The Thrilla In Tortilla

By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Brevin Blach

Just like during Muhammad Ali's epic battle with Smokin' Joe Frazier for the heavyweight boxing championship in Manila in October 1975*, the restaurants duking it out at this year's "Best of the Beach Fish Taco Challenge" pulled no punches. And just like Ali, Pacific Beach Fish Shop won its October battle by TKO in the final round.

The contest, part of the annual Pacific Beach Fest, drew 750 consumers who paid $6 each to sample the almighty invention from six neighborhood eateries. Amid groundswells of cabbage and white sauce, most patrons voted for their favorites on paper ballots. When the votes were tallied, Fish Shop's chef, Juan Munoz, returned home with bragging rights, beating out the reigning three-year champs from Sandbar Sports Grill.

Munoz's mahi taco also triumphed in 2011 at the "technical knock-out" challenge at the Gourmet Experience expo at Del Mar Fairgrounds, where it earned the title "TKO taco."

So why all the fanfare?

The mahi is seasoned with a Cajun dry-rub and lemon butter before hitting the charbroiler. It's then tucked into corn tortillas with cilantro white sauce, shredded cabbage and Jack and cheddar cheeses. But the biggest enticement for many is the minted tropical fruit salsa comprising fresh mangos, pineapples and papayas. And in pure SoCal style, the whole thing is crowned with sliced avocado.

"People love the sweet and spicy interplay of the salsa and fish," says Fish Shop's general manager Larry Alva, pointing out the freshfish eatery celebrates its third anniversary in November.

Sandbar Sports Grill took Second Place, followed by PB Shore Club. Also competing were Cabo/PB Cantina, Oscar's Mexican Seafood and Pacific Beach Alehouse.

As for who will win next year's rematch is anyone's guess. But the off-season training promises to be delicious... and isn't likely to get anyone down to fighting weight.

Pacific Beach Fish Shop
1775 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach
858.483.4746, thefishshoppb.com

*Predicted by a bragging Muhammad Ali to be a "Killa and thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manila," Ali-Frazier III (aka "The Thrilla in Manila") is considered among fight fans to be one of the best and most exciting professional boxing matches of all time.

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