Taco Nazo: OC's LA Fish Taco Cousin

It's fitting that Taco Nazo is all the way up in La Habra, off the second-to-last intersection in Orange County before we turn into Whittier, because its DNA is far more LA than OC. It's part of a legendary San Gabriel Valley chain, one that makes fish tacos that usually make anyone's list of the five best fish tacos in Los Angeles County. The restaurant's layout—expansive, painted bright blue, with ordering at the counter and your food announced to everyone via tinny speakers—is straight out of Whittier Boulevard (which, incidentally enough, begins just a couple of blocks away in Brea). The Marco Antonio Solís crooning on the speakers would never pass muster at a SanTana dive. And nothing against La Habra, Seal Beach or Los Alamitos, but Taco Nazo's 562 area code fundamentally makes it an alien in our strange land.

The hype is largely right about Taco Nazo's main dish: the fish taco is fluffy crunch at its most ethereal, the fish encased in clouds of golden batter, the flesh buttery and silky, the stream of crema slightly sour, slightly spicy, as refreshing as their agua de piña, and what ties everything together. Even better are the shrimp tacos, a colony of them smushed together and encased in that wondrous batter. And I actually think the best thing Taco Nazo sells are the fish and shrimp tortas, the bold flavors of their stars expanded upon a hefty bolillo—after eating through one of these behemoths, you're almost tempted to leave the fish taco cult altogether just to worship this god.

So my reservations about Taco Nazo? Their house salsas are forgettable. The serving of fish or shrimp, while generous, overwhelms the small, factory-made tortillas—and those tortillas taste more like GRUMA than anything Mexican. The options of meat tacos and combo plates, while necessary to ensure a gabacho clientele, ultimately distract. The ceviche and cocteles are so-so. I'm not going to argue with a company older than me, but people should stick to the fish and shrimp tacos and tortas at Taco Nazo, and leave the rest of the menu for pendejos. But its LA ways are more than welcome, especially their roasted chile güero, a marvel of botany simply dressed in salt and pepper, something so stupendous you'll eat it to its stem and think of swallowing that, too. The first one is free; any more will cost you—but you didn't drive all the way up Beach or across all of North County just for one, you know?


Taco Nazo 121 S. Beach Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-8078; www.taconazo.com.



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