillas, to the flavorful toppings. This list names some of the area's best, with a Palm Beach restaurant that has been serving them true Baja-style for years, to a local chain that grills 'em up just right.
Here, our list of the best fish tacos in South Florida:
10. The Whole Enchilada
4115 N. Federal Highway, Oakland Park. Call 954-561-4040, or visit twefreshmex.com.
There's a glut of "Fresh Mex" options in and around Broward County, but the Whole Enchilada — with two locations in Fort Lauderdale and Plantation — is a welcome addition to the fold. This fast eatery has a quirky, personalized feel, from the vintage books that decorate the high-up shelves to the kooky movies the staff plays during lunch and dinner hours. The food shares the same homey sensibility, occupying a space somewhere between Tex-Mex and Baja Mex. Fans of big-ass burritos can rest easy knowing this place shares their gluttonous muse; in this case a rice-, bean-, cheese-, salsa-, and avocado-filled beast named The Bob that comes with a choice of juicy grilled chicken, steak, ground beef, or deliciously seared tofu. The tacos are the real knockouts, however, especially the seared mahi, seasoned perfectly and put to bed in a swatch of cilantro crema-spiked cabbage along with shredded jack cheese, tomato, and hearty slices of avocado; black tiger shrimp get the same treatment and are just as good.
9. Taco Beach Shack
334 Arizona Street, Hollywood. Call 954-920-6523, or visit tacobeachshack.com.
On prime real estate just a block off the beach in Hollywood, Taco Beach Shack offers loungey outdoor seating; cheap, delicious tacos; and a promise: If you get too drunk, you can always book a room at the nearby hostel. The restaurant — and the hostel — are owned by real estate guru Alan Lieberman of South Beach Restaurant Group and partner/chef Stuart Snowhite, former chef to a handful of professional athletes. For eats, try the brisket taco or the short rib with kimchee slaw, served in a basket with two plastic cups of hot and mild sauces. There’s also the guilty-pleasure nachos with an orgy of toppings, as well as quesadillas with a variety of innards. But let’s face it: The primary reason people head over here après beach is to people-watch while drinking beer and the super-sweet sangria.
8. Taco Grill
Taco Grill is located at 3341 NE 32nd St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-580-1488.
When Americans think of shredded-meat tacos, the first thing that comes to mind is pork carnitas. Although it is also a popular choice in Mexico, for a populace raised on the familiar street fare, other favorites include carne deshebrada (braised beef) and tinga (chicken simmered in an onion and chipotle sauce). Of course, finding such authentic offerings stateside is always a challenge — something Fort Lauderdale's Taco Grill owner, Adora Wisdom, is hoping to change. Wisdom, who spent much of the past decade living in Mexico and who has worked as a chef aboard private yachts for the past five years, considers herself a taco connoisseur. Originally from Texas, her memories include small, hand-formed tortillas filled with nothing but meat, onion, and cilantro. One of her best tacos: the baja fish taco with red cabbage slaw, cilantro, crema, and avocado. Not that you need to, but any taco purchase comes with free unlimited sauces, which includes a homemade chimichurri, pica roja and pica verde, chipotle tamarind, and cilantro pesto. If you like it hot, the triple fire is her house hot sauce, which she warns is made with bonnet peppers and is dangerously spicy.
7. Wild Sea
620 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-467-2555, or visit riversidehotel.com.
Inside one of the oldest buildings on Las Olas, the Riverside Hotel, a fresh restaurant and a young chef are breathing new life into the tourist-trap-lined boulevard. The 130-seat Wild Sea Oyster Bar replaced the hotel's Grill Room in March 2013. Chef Toby Joseph sources only the best ingredients possible. Of course, with such high aspirations and high-test seafood comes a high price, but it's worth it. Joseph is incorporating simple, beautiful ingredients and turning out flavors that sing. That's equally true of his fish tacos, a special come lunchtime. The trio of tacos steal the show before dinner, blackened mahi cradled in toasted flour tortillas with a zesty housemade slaw and pickled green tomatoes.
6. Tin Fish
10053 Sunset Strip, Sunrise. Call 954-766-4627, or visit thetinfishrestaurants.com.
Tin Fish founder Joseph Melluso opened his first South Florida Tin Fish in West Palm Beach several years ago after founding the company in 2000. So named for its first location just outside San Diego, an old tin building where a fish peddler sold his bounty outside. Today, there are locations everywhere from California and Washington, to Kentucky and Florida — including a new location in Sunrise. The fish-centric menu is inspired by dishes Melluso developed while working for chef Libby Hillman and Tuscan chef Giuliano Bugialli, and include all manner of seafood. But it's the fish tacos that make this list, lightly-breaded cod served two at a time and stuffed with cabbage slaw, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, ranch, and hot sauce.
5. Señor Burrito
513 NE 20th Street, Boca Raton. Call 567-347-6600, or visit senorburrito.com.
Señor Burrito owner Eduardo Garcia was born in Mexico City, and grew up eating the best of what Mexico has to offer, culinarily speaking He moved to South Florida more than 30 years ago, a first generation restaurant owner with a passion to begin cooking the food of his country. He opened his first restaurant in Boca Raton, and now has several locations, including Taco Prince and Las Fajitas. Each of the restaurants share similarities all source the same ingredients with the same dedication to quality. The trademark rule: everything is cooked from scratch — from the salsas, and hand-trimmed meat. No cans, no shortcuts. But it's the Baja-style fish tacos at Señor Burrito that make this list, three mahi tacos served with pico de gallo, Mexican rice, spinach, and cheese nachos.
4. Los Tacos
2393 Pembroke Road, Weston. Call 954-430-5180, or visit lostacosbychefomar.com.
Los Tacos is the casual, colorful Mexican restaurant with two locations in Broward County and a satellite location known as Guacamole in Lantana. For owner Omar Covarrubias, the idea is to expand the brand of authentic Mexican cuisine as a franchise across South Florida. A third Los Tacos — the largest yet — is coming soon to Coral Springs. Farther south, cities like Doral are up next. The tacos, served three at a time, are among the best you'll have north of the border, several chef's specialties including the chorizo con papas, corn tortillas packed to the brim with a crumbly, flavorful chorizo made fresh by a local Mexican market and paired with cubes of soft roasted potatoes. The pork pibil tacos — named for the Mayan word pib, or oven — pop with a combination of citrusy marinade and earthy achiote paste. Of course, we're talking fish here, and these Baja-style tacos are near perfect with a chipotle lime mayo cole slaw and topped with a fresh pico de gallo.
3. Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar
204 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-463-2003, or visit tacocraft.com.
On any given day — especially Taco Tuesday — the outdoor patio at Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar’s in downtown Fort Laudedale's Himmarshee Village is packed with patrons, jammed together like sardines in a can, tables lining any available sidewalk space as people spill out from the restaurant's colorful main dining room. Here, amidst several booths, a short bar, and a pair of large communal-style tables, servers weave in and out of the fray with stacks of nachos and platters of tacos. These tacos, built on house-made, hand-formed masa tortillas prepared daily, are stuffed with prime meats and specialty sourced cheeses. A crispy shredded pork is among the most popular, adobe- and chili-rubbed and smothered with imported cow's milk cotija, a thick house crema, vibrant salsa verde, and diced, charred pineapple. But it's Tacocraft's Baja fish taco that tops this list, the ultimate fish taco experience crafted with handmade tortillas, fresh-fried mahi encased in a flavorful Funky Buddha beer batter, and topped with a zesty chipotle crema, fresh avocado, pico de gallo with cilantro, and a Mexican-style slaw. Pair it with any of the bar's Epsilon margaritas, and you've just secured yourself a lunch worthy of an afternoon at Mexican playa.
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2. Papa's Raw Bar
4610 N Federal Highway, Lighthouse Point. Call 754-307-5034, or visit papasrawbar.com.
Let New Orleans have its gumbo, Kansas City its barbecue, and Los Angeles and New York City their trend-setting concepts. Here in South Florida, we have our own enviable pedigree: Floribbean, best described as a fusion of island-inspired fare mixed with locally grown tropical fruits and fresh-caught fish. And at Papa's Raw Bar in Lighthouse Point, it's what's on the clipboard menu. A Lighthouse Point institution, next door Seafood World stands as one of South Florida's quintessential seafood restaurants and markets, having evolved into a full-fledged brand complete with an online store and onsite retail shop selling everything from homemade sauces and spices to more than 85 types of seafood, from shellfish and Caribbean lobster to Florida stone crabs caught from the family's own fishing vessel. The opening of sister establishment Papa's Raw Bar last April marked a continuation of the fish tale. As for the tacos: choose from the fresh catch, shrimp, conch, or lobster and get it blackened, grilled, or panko-crusted; what you decide determines the toppings, either a fresh pico de gallo or ripened peach salsa slathered over a bed of raw Savoy cabbage and topped with the Ganters' chipotle mayo. The fish is the most standard, tender beer-battered slabs of meat tucked into a corn tortilla baked fresh from the Mexican market down the street.
1. Nick & Johnnie's
207 Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach. Call 561-655-3319, or visit nickandjohnniespb.com.
Partners Nick Coniglio and John Kent Thurston have fashioned their nuevo California-by-way-of-Palm-Beach menu so that familiar dishes, steaks, and seafood have a kind of ironic playfulness. Either that or they're just flat-out delicious. The place is almost all patio, a beautiful hang on balmy nights, and there's often live music or dancing later on. One of the best menu items: the fish tacos, what Thurston deems "legit San Diego style" with a recipe he's based off based off the "original" fish taco from San Felipe in Baja. At Nick & Johnnie's they're served grilled, but can be fried upon request, or blackened. The restaurant makes its own fresh corn tortillas daily, and the mahi mahi is bought fresh and locally — a whole six-ounces per order. A true Baja-style cabbage slaw is tossed with lime, olive oil, and salt and the whole ordeal is topped with a crema sauce that combines lime, sour cream, olive oil, cumin, and a touch of mayo. Last, but certainly not least, a fresh pico de gallo provides the finishing touch — and maybe a squeeze or two of lime if you're so inclined. Pair it with an ice cold Pacifico or a tequila cocktail, and mission fish taco is complete.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.