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Tacos take to the sea

Fish have fans. You know it, and I know it.

Although the oceanic dwellers aren't as popular as the meat that is found on land, they can hold their own on the grill, atop the stove, between buns and in your tacos.

That's right. Look around, and you will see it for yourself. Fish tacos, once only stars of lunch specials, are popping up as mainstays on local restaurant menus.

"They have become really popular around here in the last year or so," said Allan Killmer, a front house man, waiter and host at The Original Mr. Fish in Myrtle Beach, where customers can pick mahi-mahi or tuna for their fish tacos.

"In the States, they got their start in San Diego. Places there were making the first tacos. The California fish were the type with avocado and cabbage. Now, the fish taco popularity has slid its way across to us."

Ralph Rubio, a founder of Rubio's (now Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill), is credited with popularizing the fish tacos in the States back in 1983 after he tried a fish taco in the Baja Village of San Felipe during his spring break.

According to his story, published on rubios.com, he befriended a man named Carlos working at the taco stand who taught him how to make them. Rubio returned to San Diego and perfected his own recipe.

So, I'm guessing that since today is Cinco de Mayo some of us will have reason enough to possibly (but hopefully not) down too many margaritas and eat some tasty Mexican fish tacos.

Simply put, people dig them, with some preferring them over the more popular choices of beef and chicken.

Inman Hendricks Jr. and his wife, Jami Hendricks, are such folks.

They dined at Sun City Cafe in Myrtle Beach and made two fish tacos disappear without the use of magic.

"The flavor of these tacos is incredible," said Jami Hendricks of the soft flour tortilla creations. "There is nothing else like it. I love the cheese, the fish and the blackening season. It's made with love."

As their newborn baby boy, Inman III, napped, they each enjoyed a fish taco made with tilapia sitting atop melted cheese, blanketed with shredded lettuce and populated with diced tomatoes.

The maker of tacos and owner of the Mexican joint, Cary Boyles, places sour cream and lime and lemon wedges on the side and serves his tacos with savory rice with black beans and bits of sausage mixed in.

"I think fish tacos are growing in popularity because people are traveling, going on vacations to places like Mexico and the Caribbean," said Boyles, who bakes his fish inside of the tortilla with his secret white cheese. "Those are places where you can pretty much find fish tacos at every food stand."

At The Flying Fish Public Market and Grill at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, Executive Chef Eric Martines uses mahi-mahi in his version of the fish taco.

Although he, too, uses a soft flour tortilla, he will blacken the mahi-mahi or fry it up, too.

Fish taco makers, Boyles and Martines included, believe in uncomplicated tacos.

Martines, in addition to using the usual toppings of lettuce and tomatoes, puts fresh jalapenos, homemade pico de gallo, a lime wedge and sour cream on the side so folks can build their fish tacos as they wish.

"You want to keep the ingredients simple so they won't overpower the fish with a lot of spices," Martines said. "The mahi-mahi has a good mild taste that people tend to go for."

Since he is no fan of cheese, Martines leaves it off of his tacos but happily adds smoked cheddar cheese if customers request it.

At Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant at The Market Common, the fish tacos dress up in pepper jack cheese, lettuce and pico de gallo before snuggling up in a blue corn tortilla and finally getting wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.

"Our fish taco has a lot of different textures to it," said Helen DeGennaro, general manager of Gordon Biersch. "It is awesome."

Of course, our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean certainly doesn't hurt the appeal of fish tacos along the Grand Strand.

Salt Creek Cafe in Murrells Inlet serves up its mahi-mahi tacos fried, grilled or blackened with a mix of cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses, cabbage, pico de gallo, guacamole and white sauce. It is served in a soft corn tortilla, with black beans and basmati rice as sides.

Keith Wolff, who owns Salt Creek Cafe with his wife, Wendy Wolff, gave a plain answer to why fish tacos are beginning to kick tail on the Grand Strand.

"People like fish," said Wolff while working at the family's Murrells Inlet restaurant. "Fish tacos are kind of a summery food that people enjoy eating because it's light."

Cows and chickens better watch out because folks are getting hooked on tacos of a different sort, and there is nothing fishy about it.

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