My favorite pop-up, guerilla gay bar is naturally in my adopted city's most fashionable neighborhood, home to what Our Hero has called "the most evolved shopping area in Los Angeles." This bar boasts enormous street cred since it was borne as an unlicensed taco cart, stationed on a sidewalk across from a bus stop at Santa Monica Boulevard's eastern terminus. Eventually the cart's popularity and the need to avoid pervasive MTA effluvia prompted a move into the sizable garden of bric-a-brac that is part of the nearby Mi Alma Collective. This gay bar, which goes by the name Ricky's Fish Tacos happens to make the best Baja-style fish taco in Los Angeles, even if the competition is less than vigorous.
The highly distinguished food blogger, Heinous—formerly of Brooklyn, currently of Sydney—was taken back when a promised taqueria greeted him not with urban grit, never mind a narcocorrido anthem, but with speakers blaring Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Through prior visits, Heinous became accustomed to the colorful shenanigans of East L.A.'s Tacos Baja Ensenada, which in a fit of immodesty, hung a sign proclaiming itself as the best restaurant in Los Angeles. He understood the mercurial ways of El Parian, with its prison cell-like, trompe l'oeil front door and a menu that expressly states that it "reserves the right to serve alcohol to anyone." (El Parian's decision to alter its carne asada recipe a few years ago remains a source of continuing frustration.)
Instead the bonhomous Ricky, with his signature straw hat, gave us a warm welcome while he lorded over the deep fryer, ever eagled-eyed in his weekend pursuit of preparing only the most flavorful fish and shrimp tacos. A perfectionist, Ricky makes his own batter and salsas. He heats the tortillas on a small griddle which, if my dated investigative efforts remain accurate, he buys in the mornings from a North Hollywood mercado. I have no doubt that he would make his own tortillas if circumstances allowed him to do so. An assistant dresses the tacos with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo. Patrons are invited to complete the tacos at the salsa bar with its assortment of delicious offerings. However, the spicy chipotle salsa, if applied injudiciously, overwhelms the taco taste.
Since the operation is unlicensed, Ricky and his friends quite justifiably see no reason not to offer visitors a glass of Tecate from the keg. If an invitee felt so obliged, he could donate a mere $3.00 to the kitty. Who is to say that these enterprising young capitalists are doing anything wrong? After all, a concern specializing in the distribution of a Schedule I substance flagrantly disregards the CSA from a Sunset Boulevard storefront within sight of Mi Alma. In fact, Ricky is probably smart to sell tacos within a stone's throw of all these potheads.
Once ensconced into a nook away from the techno-dance cacophony pulsating out of the speakers, we were able to eat the tacos. I love both the shrimp and the fish, both of whose freshness is indisputable. Ricky is a lot more adept with a deep fryer that I was during my tenure as a Burger King fry guy. (To be sure, I made a mean Whopper.) My preference is for the pescado over the camarón. The light catfish filets are a better complement to the thick batter than the dense shrimp, though the Wife disagrees.
We were in Silverlake, so a dose of irony is in order. When Ricky's cart was at the bus stop, it suffered from spatial constraints and those mephitic fumes. Yet the hipsters would queue up for a taco like tourists outside of Sprinkles or Pink's. But now that Ricky's Fish Tacos has moved into a lovely and festive oasis complete with a keg of beer, the crowds seem sparse.
On our way out, Ricky informed us that a disc jockey appears on Sundays. I don't know if the jovial O-Bar in West Hollywood is still around. Touch Supper Club, my old spot in Ohio City where I enjoyed several raucous nights, used to have some interesting Latin food. But there is no way they made fish tacos this good. Neither does anyone else in this town.
Ricky's Fish Tacos at Mi Alma Garden
4016 Santa Monica Blvd.