If you were to glance at a phone book, Los Angeles would seem to be rich in restaurants serving Baja-style Mexican food. But in spite of our proximity to the region, it in fact is not: “Baja” in the name of a local taqueria is less a signifier of region than it is of intent. “Baja” has become a symbol of the beachy cooking sometimes known as Fresh-Mex or Healthy-Mex, which has less to do with anything you might actually find in Baja than it does with the surf paraphernalia on the walls, and the fact that the beans are probably not prepared with lard.
But there are at least a few places in Los Angeles where it is possible to taste regional Baja cooking. Here are a few favorites:
Tacos Baja Ensenada. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. But in your lust for the tacos, don’t miss the spectacular cahuamanta, Baja stingray simmered with vegetables, then served as soup. 5385 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles (323) 887-1980.
Ricky’s Fish Tacos. The other contender for the title of L.A.'s best fish taco is Ricky Piña, a freelance taquero whose crunchy fried fish has been drawing crowds for years. You can find his current location on Twitter. Lately he’s been working weekends on North Main in Chinatown.
Taco Nazo. Possibly the original Baja-style taco place in L.A. County, Taco Nazo has been slinging its fried fish and shrimp tacos here since 1978. 13032 E. Valley Blvd., La Puente (626) 333-1166, and several other locations.
Mexicali Taco & Co. The other kind of Baja taco, sizzling nubbins of chopped carne asada -- flame grilled! -- packed into fat flour tortillas the owners bring up from Baja a couple of times a week. You can even get a vegan one if that’s your thing. 702 N Figueroa St., Los Angeles (213) 613-0416, Mexicali Taco & Co.
Petty Cash. The oddest, and possibly most popular new taqueria in town, this date-night restaurant, powered by haute-cuisine master Walter Manzke’s teenage memories of visits to Baja and the taco wisdom of Guillermo Campos Moreno, who runs the well-regarded Tacos Kokopelli in Tijuana, may serve the closest thing to modern Baja cooking in town. You’ll find the requisite fish tacos, but also a delicious aguachile, a complex seafood cocktail, made with oysters, clams and sushi-quality fish. 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Petty Cash Taqueria.