Fish tacos are kind of a thing now. They’re handy and filling and taste vaguely ethnic. And they make great bar snacks by treading the line between heavy, fried finger foods and fresher, more innovative entrees. You might even see them as a kind of dual-universe being, equally capable of appearing on a South American-themed food truck or the menu at a sit-down fusion spot. We’ve tried different versions at two busy watering holes in South Minneapolis. Each has its own agenda but both feel right at home on the bar menu.
Probably the greatest thing about Muddy Waters’ fish tacos ($8 for 2, pictured above) is the treatment of the fish. It rightfully takes center stage, swaddled in a fluffy tempura batter that keeps it fat, juicy, and flavorful. Ribbons of slaw and red onion add textural contrast, and a loose coating of crema is tangy and cool. The only thing I ever wish for is about 20 more wedges of lime — the overall flavor profile could use a little more acid. And if you don’t devour these tacos quickly, the crema seeps through the soft flour tortillas and makes you feel sloppy.
Further south at Pat’s Tap, fish tacos are mutant creatures of satisfaction. They are huge. Three tacos cost $14 (above and top), but they are loaded and easy to share among two or more friends. Rather than protein, Pat’s tacos play up accompaniments: A mountain of crunchy veggie shoelaces, slivers of creamy avocado, perfectly spicy pico de gallo, and a nutty baseline of corn tortilla make for a sweet and texturally balanced snack. So while the chunks of marinated mahi are a little dry, it’s hardly noticeable. These tacos taste like summer on the patio and another beer or two. Which is exactly what bar food is about.