This is how fish tacos happen in Baja, Mexico. None of this California-style grilled fish tacos. Nope. Pristine white fillets of fish are dunked in an ethereally crisp yet airy tempura batter and fried to perfection. In sharp contrast is a crisp coleslaw. The sweet (but with some heat) banana mango salsa may be a little untraditional but definitely tastes like it’s always belonged.

A basket containing two Baja-style tempura fish tacos and some pickled vegetables, with a bottle of Pacifico on the side.

Baja-Style Tempura Fish Tacos

5 / 3 votes
These Baja-style tempura fish tacos are as authentic as they come. White fish is dunked in a quick chile-lime marinade and then battered and pan-fried until crisp before being tucked in soft tortillas and topped with slaw and banana mango salsa.
David Leite
CuisineTex Mex
Servings10 tacos
Calories222 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time1 hour


  • Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer


For the chile-lime marinade

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, (from 4 to 6 limes)
  • 10 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, ground (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 2 pounds firm white fish fillets, such as red snapper, halibut, tilapia, cod, or mahi mahi, cut into 4-by 3/4-inch (10-by 1.8-cm) strips

For the Baja tempura batter

  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard, (optional)
  • 1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For assembling the tacos

  • Ten (5 1/2-inch) soft corn tortillas, warm, (or if you want to be authentic, do as they do in Southern Cali and double the number of tortillas so each taco has a double thickness)
  • Colelsaw
  • Mango-Banana Salsa
  • Lime wedge
  • Pickled jalapeño rings


Make the chile-lime marinade

  • In a large bowl, combine the cold water, lime juice, garlic, chiles, oregano (if using) and salt. Add the fish and set aside at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Make the Baja tempura batter

  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the ice water and mustard. Gently stir in the flour, being careful not to overmix the batter; a few small lumps are okay. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Fry the fish

  • Drain the fish and pat the pieces dry with a paper towel. Have a plate lined with paper towels or a cut-open brown paper bag at the ready.
  • In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat at least 2 to 3 inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 360°F (182°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer.
  • Remove the tempura batter from the refrigerator and stir to recombine.
  • Dredge a few pieces of fish at a time in the batter, turning to coat them evenly. Gently lower a couple pieces of fish into the oil, adding a couple more pieces every 30 seconds. Fry no more than 4 pieces at a time. Fry the fish, turning as needed, until the pieces are crisp, light golden brown, and floating on the surface of the oil, about 2 1/2 minutes. Monitor the temperature of the oil throughout frying, letting the oil return to proper temperature between batches; to ensure crispness, it must remain a constant 360°F to 380°F (182°C to 193°C).
  • Using a fine-mesh skimmer, transfer the fried fish to the paper towel-lined plate or brown paper bag to drain. Repeat with the remaining fish and batter, being sure to remove any flecks of floating fried batter in between batches.

Assemble the fish tacos

  • Place the tortillas side by side, open face and overlapping, on a platter. (If using extra tortillas, simply double them up.) Divvy the slaw and fish equally among the tortillas. Top with salsa and desired garnishes or allow guests to do so themselves. Grab, fold, and eat right away.

Adapted From


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Serving: 1 tacoCalories: 222 kcalCarbohydrates: 23 gProtein: 19 gFat: 6 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 39 mgSodium: 776 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2009 Mark Miller. Photo © 2009 Ed Anderson. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

These were delicious fish tacos!

I used tilapia and would suggest marinating it for no longer than the 20 minutes. We thought the serrano pepper in the marinade would be too much with habanero in the salsa, but the mango and banana sweetened the salsa to a perfect balance with the crunchy Baja Cabbage Slaw.

This will definitely stay in my summer file for entertaining. Everything but the fish can be made ahead of time. Delicious.

These were wonderful fish tacos, loved by all. Because I’m trying to maintain a low-fat diet, I made them a bit differently: I used a thick piece of fresh halibut, which held up well to the marinade, that I broiled rather than fried.

My favorite part of this dish is the Mango-Banana Salsa. I can see putting this on a variety of grilled fish, or just serving with some chips. Another great thing about this dish is that you tailor the heat based on how hot or how mild you like your food. We tend to err on the medium side of things, so I chose a mild pepper for both the salsa and the fish marinade, as well as adding just a small bit of Tabasco in the coleslaw.

These are great all on their own with the basic slaw. Adding the Banana Mango Salsa takes things to a new dimension! The crispy tempura coating plays off the crunchy slaw, and the flavor of the marinated fish complements the salsa to create a fulfilling (and filling) result. Just the slightest squeeze from a lime wedge makes this a soft-taco sensation.

If you decide to use the salsa with the tacos, you may want to consider passing on the garnish of extra jalapeños.

A note on the batter: There’s definitely a difference between U.S. and Canadian flour. I used the latter and I needed an extra 1/4 cup water to thin the batter to start and another 2 to 4 tablespoons to thin it after the 30 minute sitting time.

These fish tacos equal yum in the mouth. They’re not a weeknight food due to the length of time they take to make, but they’d make a great weekend dish the whole family could help with.

I peeled my mango the way I normally do, but the fruit was so ripe that I ended up with mushed mango instead of the pretty little dice stated in the ingredients list.

There should perhaps also be safety tips for handling the habanero chile. I typically wear gloves when fabricating super-hot chiles, and my hands still burn anyway, so a novice could end up with serious burns if proper instruction isn’t given. Other than these few things, the Baja-Style Tempura Fish Tacos are right up there at the top of my list of favorite recipes to share with the people I love.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This is a fantastic fish taco recipe! The batter was so crisp and the fish was tender and tasty, thanks to the great marinade. Make sure to make the mango banana salsa! What a fabulous combination!

    1. Gorgeous, Robin. I actually had fish tacos art a place across from our NYC apartment today, but I prefer the looks of yours to the ones I had. Thrilled to hear that you love this recipe and I’m grateful you took the time to let me know. Thank you!

  2. Now these fish are really similar to the way I do my fish tacos. But I’ve got to say, fried tempura-style, there’s no way they’d last long enough to make it into a taco. Around here, we are fish and chips lovers, so what if they’re spicy tempura fish. Just bring on the chips. And the salsa. I am so hungry! 😉

    1. It is a temptation to eat that lovely fish right away, Ruthie, but the tacos are worth the wait. Try it, you might like it!

  3. 5 stars
    Made these for family fun night last Friday… Kids (7, 11) loved them! Used Mahi Mahi… Tempura batter was crispy and delicious. Both the salsa and the slaw were gobbled up! Will definitely make again.

    1. So glad you liked these Karin, these are my go to fish tacos every time, the salsa and slaw are both so easy to whip up.