From food trucks to seaside shacks, fish tacos bring in summer in Vancouver
You could say that Ryan Spong, co-owner of Tacofino, is a massive fan of fish tacos. In fact, he is such a devotee that he actually convinced Kaeli Robinsong, Jason Sussman, and Amy Bockner to bring their taco-truck concept from Tofino to the mainland in 2011. Even better, he morphed from enthusiastic customer to part owner.
Sitting to the side of the truck at Burrard and Dunsmuir, Spong bites into his favourite taco, and deconstructs what makes it so good. (Tacofino’s second truck parks at Robson and Howe streets; to find them, follow the @TacoFinoCantina Twitter feed. The new Tacofino restaurant is slated to open at 2327 East Hastings Street in June or July.) First, there’s the toasted flour tortilla, which Spong says keeps the taco together and soaks up the juices better than a corn tortilla. Then, of course, there’s the fish. Tacofino uses chunks of sustainable lingcod that are deep-fried in a light tempura batter. “There’s not too much batter but there’s still crunch,” explains Spong.
Next, there’s a salsa fresca made daily with finely chopped tomatoes, red onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice. And finally, the battered fish is topped off with finely shredded cabbage and a creamy chipotle mayo. As for making sure you don’t end up with more taco on your lap than in your mouth, Spong recommends a three-bite manoeuvre: one on each end, and then the middle to finish it off.
You can try this technique on Tacofino’s Tuna Ta-Taco, made with lightly seared albacore tuna, wasabi-ginger mayo, mango salsa, and seaweed salad, or on a limited-time-only taco that takes advantage of spot-prawn season. “Spot prawns are really sweet. They’re local. They’re beautiful,” raves Spong. Co-owner Sussman strolls over and explains that, over the next month or so, the spot prawns will be offered in the tacos tempura-battered, or sometimes wrapped in bacon and then grilled.
Down at False Creek, Travis Mason, chef at Go Fish (1505 West 1st Avenue; second location at 1521 West Broadway), has some spot-prawn items on the menu this season but is sticking to salmon and albacore tuna for the fish tacos.
“Our salmon taco is dynamite,” he says, taking a break from prepping in the shack. He claims that Go Fish is the birthplace of the salmon taco—others are just pretenders. He sources the fish straight from the docks, so depending on availability and seasonality, the taco could feature local sockeye, chum, or spring salmon. Mason says salmon is great in a taco because of its higher fat content and pronounced flavour.
To amp up the taste even more, the fish is seasoned with spices and herbs like cumin and fennel, grilled, and then cut into strips that are placed in a flour tortilla. He then adds a zippy coleslaw seasoned with sesame oil, rice-wine vinegar, cumin, fennel, and coriander; fresh house-made salsa; cilantro; daikon sprouts; and chipotle crema.
The other taco on the menu is made from seared albacore tuna, wasabi crema, nori, and ponzu sauce, as well as the coleslaw, salsa, and daikon sprouts. While Go Fish does offer a Baja-style battered Pacific cod taco in the winter, during the summer the crazy number of fish ’n’ chips orders keeps the deep fryer otherwise occupied.
Baru Latino (2535 Alma Street) also does a deep-fried–fish taco. As sous-chef Matthew Wilson explains during a phone chat, they bread their fish in panko and a spice blend that includes ancho chilies, cinnamon, brown sugar, and pepper. “Panko has a nice crunch. Also, panko doesn’t absorb the oil as much as other breadings.” Wilson uses halibut for its firmer texture: “When we cut it into sections, it keeps its form and shape. And in the mouth, it has a nice texture. It takes to breading really well.”
Each order consists of three corn tortillas topped with the deep-fried halibut as well as a mango salsa of diced mango, red peppers, red and green onions, jalapeños, and chipotle. Wilson says the corn tortillas not only are celiac-friendly but also stay true to the restaurant’s Latin American influences. Plus, the mango salsa has great balance, with the sweetness of the fruit smoothing out the more lively spicy notes of the other ingredients.
As for Baru’s albacore-tuna tacos, they feature seared tuna belly topped with mango salsa, salsa fresca (diced tomatoes, jalapenos, white onion, and lemon and lime juice), sliced red radishes for their peppery bite, shredded cabbage, and cilantro.
The final, optional addition is the housemade habanero hot sauce. “It’s got a kick like a Peruvian mule,” warns Wilson, so use it sparingly, especially if you want to enjoy the fresh and balanced flavours of the meal.