Monday, 8 April 2013 | 18 comments

Sea of Cortez to the Pacific (+ fish taco primer)

“it would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be loved without satiety.”
― John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez
When my sister and I told people we were going to Baja, Mexico on vacation, their response was pretty standard: Two women, alone?! Drugs! Cartels! Crime! Which is hardly fair, but it did somehow color my expectations. Instead, we found some of the most beautiful, varied landscapes we had ever seen; warm, helpful locals; and not one bad meal.We took a bus to the border, crossed at Mexicali, rented a car, and headed south along the coast of the Sea of Cortez. (The fact that I can now actually write that sentence means that I must have enough material to write at least a couple folk or country western songs, right?) Baja packs a lot of diversity into a narrow peninsula. Along the Sea of Cortez, you’ll get sort of a dusty, beach bum vibe—in San Felipe, we camped on the beach next to a guy from British Columbia who had been there since November—with calmer waters, gorgeous sunrises over the water, and campy little resort towns dotting the coast. Crossing inland, you pass through stark desert, then unforgiving mountains with sharply curving roads, and then descend into lush valleys with vineyards, cattle ranchers, and flower farms. Arriving at the other side of the peninsula on the Pacific coast, you’re greeted by rocky bluffs that overlook the ocean, fishing villages, and misty mornings. Fish tacos are sort of the consummate Baja food that have grown increasingly popular stateside in recent years—I’ve noticed them on a lot of menus. I’m well on track to being a lot pickier about them after our trip through Baja, where the fish was fresh and the tacos were always served with the perfect accompaniments. One of the first things I did when I got home was re-create them for dinner one night. They’re really good, but not exactly the same—it’s hard to beat tacos served on the beach—but if you have some Pacifico alongside, you can pretend.

Fish tacos

You’ll need

  1. For the fish:
  2. Firm fleshed white fish filets (I used mahi mahi)
  3. Olive oil
  4. Fresh lime juice
  5. Salt
  6. For assembly:
  7. Green cabbage, shredded
  8. Cider vinegar
  9. Corn tortillas
  10. Limes
  11. Chopped cilantro
  12. Kosher salt
  13. Hot sauce
  14. Red onion, thinly sliced
  15. Queso fresco, crumbled


  1. Rinse and pat dry the fish. Place it on a plate and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice over the top. Set aside for a few minutes and allow to come to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, toss the green cabbage with a few pinches of salt and several tablespoonfuls of cider vinegar. Set aside to macerate.
  3. Prepare your corn tortillas the way you like them – steamed in a basket over simmering water or, the way I like to do it, griddled on hot cast iron til they brown a bit. Stack the tortillas on a plate and drape with a clean, damp dish towel.
  4. Prepare a grill, grill pan, or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When it has reached the desired temperature, place the fish, skin side down, on the grill or pan and cover. Cook for five minutes (less if you have a less meaty fish) without disturbing the filets. Check the fish–you’re looking for opacity of the flesh that reaches about 3/4 of the way through the thickness of the filet. When it has reached this point, flip it quickly, cook for about a minute more, plate it, and tent with aluminum foil. Let the fish rest for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Ease pieces of the fish from the skin, going with the grain, and place on corn tortillas. Assemble with toppings as desired. Eat with Mexican beer.

Last but not least, some quick housekeeping:
– I set up a Facebook page because a lot of people requested it. I reserve the right to not make it very pretty and only post to update when there are new posts, but here it is.
– Google Reader is going away this summer—Stats show that many of you read this site via Google Reader, so I would suggest starting to shift all your feeds to a different service.

\\ Photos 3,4,6,7,8,11 by my sister, L.

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§ 18 responses to Sea of Cortez to the Pacific (+ fish taco primer)

  • I want to go to there.

    Beautiful photos!

  • What a beautiful landscape! I do love a good fish taco, and even better if it’s on the beach with a cold cerveza!

  • Wow, it is so gorgeous there! Fish tacos on the beach sounds pretty perfect right about now.

  • What a great post – love all of it. I have had wonderful experiences in Mexico. Even the few mishaps make for great stories. Thank you for the photos, quote from Steinbeck,, and recipe!

  • am i reading that right – a bus from va to the border? cause daaang. even if not, that sounds like a pretty awesome trek.

  • What a wonderful post. I would have been too scared to go to Baja, with or without my sister, but after reading this I’m reconsidering, and I’m so close, too! Is that lavender growing in those fields?
    I do love a good fish taco, and your photo of the raw fish is my favorite.

  • Wow, what beautiful scenery. And such a special thing to go away with your sister.

  • More holiday snaps pleaseeeeeee!!!

  • WOW. Glorious.

  • Michelle

    Beautiful shots. Your words really take us there — thanks. I recently went to Colombia and encountered the same responses from people. Hopefully one day they, too, will be able to visit and enjoy these wonderful places for themselves.

  • What an amazing adventure. I’ve never been to Mexico but I loved travelling around South America and the incredible flavours and ingredients. Fish tacos are one of my favourite simple dishes to throw together but you’re right – the fish has to be perfect!

  • Patricia

    A wonderful post. Looks and sounds like you and your sister had a great adventure. The scenery is beautiful. I’ve never had fish tacos but your recipe sounds quite simple. I’ll pick up some fish this week and give it a try.

  • Beautiful photos – if only I had a sister to take such a trip with…
    I too LOVE fish tacos – I can’t get enough, but your right, there’s nothing like fish tacos on a beach (a far-away one) with good friends/family…and guacamole.

  • ooh a trip with your sister, how nice!! I love fish tacos but have never tried to recreate at home. Must do.

  • Fish tacos and Baja – two of my very, very favorite things. Such gorgeous shots, and the perfect simple taco recipe. I love how, in some of your photos, I can see the resemblance the area has to California – a beautiful reminder that there are geographic truths that sometimes defy political ones. Welcome home, and thanks for sharing ~ ~

  • Margit Van Schaick

    Your beautiful photos are so evocative of the essence of unspoiled beaches and interior places that in a moment, you took me back 40 years ago when I was in Alula, Somalia and exploring other places along the coast, during a school break as a Peace Corps teacher. I can feel the heat, the intense clarity of the light, and the caressing wind after dusk. You have a powerful gift, Sarah. Thank you—

  • Lovely photos! The tacos sound tasty too!!

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