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Taco Variations and Cool Stuff to Look at in Santa Rosa Beach

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Duck confit tacos.

If you love tacos and their variations, but want something more than a fast-food experience—such as servers, a full bar, comfy seats and cool stuff to look at while you eat—Red Fish Taco was made for you. My family and I had dinner at Red Fish on a recent weekend (they also serve lunch, with a slightly smaller menu), and the evening was one pleasant surprise after another.

 

“Surprise” may not be the right word. It was more a series of happy discoveries. It started with the outdoor seating. Unlike some places that seat you in the open air, Red Fish offers sturdy, substantial seats and tables, none of those rickety lawn chairs and circus-balancing stools you sometimes get. It was breezy that day, so we went inside. Even if you choose to eat outside, you should go indoors just for the view.

 

It’s a high-ceiling dining room, with window seats, a sunken dining area, tables, chairs and benches, and a long, sturdy, saloon-grade bar. The wood-paneled walls are hung with colorful Southwest and coastal artwork (bulls, fish, fantastic beasts, etc.). There are several murals depicting stuff one might see after a few glasses of pechuga mezcal with sal gusano, plus one Aztec temple panorama crafted from surfboards (just go look at it, you’ll see what I mean).

 

We were seated near a window, given menus and left to make our decisions. Tacos are pre-eminent, but the menu offers salads, soups, substantial starters, rice bowls, grilled items, and house specialties. There’s a wealth of sides, bar snacks, and dips.

 

My wife has to avoid dairy, so your typical Mexican restaurant can be a culinary minefield for her. Not so Red Fish Taco. While there’s cheese and dairy here and there, it’s not added to everything as a matter of course. So we were definitely spoiled for choice.

 

We all agreed on the starter—guacamole—to go with the basket of warm chips that our server (Alexis) had brought, along with a bowl of fabulous red salsa. The latter is a pureed blend that combined fire-roasted smokiness (the peppers and maybe the tomatoes as well) with plenty of citrusy cilantro. We could not finish it, but took it home in a cup, it’s that good. The guacamole was creamy and smooth with right-sized chunks of ripe avocado, and none of it made it home.

 

We were all leaning toward tacos. My wife chose soft-flour tortilla pork carnitas tacos, I ordered a crispy street taco filled with duck confit and sweet potatoes, and Grace got a child’s meal of beef tacos with “sidewinder” fried potatoes. We also ordered a side of back beans with pork, and Alexis brought a second basket of warm chips—they’re dusted with a subtle but spicy seasoning.

 

There were only a few people when we got there (we eat early on review nights), but the place soon filled, mainly with families and lots of kids. The servers kept things moving swiftly and easily, taking time to help diners with decisions and keep the margaritas and mojitos coming. The house music mix—Santana, the Grateful Dead, Eagles, Drifters and Heart, among others—made the brief wait all the pleasanter.

 

Our entrees arrived. I knew I was going to get the duck confit as soon as I saw it on the menu, though it’s not exactly traditional. My three tacos were hot and crackling crisp, stuffed with shreds and chunks of silky and savory duck, with bits of caramelized sweet potatoes scattered throughout. A sweet, tart plum sauce, lime wedge and marinated cabbage completed the picture. It’s sort of a folded-up hand-sized nacho/dumpling hybrid, with a Chinese twist.

 

My wife’s soft flour tacos were likewise filled to the edge with tender shredded pork, with a chili-lime aioli and cilantro to cut the richness. The cup of black beans and pork had a stew-like quality—a bowl of it would have made a meal.

 

Grace’s tacos were filled with ground beef, and her child’s serving size could have easily fed a grownup. The sidewinder potatoes were the fat “steak fry” kind—twisted, with a touch of seasoning. My wife and I finished all our tacos, but my daughter took half of hers home.

 

Other choices include soft or crispy tacos with grilled fish, blackened shrimp, chicken, crispy catfish, grilled avocado, beef with peanut red curry, marinated chicken thighs, chili steak, smoked brisket, short ribs, and orange chipotle barbecue shrimp. There are also burgers, a Cuban sandwich, potato-wrapped grouper, New York strip steak, and rice bowls with assorted meats or seafood.

 

The list of desserts included key lime pie, “ice cream tacos,” fresh-baked cookies, and churros with a chocolate dipping sauce. We got the latter to share. There were five hot and crunchy churros, dusted with sugar and cinnamon, and a cup of warm chocolate sauce. When you’ve dipped all you can, get a spoon to scrape up the rest of the chocolate—or just pick it up and drink it down like java, because you won’t want to leave it behind.

RED FISH TACO

2052 CR-30A West
Santa Rosa Beach
850-994-7443
Hours: Open Sun.-Tue., 11 AM-9 PM; Wed.-Sat., 11 AM-midnight.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Children’s Menu: Yes
Dress: Casual
Soft, crunchy or grilled tacos, filled with all manner of good stuff—beef, pork, fish, shrimp, chicken, even duck. There’s also shareable starters, soup, salads, rice bowls, bar snacks, sandwiches and house specialties. Eat outside or in the cool, elegant and beautifully decorated interior. Friendly and efficient service. Open daily, full bar, $5-34.
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