PICTURED: Strawberry lime agua fresca and horchata — two delicious and refreshing beverages handmade at Baja Bay Surf N Taco. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Baja Bay Surf N Taco
1567 Spinnaker Drive, #104, Ventura Harbor
Full disclosure: I never ate at Surf N Taco in Ventura Harbor back in the day. Always noticed the sign, shaped like a surfboard, and heard good things, but somehow found myself gravitating towards the harbor’s other offerings . . . many of which face the water and not the parking lot. When word got out that the joint, now called Baja Bay Surf N Taco, had reopened under new ownership, I figured it was time to finally check it out.
I’ve been here about four times since then, because it is a fantastic spot for fish tacos and more, and I just can’t seem to stay away.
Co-owners Rick and Christina Magana are joined by several family members to fry, grill, fold and stack the freshest ingredients into mouthwatering fare cooked in the style of their family’s native Ensenada. The recipes are based on those of an older generation, coming from the creative mind and skilled hands of a Magana matriarch who once worked in a fish factory in Baja. With that kind of heritage, seafood is the main attraction here, but the menu offers some land and sea items as well.
The colorful interior is warm and welcoming: Wall murals with mermaids and flamenco dancers, papel picado (perforated paper) and ocean-inspired decorations abound. Several people — presumably various members of the Magana family — can usually be seen bustling about in the small kitchen. Only a few tables can be found inside, but the patio outside has lots of shade.
The menu board above the register displays tacos, burritos, sopes, enchiladas, salads and fish and chips that can be ordered with your choice of halibut, shark, shrimp, chicken or carne asade. Large containers of agua fresca and horchata stand on the counter. Baja Bay emphasizes locally sourced ingredients, and thus the agua fresca flavors change frequently, based on what’s in season. All are delicious and refreshing; my personal favorite is the watermelon.
Based on the name, it will not be surprising to learn that the fish tacos are one of the best things this eatery offers. Whether you’re biting into a light and crisp batter or a perfectly seasoned and grilled fish filet, the taste is fantastic, enhanced by lovely green salsa, crisp cabbage and a squirt of spicy crema. Grilled shrimp makes for an especially appetizing burrito, although I think the battered and fried shrimp is better as a taco. You can add house-made salsas in a variety of flavors to customize the spice level of any dish.
Combination plates include beans and rice, and these are a bit different from the usual Mexican sides. The beans are the white Peruvian (Mayocoba) variety, cooked to a buttery tenderness and served whole, not mashed. Very mild; I definitely prefer the more robust flavor of traditional refried pintos. The rice is likewise delicately seasoned. On their own, neither will hit you over the head with flavor, to be honest. Yet somehow, when presented in a burrito with more assertive fillings, they combine to make a very satisfying meal.
As for the chicken and beef options, I like the chicken tacos (made with shredded thigh meat) just fine, especially when juiced up with lime and salsa. But the carne asada is far superior, particularly as a burrito . . . and Baja Bay does not skimp on the meat.
There are many great dining options at Ventura Harbor. But even with such stiff competition, the Maganas have made Baja Bay Surf N Taco a destination in its own right. What it lacks in view and variety it more than makes up for in flavor, quality and spirit, and its fish tacos in particular stand among the area’s best. I’m hooked!