These Baja Fish Tacos are loaded with crispy fried fish, crunchy cabbage, pico de gallo, and a creamy fish taco sauce with plenty of lime juice squeezed over the top.  All wrapped up in corn tortillas, this San Diego, California favorite is sure to be a hit in your home!

These Baja Fish Tacos are loaded with crispy fried fish, crunchy cabbage, pico de gallo, and a creamy fish taco sauce with plenty of lime juice squeezed over the top.  All wrapped up in corn tortillas, this San Diego, California favorite is sure to be a hit in your home!

Baja Fish Tacos Recipe

I love California.  I’ve mentioned before that I moved a LOT growing up and have lived all over the country and traveled to much of the rest of it, which was one of the reasons why I wanted to start this American Eats series.  It’s a way of revisiting some favorite dishes I’ve picked up along the way and exploring new ones from states I have yet to get to!

But California has a special place in my heart.  Not only is this where I have lived for the past 9 years, it’s also where I spent my formative preteen and early teen years.

And while I never lived in San Diego, I’ve visited there quite a bit and even interviewed at law firms there when deciding where to go after law school.  It was hard to turn down offers to work in that beautiful city with the most perfect weather on the planet!  Especially with the taco stands on pretty much every corner and fish tacos galore!

The fish taco is to San Diego what the deep dish pizza is to Chicago, Philly cheese steak is to Philadelphia or the lobster roll is to Maine.

An image of a plate of Baja fish tacos San Diego-style, with corn tortillas, pico de gallo, lime wedges, and a lime crema on the side.

Where did fish tacos originate?

These fish tacos really originated south of the California border in the Baja California Peninsula in Northwestern Mexico.  A San Diego State student named Ralph Rubio brought them back from a surfing trip in the 1970’s and started his own taco stand in San Diego.  And now these Baja fish tacos are one of the most well-known, iconic dishes that represents the state of California.

If you are from the West, you have probably been to a Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill (yup, his fish tacos were so hugely popular that Ralph Rubio’s taco stand grew into a huge chain that has expanded throughout the West) and maybe even had a fish taco there.  But like so many things, I’ve gotta say that homemade is better.

And if you have never had a really good fish taco, you have been missing out.  Big time.  These are so delicious with the most wonderful balance of flavor and texture you can imagine.

An image of crispy fried fish in warm corn tortillas with cilantro, cabbage, creamy white fish taco sauce, and pico de gallo for Baja fish tacos.An image of Baja fish tacos made with battered and fried with a creamy fish taco sauce, cabbage, cilantro, and pico de gallo!

Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a fish person, you should really give these Baja fish tacos a try.  They don’t taste “fishy” at all, thanks to using a firm white fish that is coated in a wonderfully spiced batter before being fried crispy in a pan of oil.

I mean, sure grilled fish tacos are also delicious and decidedly healthier, but real Baja fish tacos are battered and fried and they are phenomenal.  Really, grilled fish tacos and battered Baja fish tacos are two different things in my book, and when it comes to picking and choosing, the battered version really has my heart.

An image of a platter of the the ultimate Mexican street food - fish tacos made Baja style, battered and fried with a creamy fish taco sauce, cabbage, cilantro, and pico de gallo!

 

What is the best fish for fish tacos?

You can use whatever mild, firm white fish you like.  I tend to go with cod, mostly because I can usually find it for a good price.  But whatever is wild-caught and local is best!  Here are some good options you can use for this Baja fish tacos recipe:

  • Halibut
  • Cod
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Snapper
  • Flounder
  • Grouper
  • Tilapia

How to make the best Baja Fish Tacos

It’s so easy to make this Baja fish tacos recipe!  All you really need is a cast iron skillet or other deep, wide pan for frying the fish in about an inch of oil and some tongs for turning the fish pieces so both sides can get golden brown and crispy.

  1. Cut the fish into strips and pat them dry with paper towels.  This is important to help the batter stick to the fish.
  2. Mix up the batter by combining all the batter ingredients in a large bowl.  Just stir them together well to make a thick batter.
  3.  Add the sliced fish to the batter and stir with a spatula until the fish is all coated.
  4. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a cast iron skillet until it reaches 375 degrees F on a thermometer.
  5. Fry the fish in batches until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked through, flipping halfway through.  Drain on a wire cooling rack of a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
  6. Fill warm corn tortillas (you could use flour, but corn are definitely the best for fish tacos) with a couple pieces of the fried fish in each, then top with thinly sliced cabbage, pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, and the fish taco sauce.

Most authentic Baja fish tacos use beer for the liquid in the batter, but since we don’t drink, I used ginger ale and it worked out great!  You could also sub Sprite or soda water instead.

I always double up the warm corn tortillas and serve these with my favorite pico de gallo and plenty of fresh, chopped cilantro.  And you can’t have Baja fish tacos without crunchy, thinly sliced cabbage and a tangy, creamy white sauce.  I fill a ziptight bag with the sauce and snip off one end to drizzle it over the tacos.  And use those lime wedges on the side!  That hit of citrus is the perfect finish and an absolute must!

Step-by-step images of how to make Baja fish tacos in a crispy fried batter. An image of crispy fried pieces of fish draining on a wire rack for Baja fish tacos. An image of crispy fried pieces of fish draining on a wire rack for Baja fish tacos.

The BEST Baja Fish Taco Sauce

Anyone who has had San Diego-style fish tacos will tell you that you definitely don’t want to skip the fish taco sauce, which is typically a light citrus crema made from sour cream and/or mayonnaise, some lime juice, and spices.  It takes all of 2 minutes to combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt in a bowl and whisk it all together.

An image of San Diego-style Baja Fish Tacos made with crispy battered white fish, warm corn tortillas, cabbage, pico de gallo, and creamy white fish taco sauce.

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Baja Fish Tacos Recipe
Yield: 6 people

Baja Fish Tacos Recipe

These Baja Fish Tacos are loaded with crispy fried fish, crunchy cabbage, pico de gallo, and a creamy fish taco sauce with plenty of lime juice squeezed over the top.  All wrapped up in corn tortillas, this San Diego, California favorite is sure to be a hit in your home!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

Fish Tacos

  • 1 1/2 pounds cod, halibut, tilapia, mahi mahi, or other firm white fish
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups ginger ale, sprite, beer or soda water (I used ginger ale and beer is more authentic, but any of these would work)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 15 small corn tortillas

Fish Taco Sauce

  • 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Garnish

  • pico de gallo
  • shredded cabbage
  • lime wedges
  • chopped cilantro
  • avocados

Instructions

  1. Whisk the ingredients for the fish taco sauce together, then cover, and refrigerate.  
  2. Make the pico de gallo, shred the cabbage, wash and chop cilantro leaves.  
  3. To make the fish tacos, start by slicing the fish into 3/4-inch wide strips that are about 4 inches long (no need to be exact, but you don't want them much bigger than this).  Pat the fish dry on all sides with paper towel.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, breadcrumbs, baking powder, chili powder, cumin, salt, ancho chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, egg, and ginger ale and mix together to make a batter for the fish.
  5. Add the strips of fish to the batter and use a spatula to gently stir it all to coat the fish evenly in the thick batter.  
  6. Pour enough oil into a large skillet to fill it about 1 inch deep, then heat it over medium-high heat to 375 degrees F.  It is helpful to have a good candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil.
  7. When the oil is hot, add strips of the battered fish a few at a time, working in batches, and fry until golden brown, flipping the fish halfway through to cook evenly on both sides.  Transfer to a cooling rack set over a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
  8. Warm the tortillas in the microwave by placing a few at a time between damp paper towels and microwaving for 45 seconds, then repeating with the remaining tortillas until all are warmed.  Keep them warm by covering with a towel.  Alternatively, you can fry the tortillas to warm them by heating a teaspoon of oil in another pan over medium heat, then frying each tortilla for 20 seconds on each side until it is soft and golden, but not crispy.  You will need to add a little more oil after every other tortilla until you have warmed them all.
  9. Assemble the fish tacos by adding the fish to two tortillas, doubled up.  Then top with the shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, the fish taco sauce (I spoon it into a ziptight bag and snip off the end so I can squeeze it on in squiggles), chopped cilantro, and sliced avocado, if desired.  Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the top.

Notes

Adapted from Carlsbad Cravings.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 538 Saturated Fat: 8g Cholesterol: 107mg Sodium: 858mg Carbohydrates: 38g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 13g Protein: 26g

Have you tried this recipe?

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Curious about foods from other states in my American Eats series?  Check them out below!

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