Friday, December 01, 2006

Getting It Done: Tacos Baja Ensenada, East L.A.

Being as much of a scatterbrain multitasker as I am, I pretty much rely on the To-Do List to organize everything that's going on in my life, both professionally and personally. For example, my pre-weekend planning routine always consists of a list, jotted down in the little notebook that I always keep in my purse, that somehow never deviates much from the following:

1. Go to Trader Joes
2. Go to 99 Ranch
3. Go to California Market
4. Go to Target
5. Go to Costco
6. Clean
7. Do laundry
8. Figure out what to eat

And then within each of those tasks lies a sublist of things I need to get or do. You get the picture. Pretty boring, huh?

So it comes as no surprise then, that when I recently gave notice with my
old employer, I made a list of things I had to get done before never again setting foot in that cubicle rat maze located smack dab in the middle of the industrial wasteland better known as Commerce.


1. Clean out desk
2. Check for and delete any personal files on hard drive
3. Get contact info for people that I actually care to keep in contact with
4. Review final paycheck and be sure they did not short change me on any vacation payout
5. Make any final purchases using employee discount
6. Leave folder full of blank
TPS reports in drawer as a surprise for my replacement, whoever he/she is
7. Go to Tacos Baja Ensenada

There haven't been all that many eateries that were on my Absolutely-Need-To-Try-While- Working-In-Commerce list; in fact,
most of them were in Monterey Park, an area which, albeit close to Commerce, is an area I go to often and is not considered a city that I wouldn't really have reason to visit except to go to the Le Creuset outlet at the Citadel. Tacos Baja Ensenada in nearby East L.A., however, was an obvious exception. With only five days to go, I made it a point to cross this task off my Exit To-Do list no matter what it took. I checked Outlook to pick a day in which I had no torturously close-to-lunchtime meetings scheduled, hopped in the car by myself (yes, I'm an old pro at that now) with a Google Maps printout in hand, and went towards Whittier Blvd. in search of what are considered the best Baja-style tacos in L.A.

With its bright lime green exterior, Tacos Baja Ensenada is not hard to spot at all. Arriving before the lunch rush, I was lucky to not have to wait in line to order and snag one of the tiled tables in TBE's long, spare, but bright and clean interior. As I waited for my tacos, I helped myself to condiments at the restaurant's colorful condiment bar: lime wedges, sliced radishes, and a couple of peppers that drew me in with their cool color scheme of chartreuse speckled with reddish-orange. I watched as one of the restaurant's employees selected and scooped fresh seafood from a small counter bar to make freshly prepared ceviche and cocteles--apparently popular menu items at TBE--and made a mental note that I must try one of these the next time I come out this way.

skittles has nothing on these guys...just look at all those colors!

seems like it's always happy at this ceviche bar

This time, I stuck with what TBE is best known for...two Baja-style fish tacos and a shrimp taco were just fine for my lunchtime appetite that day. Upon first bite into a taco, I could already see why people love this place. In fact, let's go back to what I preach is my main criteria for judging a good taco. No, it's not that it just tastes good. It's that
a good taco has to be a team effort of all its parts, and TBE certainly trains its team members well. You've got the battered fried fish which is fried to the perfect golden brown and that somehow remains crispy, even when paired with the taco's wet ingredients: the perfect amount (meaning not so little that it's almost dry and not so much that it's dripping) of refreshing, slightly tangy crema, and juicy diced tomatoes. Shredded cabbage adds another angle of cool and crisp, and finally, a couple of warm fluffy corn tortillas wrap the whole thing up into a coherent package. The entire experience is a team effort of different flavors and textures--no fighting, no disagreement--now isn't that nice? The shrimp taco was a little different in that the fried popcorn-style shrimp added a bit more of a crunchy dimension to the taco, but was the same in that these taco parts also worked in perfect harmony with each other. The condiments that I'd picked up were also highly complimentary to the cause--a few squirts of lime juice are essential on any fish taco, sliced radishes add even more refreshing crunch, and eaten in moderation, the vinegary peppers were spicy enough to clear my sinuses, but not so much that they overpowered the meal. Too bad I had to go back to work, because a cold beer would have been the only other thing needed to make this meal perfect. Oh man.

there is no "i" in team, nor in TBE

DG picked a pack of pickled...

As I was inside TBE, a car happened to careen into a fire hydrant and cause quite a bit of a disruption and traffic getting out of the restaurant's parking lot and back onto the main street.

Normally, I would have started to stress out a little over getting back to the office late, but I would be leaving in just a couple days. I therefore added #8 to my Last-Days-At-The-Office To-Do List:

8. Saunter back into the office late without a care in the world...your days are numbered and your belly is happy and full, so who cares?

Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 887-1980


Chubbypanda said...

Hurray! Taco bliss after all your Hawaiian trials and tribulations. You've earned it.

- Chubbypanda

Christine D. said...

Wow, those tacos must be something! You were practically at peace with them. I got a really laid back vibe from this post, even though it has to-do lists and an of control car in it.

Colleen Cuisine said...

oh dang. I am seriously salivating over that description... I can practically taste it all!
so did you discuss the tacos in your exit interview?

Kirk said...

Hi DG - A "real" taco after returning from Maui..LOL! You really are organized. I admire people who are so very organized....

elmomonster said...

LOL on leaving a pile of blank TPS reports for your replacement. Haven't tried TBE, but dang does that sound awesome!

Daily Gluttony said...


Oh I know! Some of those Hawaiian taco peeps can use a lesson from these guys!


It was so funny that from the moment I gave notice, things I would normally stress out about with that company went right out the door.


No, but I should have! LOL!


I'm not really all that organized...that's why I have to keep making crazy to do lists!


I left the link for the TPS reports--I suggest you do the same if you ever leave your current job.

One Food Guy said...

I love tacos. They are a very important part of the day. Best tacos I ever had were in Mexico, go figure.

Jeni said...

DG...I'm all about lists. I've got a small notebook, I call it my "brain", that I carry around everywhere. My life is a constant list of things to do. Baaaah~! Anyways, feel free to bring some Tacos BE for dessert on Friday. Jk. See you Fri!

Anonymous said...

..My friends and I are putting together a cooking magazine, I like your funny comments and the article you've written on your website. I would like to reprint everything you've done..and maybe if you have the time I would like to see if you might want to write more for our college magazine? I don't have much money, but I would love to have you write for the magazine!
-Jed Williston

Anonymous said...


A few years ago I happened to stumble upon TBE on our way back from getting conchas a couple of blocks down on Whittier with my wife who has roots in that neighborhood. At the first bite I was hooked- I have been back at least 30 times (from Hollywood, no less!) This was before NYT mentioned them, etc. I still think they are the best fish tacos in LA, and I am very glad you got to try them finally.

We have enjoyed your blog for a while, we are LA foodies too. Eventually our paths will cross, I assume. Maybe in line at Portos for a medianoche sandwich? It could happen.

-Lars (and Morgan)

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