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Bowing out with a San Diego favorite — fish tacos

by Rebecca Milner

As a native of southern California, I have long lamented the dearth of good Mexican food in Japan. It’s too heavy to take off here, people say. To which I have to wonder, then why not fish tacos?

Fish tacos, stuffed with fluffy white fish and shredded cabbage and seasoned with lime, have none of the stick-to-your-ribs quality of, say, a bean and cheese burrito. You can’t tell me that fish and cabbage are not popular in Japan. Yet fish tacos are harder to find than carne asada (thin-sliced grilled beef) and carnitas (slow-cooked pork).

Fish tacos are native to Baja California, that long, skinny peninsula dangling off the west coast of Mexico. Since they crossed the border — sometime in the 1970s — they’ve also become the signature dish of California’s southernmost city, San Diego. These lands know no winter, so it is only natural that they’d produce a dish that is perfect for summer. And with this being my last A Taste of Home column and San Diego being my hometown, I was determined to find them.

I did, in the most unlikely of places — Antenna America (5F Yoshida Bldg. No. 6, 5-4 Yoshida-machi, Yokohama; 045-315-5228; www.antenna-america.com), which is essentially a beer showroom. Still, the tacos were surprisingly good: chunks of grilled cod tossed with fresh salsa, matchstick-thin strips of crunchy cabbage and a generous dusting of cilantro stuffed into a soft, warm tortilla. While downtown Yokohama is a far cry from the beach, Antenna America has a spacious if not rather utilitarian-looking terrace, which is also perfect for summer.

Yeah, I know, some of you are still stuck on the word “beer.” I chased my taco with an excellent IPA from San Diego’s Pizza Port Brewing Company that tasted of orange zest and pine. Antenna America is run by Nagano Trading, an importer of American craft beers, and much of its stock is from San Diego (which in the last decade has styled itself as the Napa Valley of beer). In addition to the rotating eight beers on tap, it has a whole wall of fridges stocked with bottles and bombers for in-house or at-home consumption. There is plenty from Stone Brewing, the San Diego brewery considered to be one of America’s best, at reasonable prices: 650 ml of Arrogant Bastard Ale for a cool ¥819, for example. Also represented: Ballast Point, Coronado, Green Flash and Karl Strauss.

The other exciting development in summer drinking, terraces and tacos is Haciendo del Cielo (9F Mansard Daikanyama, 10-1 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-5457-1521; www.modern-mexicano.jp/hacienda) This Mexican restaurant opened in 2011 and is still exceedingly popular. I’d say the food is average at best, though it does have fish tacos. Here they are done in the original Baja style — with fried fish (San Diego-style is grilled) — and smothered in tartar sauce and salsa. The restaurant also does ceviche (raw fish cured in lime), guacamole fresco (fresh avocado dip), quesadilla (tortilla folded over melted cheese) and other classic accompaniments for ice-cold Corona and margaritas.

But Haciendo’s real victory is its atmosphere. No typical ethnic eatery with sombreros tacked to the walls, Hacienda actually looks like a restaurant that could be fashionable in Mexico City, Southern California or anywhere — and it has succeeded in making Mexican food stylish in Tokyo. It has high ceilings, an over-the-top centerpiece chandelier (which looks like a glittering, coiled rattlesnake) and a big terrace with views over low-lying Daikanyama. It’s also exceedingly affordable, given the locale.

Haciendo del Cielo has a sister restaurant across town, Mucho Modern Mexicano (2F Tokia Bldg., 2-7-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 03-5218-2791; www.mucho-mexicano.jp). The menu is slightly different, and there’s no terrace, but the atmosphere is similarly glam.

Tokyo’s original stylish Cal-Mex joint is Junkadelic (4-10-4 Kami-Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; 03-5725-5020; www.junkadelic.jp). It does fish tacos as well: fried fish topped with veggies in a flour tortilla. I’m sure they were good (most things there are), but I don’t quite remember; Junkadelic has a long list of tequilas.


A healthier juice

Cold-pressed vegetable juice is just the sort of thing that health- and waistline-obsessed Southern California would dream up. A handful of new juice bars are betting it’s something Tokyoites will go for as well. Why Juice (13-8 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6416-5678; www.why-juice.me) opened just last month and has 10 different varieties made from organic veggies such as kale, beets, celery and carrot. There’s also Sky High (Aoyama TN Bldg., 2-3-4 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6427-2717; www.skyhigh-tokyo.jp), which has a bigger menu of fresh organic juices and smoothies, flavored with the likes of ginger, coriander and basil. There’s also an option to add extra super-foods, such as spirulina and flax seed. With prices hovering around the ¥1,000 mark, a 235-ml cup of juice will set you back at least the price of a plate of two tacos.

Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan. A Taste of Home returns with a new writer next month.