South Beach Bar & Grille
5059 Newport Ave.
San Diego, CA
By Matt Norris
One of the greatest pleasures of being a proud American traveler is trying out all the quirky foods unique to certain corners of our country.
Down here in the far southwestern-most corner of America, that would be fish tacos.
Now, I know what you are thinking – you can get fish tacos just about anywhere.
And you’d be right. Heck, even Taco Bell made an ill-fated attempt at selling Baja shrimp tacos once.
That’s the blessing (or curse) of living in the information age.
But it wasn’t that long ago that my tales of delicious California fish tacos were greeted by friends and family with an up-turned nose.
Despite my knack for describing good food, somehow my pleadings to be open-minded about fresh, crispy fish topped with pico de gallo, cabbage, and a creamy white dressing piled into a soft tortilla just wasn’t winning over many converts.
As Billy Joel once said, “You can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine.”
Sometimes you just have to try it.
And while my fish taco evangelism may have failed verbally, I’ve yet to see anyone who hasn’t immediately converted to fish taco-ology after their first bite.
San Diego likes to claim to be the birthplace of fish tacos, but the truth is they originated in Baja, Mexico.
But thanks to Mexican drug lords gone wild, I’m not about to make a run for the border when I can get great fish tacos right here in the good ol’ USA.
The South Beach Bar & Grille is literally at the end of the road in Ocean Beach, the least trendy of San Diego’s beaches.
Surfer dudes and homeless pot smokers hang around the coast’s longest pier, waiting for the sun to set spectacularly into the Pacific.
The South Beach Bar & Grille from the outside has all the charm of a suburban office building.
Sitting at the bar, I got a nice view of the waves crashing on the beach, but the windows were closed. It would have been nice if it had a more open beach vibe. Other than a “smokers table” outside by the front door, there is no al fresco dining or drinking here.
The sunshine and ocean are right there in front of you, but you can’t feel it, hear it, or smell it. It’s a shame considering the location.
But where this place falls short on ambiance, it more than makes up for with good food and a large selection of local microbrews.
I decided to try the Ballast Point Big Eye IPA, but it was a major disappointment.
It just tasted bad.
IPAs usually pack a flavorful wallop of hops. This one just tasted off – like the keg was bad or the beer lines needed to be cleaned.
Or maybe Ballast Point just makes bad beer.
Could be. The night before I was equally unimpressed with their lackluster Yellow Tail Pale Ale.
Next time I’ll try the other microbrews offered here.
But the good news is my fish tacos were top notch.
I got one traditional “Baja style” with fried pollock and one with grilled mahi.
Both came stuffed with fresh pico de gallo and crisp cabbage, and a deliciously cool and creamy sauce drizzled on top.
South Beach Bar & Grille distinguishes their fish tacos with a little melted cheese and uses flour tortillas rather than corn.
In the on-going debate over fried versus grilled, I have come decisively on the side of fried.
I know, I know, that’s not surprising.
But in a way, it is. Grilled or blackened fish always has more seasoning and flavor than fried fish. But on a fish taco, with all that extra goodness piled on, none of that matters.
When it comes to fish tacos, it’s all about texture.
It’s one of the great joys in life to wrap your teeth around a soft tortilla and bite down on crispy fried fish and cool, crunchy toppings.
The sun setting over the Pacific. Hoppy California beers. And the joyful crunch of a perfectly made fish taco.
Life is good on Ocean Beach!
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.