El Sabor de la Baja is at the center of San Diego’s taco scene. Its parking lot at H Street and Broadway in Chula Vista is home to at least three independent taco trucks on most days, and three more of San Diego County’s finest taco purveyors are just a walk across the street: Aqui es Texcoco, Tacos El Gordo, and Birrieria Don Rafa. With all due respect to Moreno Valley’s Alessandro Avenue, the only other taco cluster in Southern California that can truly compete is the stretch of Olympic Boulevard in L.A. that hosts Mariscos Jalisco, Tacos El Ruso, Tacos y Birria La Unica, Mariscos 4 Vientos, and Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla.
Long known for its fish tacos, El Sabor de la Baja has evolved from a lonchera into a large and lively mariscos restaurant in the building previously known as Mariscos Tijuana Jr. One of the waitresses revealed to me that the owner and cooks are actually from Guadalajara, not Baja. While one does not associate Guadalajara with mariscos, it is a city filled with excellent cooks and taqueros.
Upon being seated, I began my meal with a complimentary cup of savory Seafood Consomé as they prepared my Tostada Aguachile Tropical ($8), a ceviche dish with raw shrimp and fruit (melon, pineapple, and mango) in a green aguachile broth made of lime and chilies. There are many aguachiles available in this neighborhood, but few as pleasant and refreshing as this sweet, sour, and spicy riff.
The Taco de Pescado (“fish taco”) ($1.99) at El Sabor de la Baja has a stellar reputation for good reason: it is not only tasty but massive as well. If I had known it was a corn tortilla wrapped around a crunchy fried fish filet the size of my forearm I would not have ordered anything else. Rather than the thin tempura-like batter that is more typical on fish tacos in San Diego or most of Baja California, here the batter is thick, dark, and crunchy, channeling similar offerings at L.A. fish taco purveyors like Taco Nazo or Ricky’s. My typical complaint about that style is that the batter-to-meat ratio is thrown off to the point where I feel like I got gypped out of fish. This is not a problem at El Sabor de la Baja due to the generous fish portion. Shredded cabbage and tomatoes are heaped on top, and four different bottled salsas are available at your table to dress up your tacos.
You could also order the Taco Culichi ($5.75), a scorcher of a grilled shrimp taco with a creamy incendiary culichi sauce that is quite tasty but could trigger an alarming exit from your body if you are unprepared. Even if you think you’re ready for it — unless your idea of fun is digesting what feels like molten steel in your belly, you may want to go easy on this one. The kitchen attempts to temper the heat with avocados and melted white cheese, but that’s like trying to put out a fire by squirting suntan lotion at it. This is certainly one of the most irresponsibly spicy tacos I have eaten in San Diego. I liked it a lot.
The Taco Costazul ($6.50) will leave you with no doubt that El Sabor de la Baja’s chef is trying to kill you. Rather than heat, the murder weapon of choice for this taco is cholesterol. Your corn tortilla will support two massive bacon-wrapped balls of grilled shrimp combined with melted white cheese. The two edible spheres, approximately the size of tennis balls, cling to another layer of gooey cheese grilled onto the tortilla. They ought to rename this taco to “The Widowmaker” to accurately reflect its health risks. The Taco Costazul is dressed with red onions that are grilled until they start to caramelize and sweeten. The only thing that holds this taco back from being at the next level is the relentless salt and grease from the bacon and cheese that prevents one from appreciating the other elements of the taco such as the shrimp and tortilla.
While at El Sabor de la Baja, you will also want to ask your waitress for one of their Chamorro-rimmed Micheladas ($7) to wash everything down. If you’ve been following along, you won’t be surprised to learn that all of the servers here are young, attractive Latina ladies. Clearly, this restaurant has taken an over-the-top approach to all aspects of its operation, and it mostly works. Everything I’ve eaten at El Sabor de la Baja has been unusually large, or unusually spicy, or unusually greasy, and I would absolutely order all of it again.
Taco Scores: Tacos Culichi (95), Taco de Pescado (93), Taco Costazul (93)
Jay Recommends: Taco Culichi, Taco de Pescado, Tostada Aguachile Tropical
El Sabor de la Baja; 625 H St, Chula Vista, CA 91910; Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10:00am-7:00pm, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am-8:00pm, and Friday from 10:00am-11:00pm; (619) 646-7925; orderelsabordelabaja.com