Any serious discussion about Ensenada-style fish tacos leads to El Fenix Puesto, the iconic stand at the corner of Juarez and Espinoza in Ensenada, Baja California named after the former Ferreteria (hardware store) Fenix that opened in 1970.
“Oh, you like El Fenix?” said Juan Roberto Sanchez, “They are very close friends of mine. I bought their recipe.” Sanchez has been serving up his two item menu, Ensenada-style fish and shrimp tacos for a month, set up in front of his forthcoming brick-and-mortar restaurant named L Fish, which will open later this fall.
Born in Ensenada and raised between Los Angeles and Mexico’s fish taco capitol, Sanchez has been working in construction, on both sides of the border. Here in LA, he’s a member of Local 1506, a carpenter’s union.
It’s probably a safe bet to go all-in on fish tacos in LA, especially with a recipe from one of the best fish taco stands on the planet. It certainly looks like an El Fenix taco. There’s a yellowish hue to the batter with flecks of green herbs fried to a crispy outer layer with tender angelito (angel shark) that Sanchez purchases at Sea Win Inc. in Downtown LA’s Industrial District. Angelito is one of the traditional fish used in Ensenada-style fish tacos, along with dogfish. Sanchez also gets his shrimp from the same purveyor.
All the ingredients are from Mexico (with the exception of the shrimp) and Sanchez’s hard work in getting this recipe and service-style down demonstrate the attention to detail in carpentry. “I tried for a long time to get the recipe, first on my own with about a year of recipe testing before I convinced them [El Fenix] to sell it to me,” said Sanchez.
At L Fish, you get your tacos just like in Ensenada, naked and exposed in superlative form, to be finished to your specifications as you assume the role of taco sous chef. The mis en place consists of fine cut cabbage, pico de gallo, Mexican cream or mayonnaise, a squeeze of lime and the salsas: cream of cilantro, cream of chipotle, salsa habanera and a standard pair of red and green salsas.
The fish taco batter has a lot of herbs and a strong seasoning that cuts through the condiments, but the shrimp taco may even be better. While the traditional fish taco is all about that batter, with a light flavored fish with soft texture, off tasting shrimp can ruin the taco.
Sanchez’s shrimp taco has big, clean flavors that one only get (in these parts) with high quality frozen shrimp that are cooked moist and have a snappy bite that taste brilliant with El Fenix’s hallowed tempura batter. L Fish is the most exciting fish taco vendor to come along since the short lived Mi Ensenada, which closed over a year ago, and after a first bite, it’s safe to say it’s a top-two fish taco in LA, and the best Ensenada-style shrimp taco. Fish tacos run $2.00 (and $1.00 on Tuesdays) while shrimp tacos here cost $2.50.
It seems like an odd leap from carpentry to taquero, but Sanchez had a wide-eyed and unexpected response as to why he decided to don an apron. “The fish taco is so famous in Ensenada I want to see if it hits here, too,” said Sanchez, who is mostly unaware of the many distinguished fish taco spots in LA. It’s a safe bet that Angelenos are ready to embrace the fish taco.
L Fish, 3205 1⁄2 4th St., Boyle Heights, 323-412-6586. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.