Spoiler: All the tacos were pretty awesome, so no real winner or loser, but there are some pros and cons in my opinion
Up until last month when I turned vegetarian, I was a "pescatarian" for over 10 years and the fish taco was my go-to dish at any Mexican taqueria. I'll probably eventually do a post about the best Veggie Burrito in Oakland-Alameda, but for now I'll give you my opinion on the $5 Fish Tacos on Alameda, CA.
Calafia Taqueria is likely the most popular taqueria style mexican restaurant on Alameda Island. To be honest, I'm super surprised that they have a 3.5 Star Yelp review after 466 reviews. There are so many great things about this location, including the outdoor back patio, salsa bar, private function room, and newly launched dessert cart.
The baja style fish taco, which is actually $3.50, is a straight forward fish taco that holds its own. Because of the open salsa bar, there is no signature creme sauce like some of its competitors, which can either be a pro or con depending on your preference. The fish is well battered and fried, the slaw is fresh, and served on street style corn tortilla, which I generally prefer. The presentation could probably improve for "the gram," but that's obviously not too important when it comes down to it.
Cholita Linda is located on the much more crowded Park St., which can be a bit of a negative for someone who likes easy parking. When you also consider that Alameda High School has open campus for lunch, it can makes coming here for lunch a bit of a hassle. The interior is brand new and has great natural lighting that makes the space feel inviting.
The fish taco at Cholita Linda is also priced at $3.50 and feels like the smallest of those available on Alameda Island, but at the same time it's also probably one of the best. Unlike Calafia Taqueria, Cholita Linda add their own signature creme and salsa. In addition to the slaw, every fish taco is presented with a slice of radish. It's presented beautifully and it really tastes as good as it looks. I'm not sure what it is, but there is a sense of freshness to it, despite the fact that it's a deep fried piece of fish, which goes to show how great this taco is.
El Caballo Wraps
El Caballo Wraps is literally a block and a half from where we live and if it wasn't for our lack of finances we'd probably take out at least once a week. I'm not Mexican, so there is no way I could every qualify a taqueria as being "legit," but I do know that this place is actually frequented by spanish speakers. Every lunch, you can see "roughnecks," not the oil version, chowing down on one of El Caballo's hearty soups.
El Caballo's fish taco is quiet different than the other on the island. First, they're pan frying a large piece of seasoned fish, possibly tilapia. At about $5/taco it's one the most expensive on the island, but you're also get a half of tilapia fillet, guacamole, pico de gallo, and their signature sauce served on usually a flour tortilla. It's arguably a better deal than the $3.50 tacos because for an extra $1.50 your getting a lot more.
If you asked me if I prefer Cholita Linda to El Caballo Wraps, then I would say it just depends on your mood. They are truly two different types of tacos, seemingly occupying their own niche. But, honestly, I hold the fish taco at El Caballo Wraps in high regards.
On a side note, the salsa verde at El Caballo Wraps is also the best, bar none. Up until recently, my wife and I actually used to order just fresh chips and salsa verde to bring back home. The only reason we stopped is because it is a bit pricey and we're trying to eat a bit more healthy, though salsa, other than the salt, is actually a pretty healthy dish.
La Penca Azul Taco Bar
I don't really know a lot of people, almost none to be honest, but my one Mexican-American friend said that La Penca Azul Taco Bar was "mediocre at best." Yes, that's as harsh as it gets, but with 4.5 stars on Yelp after 143 reviews, I had to see for myself.
I have to respectfully disagree with my friend. While I understand that he's not a fan of non-authentic Mexican food, taking for what it is, Mexi-Cali food, I think this place is great.
La Penca Azul Taco Bar stands out for a variety of reasons. One is the freshly made corn tortillas. That is pretty rare for any place I've been. Additionally, other than for fish tacos, you can stack up tacos with all types of toppings until it basically becomes sort of a taco salad. With a side of free chips, it becomes an incredibly affordable meal.
I believe there are actually two types of fish tacos. I opted for the baja style with mango slaw, salsa verde, and served on their handmade corn tortilla. With the corn tortilla and mango slaw, it really separates itself well from the very formidable Cholita Linda Fish Taco, which is only two blocks away. With the complimentary side of chips, which you have to ask for, it becomes a much better bargain than Cholita Linda.
Despite how much I enjoy Cholita Linda, I actually would go to La Penca Azul Taco Bar more often because it's a slightly more affordable meal. Also, even though it's just two blocks away, this part of Park St. is actually much easier to find parking.
Taqueria Viva Mexico
I'm not going to lie, I love the plate that Taqueria Viva Mexico serves their fish taco on. I know, it's a bit corny and they're not in the best shape, but it's fun. Located right next to Alameda Theatre & Cineplex, as well as Alameda High School, Taqueria Viva Mexico is fairly popular and parking can be a bit of a struggle with such a prime location. The interior does feel a bit tired right now and probably could do with a renovation soon enough, but there is bit of charm to it and it seems to be a good spots for the high school students.
The fish taco at Taqueria Viva Mexico is closer in style to El Caballo Wraps. The fish is either pan fried or deep-fried without a batter, but rather coated in a really nice spice rub. Honestly, the spice rub is really the saving grace to a fairly simple fish taco. It's topped with iceberg lettuce, the house pico de gallo, and served on flour tortillas.
I believe the price is around $4.00 and unfortunately it's a bit in the middle of the pack. I certainly enjoyed it, but with Cholita Linda and La Penca Azul Taco Bar so close by, it's a bit difficult to see the pros of choosing the fish taco at Taqueria Viva Mexico over its competitors at the price.