Short List: Fish tacos

Dude, a killer fish taco is not just a San Diegan’s birthright; St. Louis hosts a bevy of restaurants that offer up the delightful combination of crunchy, salty, creamy, chewy that calls to your inner surfer. It’s hard to say no to a lightly fried piece of white fish covered with a spicy cabbage slaw and a touch of pico de gallo, all wrapped in a tortilla (corn is traditional, but blurring the lines and going with flour isn’t a bad idea). Here, three gnarly local places to get totally killer fish tacos.

Tortillaria Mexican Kitchen and Tortilla Co.
8½ S. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.361.4443

Tortillaria had me at “we hand-dip each piece of tilapia to order in Dos Equis Amber Ale beer batter.” Two tacos per order arrive in perfect homemade corn tortillas (it’s not called Tortilla Co. just for tax purposes, people!), topped with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, queso fresca and the house-made chipotle Baja sauce. The last should probably be served by the bowl; it was creamy, bright, smoky and spicy. Here again, finding lettuce instead of cabbage was a bit of a concern – for about a second, then the sauce and the fish and the tortilla covered all the important texture profiles, and I savored each crunchy, chewy, smoky bite. Tortillaria knows how to build flavors and textures; this is a thoughtfully designed taco, dude.

Salina’s Mexican Café
20 Clarkson Center, Chesterfield, 636.530.9010

Heading to a strip mall for fish tacos? Oh, yes. This Chesterfield spot is known for its fish tacos, and they do not disappoint. Each piece of cod is fried in a house-made batter that’s perfectly crispy and slightly salty, then placed in a flour tortilla, sprinkled with a little shredded cheese and covered with a mix of cabbage, house-made ranch dressing and house-made salsa. The heat from the salsa mixes with the creamy tartness of the ranch dressing, the crunch of the cabbage, the chewiness of the tortilla … wowza.

Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant
7356 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.645.3364

These tacos took me by surprise: They feature two pieces of tilapia per taco, battered and fried to perfection. The flavor and texture offer an appealing crunchiness, and the fish in these tacos stand alone as the best-tasting fish sticks I’ve ever had. These “fingers” of delightful yumminess are served in a flour tortilla with onion and shredded iceberg lettuce, which may offend purists, as cabbage is the traditional topping. But they’re finished with a generous serving of spicy chipotle mayonnaise and a sprinkle of shredded cheese; fresh salsa comes on the side. This fish taco is without pretense, and very tasty in its simplicity.