In Mexico, tacos are generic, like sandwiches. Americans may expect flour tortillas stuffed with meat, salsa, shredded lettuce, cheese, and maybe a dollop of sour cream, but a true taco is defined only by its design. It requires a tortilla and a filling. The quality of the ingredients and the level of innovation and execution vary from taco truck to beach bar, but mucho creativity can be expressed via this hand-held treasure. The fish taco has become prevalent on menus all over town, proving to be a muy popular alternative to the traditional ground meat version.
Folly Beach. 11 Center St.
Citrus fish taco ($3.99)
Spiced yellowfin tuna taco ($4.99)
Surf's Up taco ($4.99)
Specializing in island-style seafood, Conch has a number of seafood tacos on their menu, including daily specials. The citrus fish taco is the best of the bunch. Featuring whitefish in a citrus marinade, it is complemented by pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and a tangy chipotle mayo that renders juice and piquancy to the last bite. The spiced yellowfin tuna taco takes advantage of a cooler cue. Creamy, thick chipotle sour cream and sliced green avocado in combination with seared, blackened bite-sized cubes of tuna, gives this taco a smoother consistency than its counterpart. But it'd be nothing without the pineapple relish. Adding a much-needed hint of tropical sweetness, it provides the pizzazz that brings the entire dish together. The Surf's Up Taco, a special on the day we visited, piled a generous amount of lightly fried baby squid within a flour tortilla. The crunch of the tender squid was kicked up with a sweet, fiery, and tart Asian chili sauce, a homemade blend blasting with the zest of orange, lemon, and lime.
Downtown. 221 Rutledge Ave.
Grilled mahi-mahi tacos with slaw, tomato-avocado salsa, and pineapple hot sauce ($10)
Grilled tuna tacos with green chili aioli and sweet corn relish ($11)
The intricate sweet and spicy homemade sauces give Fuel's tacos a bold personality. The grill-marked interior of the thin flour tortilla is wrapped around moist, perfectly prepared pieces of local fish topped with a relish of roasted red pepper and sweet corn, onion, and spices. The crushed pineapple hot sauce is just right, enhancing the flavor of the hunks of white mahi-mahi. Each taco comes garnished with a piece of parsley and a slice of lime for spritzing.
West Ashley. 15 Magnolia Drive
Tuna taco with Asian slaw and wasabi cream ($7)
Voodoo, the funky tiki bar/cocktail lounge in Avondale, puts a gourmet twist on their tacos. They stuff them with barbecue duck confit and bacon cheeseburger filling, but the half-off happy hour taco deal that runs from 4 to 7 p.m. every night, makes these tacos a steal. Voodoo's tuna tacos buzz the mouth with a variety of subtle but complex tastes. The crunchy Asian slaw balances the soft pink tuna, and a jolt of horseradish from the wasabi cream kicks up the heat.
Folly Beach. 15 Center St.
Grilled fish taco ($3.95)
Tuna taco ($3.95)
Beachgoers are guaranteed to find a fiesta at Taco Boy, a restaurant whose mascot is the matador of Americanized Mexican cuisine. Taco Boy uses corn tortillas to authentically double-wrap the fillings of their 11 different types of tacos. For the grilled fish taco, chipotle-marinated mahi-mahi is slathered in a lavish cilantro dijon sauce and topped with salsa cruda and mixed greens. The tuna taco is packed with long slices of seared ahi rubbed in hot, southwestern seasonings, julienned red peppers, and a crunchy cabbage slaw. The perfect complement to their spicy tacos is the original pineapple-infused tequila margarita, a concoction that marinates behind the bar.
Downtown. 86 Wentworth St.
Mt. Pleasant. 675 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.
Mahi-mahi taco ($8.19)
Shrimp taco ($8.19)
The irony of the taco is that the one thing that truly defines it is the most often taken for granted. As the envelope for all the other ingredients, the tortilla has to actually enhance the dish and bring the fillings together. Yo Burrito embodies this principle. Their tacos burst to the brim with glistening lettuce, juicy salsa, and fleshy fish and shrimp. While Yo Bo may have one of the more classic fish taco recipes in town, their two-an-order tacos are served in warm tortillas that admirably hold the weight of the bursting insides. Top them with a mixture of pineapple salsa and the jalapeño and onion relish that lies chilled over ice in their salsa station. Add a little guacamole and finish it off with a York Peppermint Pattie for dessert. You have finally made it to fish taco heaven.
Sullivan's Island. 2210 Middle St.
Citrus marinated mahi-mahi tacos with pineapple relish and chipotle sour cream (2 for $8 or 3 for $11)
Spiced yellowfin tuna tacos with pico de gallo and chipotle sour cream (2 for $9 or 3 for $12)
At Poe's, the focus is on the fish. While the mahi-mahi is topped with pico de gallo and the yellowfin with a pineapple relish, the doughy tortilla and chipotle sour cream on both tacos is no match for the overpowering flavor of the fish that lies inside. It is moist and fresh and makes you feel like you are just 100 yards away from the Atlantic Ocean, which at Poe's you actually are.