Ensenada-Style Fish Tacos

Tacos de Pescado "Clasicos de Ensenada"
I know fish tacos are made in many places across both the United States and Mexico. But historians agree that they originated around the Mercado Negro fish market in Ensenada. What may have been grilled fish to start quickly became crispy fish wrapped in corn tortillas with some thin-sliced cabbage and salsa mexicana—simple, forthright flavors of the local cooking. Through the years, “Baja crema” became part of the story, as did the brash local dried chile salsa (for which I’m grateful). Those original fish tacos are by far my favorite, though I know that people everywhere have put their particular spin on these delicious wonders. For this batter recipe, I cobbled together what I learned from a handful of cooks who make fish tacos for a living in Ensenada. Most use water, though some use beer. Occasionally cooks will talk of eggs or yolks in the batter, but most I talked to don’t use them. Here’s the recipe for my favorite version of the original.
Servings: 12hefty tacos


  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Salt
  • 1/2teaspoonMexican oregano
  • 1/2teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 1teaspoon yellow mustard (like French's)
  • 1teaspoon concentrated chicken base or chicken-flavor powdered bouillon
  • 1cup beer, sparkling water or water
  • 1cup all-purpose flour (or use cake flour for a slightly lighter crust)
  • 1teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3cup Mexican crema, crème fraiche or sour cream
  • about 1/4cup milk
  • 1cup (or more) thinly sliced cabbage (I like Napa cabbage best)
  • About 1cup salsa (Chopped Tomato-Green Chile Salsa, Toasted Arbol Chile Salsa, Roasted Green Chile Salsa, or even one of the Mexican hot sauces like Tamazula or Valentina)
  • 2 or 3 limes, cut into wedges
  • Vegetable oil to a depth of 1 1/2 inches for frying
  • 1pound boneless, skinless fish filets (practically anything will work, but I like larger-flake, lighter-flavor fish best for this preparation—think halibut, sea bass, grouper, cod and the like)
  • 12 warm corn tortillas


Make the batter. Finely chop the garlic, sprinkle generously with salt, then mash back and forth with the side of your knife across your cutting board until crushed to a puree. Scrape into a medium bowl and add the oregano, black pepper, mustard, chicken base or bouillon, and ½ teaspoon salt.  Whisk in the beer or water, then add the flour and baking powder and whisk just until combined.


Prepare the condiments. Mix together the mayonnaise, crema or sour cream and enough milk to give the mixture an easily spoonable consistency; scrape into a serving bowl. Set out with the cabbage, salsa and limes in serving bowls. 


Fry the fish.  Heat the oil in a deep heavy skillet to 375 degrees. While the oil is heating, cut the fish into pieces about 3 inches long by 1/2 inch square. Use a pair of tongs to pick up a piece of fish, dip it completely into the batter, and lay it into the oil, letting it dangle a few seconds before letting it go (this helps to keep them from sticking on the bottom). Continue with a few more pieces of fish, filling the hot oil with an uncrowded layer. Fry, turning the pieces regularly, until deep golden and crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven on a wire rack set over a sheet pan while you fry the rest of the fish.


Serve. Transfer the crispy fish to a warm platter.  Bring it to the table with the warm corn tortillas and all the condiments for everyone to make delicious tacos.



    1. Agree so good. One piece of advice. Serve right away so the fish stays crunchy. Let it sit to long it becomes soggy instead of crispy. But pretty damn good overall.

  1. OMG! I loved these tacos!!! I substituted the sour cream/whipping cream with greek yogurt. You have to eat it with the chile arbol salsa and cream & mayo dressing.

    1. This recipe is spot on!! I grew up in San Diego, CA and we’d go south of the boarder to Ensenada, BC all the time. Be sure to make lots of salsa roja to spice up the fish tacos.

  2. I have made this successfully twice and I have had troubles twice. My trouble is the batter comes off in little tiny pieces while I am frying. The first time I decided my fish was slightly frozen. The second time my fish was not too cold and was patted dry. Now I have no idea why my batter came off…and the way the batter comes off while frying is the same both times….little tiny pieces (almost drop like) of batter. Any thoughts? Very frustrating.

    1. My only thought is that your oil may not be hot enough. Are you using a thermometer to make sure that your oil is the correct temperature?

    2. Don’t add too much water or beer that’s ybit don’t stick to the fish and comes out during frying

    3. Almost certainly the cause for batter falling off the food is either: (1) wet surface {and you said you took care of that in the second attempt}, or (2) oil is not hot enough. I failed trying to make onion rings several times until I started using a thermometer for the oil. It’s gotta be at the right temperature or batter simple falls off instead of sealing as a continuous crust.

  3. This fish taco recipe is amazing. I think the voting button is faulty. I clicked to read reviews and it counted it as vote. I wonder how many others are voting 2.5 stars just by clicking on the stars thinking it is a link. I want to take back my click and give it 5 stars!

  4. These fish tacos are absolutely Amazing!!! Better than any fish taco from any restaurant in Texas to California! I don’t think I will ever order another fish taco now that I have had the best! The batter is very light and crispy leaving the fish flaky. I do add a little lemon , pepper, Valentina, and a pinch of salt to flavor the white sauce and it is wonderful! Rave reviews from our entire family and friends!

  5. These are really good! I’ve made fish tacos before, but these came out so crunchy and flavorful. The hubby and kids loved them.

  6. The recipe is perfect! The tacos exceeded my expectations. My only wish is that i’d taken the time to make my own tortillas from masa. I used Alaskan halibut and rice bran oil to fry.

  7. Excellant Excellant…. fish tacos!!!! just like the ones in Ensenada , just a little red cabbage & raddishes sliced match stick type for color California Bomberos

    1. I’ve used everything from light beer to dark Modelo… but I prefer a meduim bodied lager for this recipe.

  8. Great recipe, very authentic. Chile sauce was good. May add garlic next time to the white sauce and a little spice, but was still good!

  9. This is some sort of wild kitchen alchemy. Smashing garlic and salt together, then adding mustard and oregano…then black pepper and chicken bouillon…WHAT!?! Who ever decided to combine these flavors? Yet magically it becomes the BEST BATTER EVER; these flavors combining to become a whole far beyond the sum of its parts.

    I omit the beer and use gluten free AP flour, and get terrific results. Trader Joe’s has cod ‘bits’ in the freezer section, and these work very well for little bites. I also use bagged slaw with the dole sauce packet instead of napa and cream sauce. Heresy, perhaps, but with a squeeze of lime, a spoonful of salsa and a little fresh cilantro, wrapped in a soft corn tortilla, our family devours them.

    Thank you, Rick, for another amazing recipe that has become a family favorite.

  10. This looks amazing and I have to try it out. Looks like some fine Game Day eating. My only problem is the chicken bullion cubes. I’m on a low salt diet and these puppies are normally way over the limit. However I’ve found some good quality low sodium chicken broth. Could I use that without harming the recipe ? TIA for your help !

    1. Hey Bruce-Great question! What I would do is just add some salt and pepper in place of the bullion cubes. The purpose of the bullion cubes is to add flavor and you can get the same flavor with some salt and pepper. I would add as much as you would like based on your diet, and enjoy! Good Luck!

  11. I’m not a batter guy (trying to watch the carbs and fats). I suppose it would be easy to grill the fish….what would you recommend Rick?

    1. Hi Ted, You could absolutely use grilled fish instead of fried fish. I would spray the fish with a little olive oil and sprinkle each side of the fish with salt and pepper. Good Luck!

  12. Use a Mexican beer for these tacos they all l have a different taste base on your beer choice, I like to split the batter before adding the beer I use Corona Extra for half and Modelo Dark for the other half we make these after a long day of surfing , also these are not Ensenada fish tacos unless you fry them.

  13. These tacos look simple but don’t be fooled, they have awesome flavor. I made mine with tilapia and Modelo and served them with Cholula. The only thing I did differently from the recipe was to use flour tortillas instead of corn.

  14. Lisa, any recommendations for a gluten free flour? It’s not a choice for me. We have a place between Rosarito & Ensenada. I so miss eating fried fish tacos & fish and chips! Thank you in advance!

    1. The gluten free flour I love is the Bob’s red mill 1 to 1, it come in a blue bag. I personally use it and it turns out really well, just substitute this for the flour in our recipe. Let me know how it come out!

  15. Going to take this recipe on my upcoming Baja surf trip…the batter and sauce sound great! I will catch the fish fresh from the Pacific. How can I lose?? Thank you Señor Bayless!

  16. We just made them yesterday and religiously followed the recipe step by step. Wow! My whole family loved it. It’s really amazing. I used catfish and Sol beer for the batter and the flavor was definitely high end restaurant quality. I’m going to use the same batter recipe for shrimp in the near future. Thank you very much Team Bayless for putting this and all these great recipes together for us. It’s very much appreciated.

  17. I would visit Ensenada often in the 70’s and 80’s and the cali-mex fusion of taco styles of today has been amazing, but I still think its all about the batter and I have a simple recipe that I received from a street vendor – They would use Talapia fish, slice into strips, almost room temp, place strips into luke warm saltwater for 10 min (it cleans the fish). The batter, mix in a bowl Bisquick, Corona beer, mexican oregano, mustard, pepper. Place the fish in the batter and marinate for at least 2 hrs. Cabbage, salsa, guacamole, mayo and splash of lime.

  18. I lived in Baja for many years. The best fish tacos I ever ate were in Loreta. We arrived at my friend’s Uncle’s home around 11 am and all the men were still out fishing. They soon arrived and his Aunts prepared the fish and the batter. The batter was pretty simple… flour, salt, pepper, beer (they sometimes use Sprite or just plain water too. I saw them use garlic too and some friends used garlic powder. But it was the oregano that was the game changer. They used fresh Mexican oregano. I learned after that is almost always used by Baja families making fish tacos. Mild Mexican beers are better than IPA’s which can make the batter bitter. I never saw anyone use mustard, but I’m going to give it a try. I love that Rick Bayless’s recipes are always very true to Mexico. I lived in Veracruz for years also and his recipes ring true there too.

  19. I live in La Paz, BCS. While I prep my Taco differently than a single piece of fish, Rick’s batter recipe is my #1 favorite of all time (although I double the mustard). It’s so amazing for battering up & frying cheese stuffed jalapeños, fish, pulpo, shrimp & onion rings….. then chop it all up, mix & throw that into a warm tortilla w/ rick’s slaw & cream sauce!

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