Anyone who hasn't spent time in SoCal usually responds to the concept of "fish tacos" with a baffled, maybe disgusted face. "Fish...in a tortilla?" They might be picturing fish sticks, and at their worst (cough, Del Taco) that's what fish tacos can be.
But at their best, the grab-and-go meal (a staple for surfers) involves a double layer of still-steamy corn tortillas, big hunks of grilled or fried fish, cabbage shreds, and pico de gallo (where the tomatoes are cilantro-flecked and bright red, not a mealy pink). The fish is usually a white, flaky fish like mahi-mahi, cod, or whatever else swishes around the waters of Mexico's Baja region, where the taco breed has roots.
Some say Ralph Rubio of the Rubio's chain was the fish taco godfather for Southern California. As the story goes, after tasting some from a side-of-the-road Baja vendor he returned to San Diego and in 1983, birthed his fast-casual taco empire.
Call me crazy, but when I return home to Southern California, it's not really In-N-Out that I crave—it's the fish tacos. You can find a good burger in many pockets of the world but fresh, un-nasty fish tacos? Not so much. Here's a roundup of the SoCal staple from some local chains. **
** Maybe scouting out the more hole-in-the-wally taquerias and taco trucks would have made for a better roundup, but hey, fish tacos are supposed to be fast and no frills. So I went to fast-food chains.