Tuesday's post position draw for Del Mar's premier race for older horses, the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, to be run for the 29th time this Saturday, was held at The Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar restaurant. The back patio of The Brig, perched at the top of the hill at the corner of Villa de la Valle and Camino del Mar, offers a splendid view of the racetrack and is one of Del Mar's most popular stops before or after a day of racing.
The Brig is also home to world famous fish tacos and, while it didn't invent the term, the San Diego North County eatery has helped popularize Taco Tuesdays.
So a late lunch on Tuesday afternoon was a perfect time to sample The Brig's offerings and take advantage of the Taco Tuesday discounts before the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club took over the patio area to host a party celebrating the Pacific Classic and draw post positions for Saturday's marquee race.
The Brigantine, now with six locations, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its original restaurant on Shelter Island, which opened in 1969. The Del Mar Brigantine opened in 1977. It has a full lunch and dinner menu, a large, friendly bar area with local craft beers and sports (including TVG) on large screen TVs. You can make reservations in the dining room but the sprawling bar area has ample seating on a first-come, first-served basis.
We decided to sample six of The Brig's nine offerings on the Taco Tuesday menu, passing on the carne asada, spicy buffalo chicken and grilled chicken. It is known for its fish tacos, after all.
A good taco has to start with a solid foundation, and that's the tortilla. Brigantine gets its tortillas freshly daily made from El Nopalito Tortilla Factory, a family run business established 32 years ago in nearby Encinitas.
The salsa fresca is another important ingredient in each variety of taco. The Brig's chunky and mild version is simple: onion, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Most come with red cabbage and shredded cheddar cheese, but there are subtle differences in the final ingredients, depending on what you order.
Here is my personal ranking:
1: While the Classic Brig Fish Taco is the most popular on the menu, my “go to” pick is the Grilled Swordfish, which is the second-best seller. It has a healthy sized portion of Sonoran-spiced fish with the aforementioned ingredients and ranch dressing to blend it all together.
2: The grilled Mahi Mahi Taco is one of the newer additions to the menu. It's a lighter fish, and the chefs add red and green bell peppers to the mix along with a delicious aioli sauce. I try to convince myself it's the healthiest one of the group.
3. Unique to the Brigantine is the Calamari Taco, which has a generous portion of breaded and deep-fried squid. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but what really keeps me going back to this is the jalapeno white sauce, with just a mild kick to it.
4. You really can't go wrong with the Classic Brig Fish Taco. The fish is Alaskan Pollock (no relation) and the blend of the fillet, cheddar cheese, cabbage, salsa fresca and ranch dressing comes together perfectly. My preference is grilled fish, but this is lightly fried.
5. I'm going to starting putting the Carnitas Taco into regular rotation with one fish selection (on a normal day, two tacos is a meal). Tuesday was the first time I sampled this offering and it was excellent. The shredded carnitas was perfectly matched with cotija (a salty, flavorful cheese from the Mexican state of Michoacan, near Guadalajara), salsa fresca and an avocado-tomatillo sauce.
6. Least preferred of the items we tried was the Fried Shrimp Taco. Maybe it's because I've never really liked fried shrimp all that much, or maybe the ingredients just didn't work that well together. For an unforgettable shrimp taco (grilled, not fried), find the nearest location of The Taco Stand.
While all of these are on the Taco Tuesday menu, you can order them any day or night of the week (and Brigantine's kitchen is open late, compared to most area restaurants). Grab a seat on the back patio before or after the races and enjoy one of the most unique views a horse racing fan will ever see.
— Ray Paulick (@raypaulick) August 13, 2019
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