Whether it's stuffed with grilled rock cod or crisply fried shrimp, there are few things more blissfully summery than a Baja-style fish taco. The ingredients are so simple -- fresh fish, a flourish of cabbage, a drizzle of crema and a squeeze of lime.

The result? A little bit of seafood heaven that crossed the border 30 years ago and became a treasured part of SoCal cuisine. These days, you'll find these tasty tacos at scores of San Diego taquerias and seafood cafes, as well as chic bistros, such as La Jolla's Herringbone, one of the many Southern California restaurants run by "Top Chef" veteran and "The Taste" judge Brian Malarkey.

Pop into Copita in Sausalito or Tacolicious, the cult-fave taqueria in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and you'll find fish taco fever has moved north, too. And while there certainly are chefs who make things their own by adding unexpected ingredients, or going all fusion on it, Chefs Telmo Faria and Joanne Weir know the entire charm of the dish lies in its simple authenticity.

That's the beauty of it, Malarkey says, and that's what makes it perfect fare for home cooking, too. "We do Seafood Sundays at my house," says Malarkey, whose kids -- twin toddlers and a 4-year-old son -- are fish taco devotees.

"It's the wrapper and the candy inside," he says. "Great seafood -- rock cod, octopus, fried shrimp. You gotta go for it. Fried takes it to a whole new level. And you have to get authentic tortillas."


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Malarkey buys his handmade tortillas in San Diego's Old Town and tops them simply, with a cabbage slaw, lime, cilantro and jalapeno. It's the seafood that's the star, not the toppings, and he seasons the fish simply, with salt and pepper. The crispy-tender-crunchy textures and pop of flavor -- enhanced with a last-minute squeeze of lime -- are classic Baja.

"Ours is Southern California-inspired, Baja-style," says Faria, Tacolicious' executive chef. "We keep it in line with the tradition, but add our own twist to it. The key is good, fresh fish. We use locally caught rock cod in a beer batter, fried golden and crispy with a good crunch."

Instead of straight sour cream or Mexican crema, he lightens the mixture, mixing sour cream with yogurt and toasted brown cumin. Tacolicious' crema and, of course, the traditional lime wedge add an acidic component that brings out the flavors. "The yogurt is nice and tangy, which cuts through the fried fish," Faria says. "Good tortillas are key. I think we use the best in the Bay Area: La Palma in the Mission. They've been making them for 20 years. They know what they're doing."

Copita's Joanne Weir echoes the authentic tortilla refrain -- hers are made in-house -- and says the biggest mistake people make is dousing the seafood with spices. The seafood is the star, let it shine, says Weir, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and host of PBS' "Joanne Weir's Cooking Confidence." Weir marinates rock cod for a few hours, then cooks the fish on a comal, a heavy cast-iron pan, much like a griddle.

"We 'grill' it on the comal," she says. "The outdoor grill gives it too much grill flavor."

Weir adds a cabbage slaw, dressed with a vinaigrette with toasted cumin and fennel seeds, two flavors, she says, that work really well with fish. Usually, she adds a dollop of avocado crema as a finishing touch, but this summer, she started playing around with a pineapple salsa, spiked with chile arbol, cilantro and lime. The result -- sweet, spicy and tart -- adds that all important acidic flourish.

"They are the best fish tacos I've ever had in my life," she says. "It's the simplicity, the crunch, the acid."

Pass the lime wedge.

Follow Food and Wine editor Jackie Burrell at Twitter.com/BayAreaFoodEd and Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.Food.Wine.

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Prefer to dine out?

Tacolicious: This popular taqueria uses organic, sustainable, humanely raised products. They have three restaurants in San Francisco, one in Palo Alto (632 Emerson St.) and a taco stand that pops up at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers market on Thursdays. Go to tacolicious.com for details on the restaurants and their upcoming Tacolicious cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2014), which will include recipes for cocktails, salsas, tacos and small plates.

Copita: Owned by Joanne Weir and Larry Mindel, this restaurant and tequila bar in downtown Sausalito (739 Bridgeway) specializes in seasonal Mexican food. Look at the menu and make reservations at www.copitarestaurant.com.

Herringbone: One of several restaurants in Brian Malarkey's Fabric of Social Dining restaurant group, the seafood-centric Herringbone is at 7837 Herschel Ave. in La Jolla. Malarkey's new cookbook, "Come Early, Stay Late" (Chefs Press, $29.95, 224 pages) showcases recipes from his restaurants. Find details, menus and more at brianmalarkey.com.