Yahoo for Wahoos
Photo by Keith MayWhile it's not exactly as unethical as the journalistic blowjob the Los Angeles Times Magazine famously gave the Staples Center, a Weekly food review of Wahoo's Fish Taco presents a combo-plate's worth of conflicts of interest. Full-color—cha-ching!—Wahoo's ads often grace these pages. Just about every Weekly party I've been to has been catered by Wahoo's. Wing Lam, the Costa Mesa-based chain's co-founder, was among those who filled the lobby of our office for our recently departed advertising director's going-away party.
Yes, for those reasons and others, it's probably a good idea that we have never run a full-length review of Wahoo's, which has been mentioned in various "Best of OC" issues and other special compilations. The thought of writing about Wahoo's causes the same hairs on the back of my neck to stand up as the ones that have on those one or two occasions when a new Weekly advertising salesperson has suggested I do a story on his or her client. A Weekly advertising salesperson suggesting his or her client for a story always brings the same response from me: no matter how worthy, there is no way I will ever write about that client.
But, fuck me, Wahoo's makes the best fish taco. Ever. End of story.
Oops. I've got to write more stuff to wrap around all the ads on this page.
I'm sure the chicken burritos and carne asada and Maui bowls are culinary masterpieces at Wahoo's. I'm sure, but I don't really know because I've never had any of them, and I never will. Wahoo's is one of those places where you find your plate and keep ordering it every time you go in. Why? Because, dumb shit, no matter how good that other dish is, you'll be thinking the whole time that you could have had the usual.
For me, that would be the No. 2 combination: two fish tacos (I get 'em blackened), rice, beans and salsa. You get a choice between black beans and some other colored beans. I got the other colored beans once. No more. The other beans were fine, but damn it (I kept thinking), I could have had the black beans.
Speaking of habits, a Wahoo's is a Wahoo's is a Wahoo's no matter which of the 14 (and multiplying) locations you happen upon. But to truly appreciate Wahoo's, you must go to the original, on Placentia Avenue just south of 19th Street in the, uh, neglected side of Costa Mesa. The ramshackle single-family home has been converted into a restaurant. You're close enough to the beach to catch a whiff of the salt in the air, but mixed in with that are the fumes from God knows what the area's mixed light-industrial companies are pumping out. Mix in some dripping-wet board shorts, surf stickers covering every inch of window space, and the sight of recent immigrants dodging cars as they head across the street to the outdated shopping center, and you're in the proper frame of mind for Wahoo's cheap and healthy grinds.
On their own, there's nothing really special or exotic about the items on the two-taco combo plate. The black beans taste like black beans. The steamed white rice is lightly topped with mild, fresh salsa. The catch-of-the-day fish inside the tacos is grilled (or slathered with spices and blackened, if you like them like I do). The corn tortillas wrapped around the fish are soft, warm and homemade—not deep-fried. The shredded cabbage in the taco is mostly tasteless, but you get a hint of flavor from a pinch of grated Cheddar cheese. The accompanying salsa is chunky but also watery enough so you don't have to worry about choking on your taco. You also get lemon slices to squeeze onto your tacos, if that's what you're into. Freak.
Like I said, basic. But taken all together, something magical happens. People have told me about other fish-taco places around OC that they believe are better than Wahoo's. Invariably, each serves battered fish. Hell, anyone can put a Mrs. Paul's Fish Stick in a tortilla and call it a fish taco—and call me a stomach pump. I take one bite of those abominations and wish I was back on the neglected side of Costa Mesa, washing down my No. 2 combo plate with a ice-cold Sol cerveza.
Wahoo's Fish Taco, located at 1862 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, is open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (949) 631-3433. No. 2, $5.33, food only. Beer AND WINE. MC and Visa accepted. Also 13 other locations in Orange County, Los Angeles County and freaking Colorado—and don't think we haven't considered driving out there for the No. 2—with four more on the way.
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