Dining out: Fishing for the best taco

If someone were to ask me what food I'd eat for the rest of my life if I could only eat one food, it would have to be fish tacos. I crave them at all hours of the day. So I embarked on a quest to find the best one in a 15-mile radius. I went to old haunts, new finds and friends' recommendations.

Right off the bat I was confronted with the question “grilled or fried”? Grilled fish tacos have fewer calories and a nice smoky flavor. But deep-fried are more authentic, and if the batter and fish are good, nothing compares. Fried is easier to come by, so at every location I got one of those and when available, a grilled taco as well.

Here are the results (in alphabetical order):

Fish King, 722 N. Glendale Ave., Glendale

Maybe you didn't know that Glendale's best fish market also sells prepared foods. As you would imagine, it's all about the fish here. The fried version is moist and juicy with a creamy sauce that tastes more of cocktail sauce and black pepper than chili pepper. The grilled fish taco stands out here. The wood-burning-fire aroma hits you as you unwrap the paper, the red snapper striped with grill marks. Grilled ($2.50) A-; Fried ($2.25) B

La Estrella, 502 N. Fair Oaks, Pasadena

This popular spot has great al pastor and carne asada tacos, but you might want to go elsewhere for the pescado. Though larger than any other taco tested, with an ample cabbage salad on top, the frozen, breaded fish was dry and lacking flavor. Fried ($3.59) C+

Norma's Tacos, 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

Only four bites big, Norma's tacos are small but mighty. The fried version is the more flavorful with evenly dispersed fish tenders, razor-thin cabbage, a tangy ruby-red tomato pico de gallo and a creamy sauce. The grilled is tender and juicy with a salsa de arbol that rocks. Since they're small, get their amazing cochinita pibil taco, too. It has pickled onions and blasts of cinnamon, clove and citrus. Grilled ($2) B+; Fried ($2) A-; Pibil ($1.50) A+

Ricky's Fish Tacos, 1400 N. Virgil, Hollywood

I had to drive over the hill to try one of Ricky's tacos, as I'd heard they are the standard by which all others must measure. Indeed, they're incredible. Two young men set up a huge wok of oil in little more than a parking lot in Los Feliz. They dip gorgeous chunks of fleshy white fish into thick mustard-tinted batter, then slip them into oil where they get hot as a pistol with a crispy, doughnut-like crust. They pile pieces onto fresh corn tortillas and top with a strong onion and jalapeno pico de gallo. You may then have your way with four homemade salsas and crema. The only reason it's not an A+ is the gritty atmosphere and the lack of limes. Fried ($2.50) A

Senor Fish, 4803 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock

Everything a fish taco lover could want: numerous fish options (like halibut, sea bass and mahi-mahi), a help-yourself salsa bar, agua frescas or endless soda, and a jungle-like patio. The regular tacos, fried or grilled, are made with tender sole and have all the right toppings: cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro, lemon and creamy mayonnaise sauce, but somehow there's something missing. I think it's the love. Grilled ($3.45) A-; Fried ($2.95) A-

Tres Hermanas
Taqueria, 415 S. Central Ave., Glendale

The fish was hot and generous but they committed the crime of crimes here: They used lettuce instead of cabbage. The heat made the lettuce wilt, giving the whole taco an unpleasant wetness. Fried ($2.50) C

Victoria's Tacos & Grill, 4204 San Fernando Road, Glendale

This place is the find of the year. The grill master takes great pride in his work. The fish taco's handmade tortilla, for instance, gets a quick moment on the grill before taking its toppings. A huge piece of freshly fried fish is surrounded by cilantro and tomatoes and if you want them, grilled jalapenos and onions. I stepped outside the parameters of my research and tried the shrimp taco, too. Delicious. Plus, Victoria's is open late. Fried ($2.50) A; Shrimp ($3.25) A

LISA DUPUY has been smitten with fish tacos since a trip to San Felipe in her teens. Send your favorite taco spots to her at LDupuy@aol.com.

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