Fish Tacos Rule!

The paper I work for is having me do an anonymous restaurant review and I am using this opportunity to be as subversive and silly as possible without blowing my cover. As is most likely painfully evident by now I am not a journalist, have no formal training as a writer, but the powers that be felt it needed to happen. They wanted something different from the tired format.  So here it is, as it will publish, on April 7th. It has not been edited yet. God help us all.

Ah, the dreaded fish taco. The very mention of which causes folks from the east coast to stick out their tongues, shake their heads and make ewwwwing noises under their breath. Getting someone who’s originally from that part of the country to try even a tiny bite of a fish taco, well…you might as well ask them to eat monkey brain and wash it down with a warm glass of buttermilk.* I’m here to tell you that it’s all good, that fish tacos are delicious and that I have found a local restaurant in Shingle Springs that does them up right and true. That place is Joanie’s Café  & Grill located at 4064 Motherload Drive (530-672-1904).

Contrary to the rumor that two surfing gringos from San Diego invented this delicacy while on a quest down in Baja for the perfect tube, there is compelling evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley Of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish. Instead of beans and rice their accoutrements of choice were mashed tree beetles and hashish.

I have been yearning for authentic fish tacos for almost a decade since moving North from San Diego in early 2002, so when a friend mentioned to me that there was a place in Cameron Park that served “The Best Fish Tacos In The World” I remained skeptical. But last Friday I was hungry and decided to give it a try. I brought along a friend (one of them East Coaster’s I was talking about) by the name of Rook (not sure if that’s his real name or not, actually—maybe his parents were really into chess) and we jumped in the car and headed to CP.

The first thing that hits you as you walk through the door to is the immense amount of Americana. It’s everywhere. Like Uncle Sam blew up in there. But it is tastefully done and adds to the ambiance of the place, making me feel comfortable instantly. Our server seats us at our table and we’re off to the races. The lunch menu is huge, with the usual fare of sandwiches, burgers and salads dominating, but there is a variety of interesting not-so-usual choices as well and all look delicious.

But that’s for another time. I’m here on a mission for a decent fish taco and no menu item, no matter how succulent or delicious it may sound, will deter me from my goal! Rook decides to order a BLT with a side of fresh fruit.

Our server is attentive but respectful of our space, a rare and unique thing for a restaurant as popular as Joanie’s. When I order my fish taco platter he asks me if I would like hot or mild sauce. Considering that I had a 31/2-hour drive ahead of me I chose the mild.

Rook’s sandwich came first and I immediately asked him, “Is the bacon warm?”, because to me that is the sign of a good BLT. Cold bacon? Ewwwww, I’d rather eat monkey brains. Rook bit in and nodded in the affirmative that the bacon was indeed warm and by the look on his face and they way he devoured the sandwich I assume it was to his liking.

My fish tacos arrive and there in front of me are three corn (a must!) tortillas filled to the rim with fried fish goodness just waiting for me to dig in. Which I do with gusto, each bite tasting more flavorful from the last until I look down and discover, to my horror, that all that’s left on my plate are beans and a few spoonfuls of rice. The fish was crunchy on the outside, not greasy, and flaky and juicy on the inside.

Fish tacos aren’t complicated. As a matter of fact it’s their simplicity that makes them so special in my humble opinion, and Joanie’s Café & Grill offers up some of the best I have had in a very long time.

As we were walking out, a couple seated next to us were just getting started. The man looks at the woman and says, “What are you going to have?” She looks up from her menu and exclaims, “I think I’ll have the fish tacos.”

*No monkeys or folks from the east coast were harmed during the writing of this review.