Fish Tacos
Earlene Fowler

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Fish Tacos

   I can't remember the first time I heard about fish tacos. I know it was when I moved to Orange County, some time within the last fifteen years. I grew up in Los Angeles County, fifty miles from the ocean and the only fish my Arkansas mother ever fixed was Mrs. Paul's fish sticks or fried catfish.  Grilled fish, chopped cabbage, cheese and salsa in a warm corn tortilla did not sound appetizing to me. But curiosity and probably some food reviewer's clever words compelled me to search out the converted stucco house in the middle of a Costa Mesa neighborhood better known for its taquerias, botanicas, ornate bridal and quinceanera shops and storefront immigration legal offices.

   Wahoo's Fish Taco became my office of sorts when I was writing my first novel. I'd started the novel in a local McDonald's but switched to Wahoo's when my constantly upset stomach discovered their soothing white Ahi rice and grilled fish-of-the-day. I found the unpretentious old house painted the color of that fake Navajo turquoise in roadside gift shops a comforting place to reread the words I'd written that morning.

   The steamy, cheerful atmosphere was conductive to daydreaming and eavesdropping.  While lingering over my rice and scratched-over words, I listened in on board meetings with executives from nearby surf clothes companies, upper-middle-class mothers comparing toddler horror stories and laughing conversations in Spanish between the restaurant employees, probably local residents.

   The outside patio with its mottled concrete floor, windows patchworked with slightly suggestive surfing and skating stickers and neon Corona beer signs was the perfect place to watch the world go by heeded only by the lacy wrought-iron bars guarding the vulnerable windows.

   Wahoo's gradually opened other restaurants around Southern California and Colorado. But insiders know the best one is on Placentia Avenue, next to the pet hospital. When I took some out-of-town friends there for lunch after their request for someplace truly local, their apprehensive faces when we arrived didn't faze me.

   Later, when they were asked by a political crony where they had eaten in Orange County, they hesitantly mentioned Wahoo's.

   "Which one?" he asked.

   "The one next to the pet hospital," they answered.

   "Ah," he said. "The real one."

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