The west coast of America is a true cultural melting pot. Known for breaking down culinary barriers with innovative restaurants, chefs across the West Coast are continuously pushing out unique flavor fusions. One favorite combination of this diverse culinary scene mixes traditional Mexican fare with modern American cuisine to create what has colloquially become known as Cal-Mex.
Owing to Southern California’s close proximity to Mexico, Mexican-American dishes are typically brightly colored and super fresh. With Mexico’s easy access to quality seafood and fresh ingredients like cilantro, jalapeno peppers, avocados and fresh vegetables, it’s not hard to understand why this particular flavor combination has been a huge hit in America. What’s more, Cal-Mex dishes—a healthier version of Tex-Mex—are surprisingly easy to recreate at home: all you need are some Tilapia fillets and a whole lot of spice.
Baja Fish Tacos
You would be remiss to venture to the West Coast without tasting a classic Baja fish taco. A true staple of Cal-Mex cuisine, this unique dish gets its name from the Baja California peninsula located below the Mexico-California border.
Easy to throw together, Baja fish tacos often contain a white, flakey fish like Tilapia, crunchy shredded cabbage and a creamy avocado or mayonnaise-based sauce that’s drizzled on top. The dish usually calls for fish to be deep-fried, but you can also season and grill fillets for a healthier twist.
Try the recipe: Baja Fish Tacos from Epicurious.
Spicy Tilapia Burrito
Burritos are a staple of most Californian’s diets. Anywhere you turn in Los Angeles or along the West Coast, you’ll find a food truck or restaurant turning out their own unique version of this simple yet extremely satisfying dish. In fact, burritos have even made their way onto many breakfast menus, with chefs choosing to substitute the traditional fillings for scrambled eggs and hash browns.
However, for fans of tradition, there’s no replacing the classic flavors of a spicy Cal-Mex burrito. Take this spicy Tilapia burrito for example—made with fresh Tilapia fillets, ripe avocado, cabbage slaw and other fresh veggies, these texture-rich wraps prove that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Try the recipe: Spicy Tilapia Burrito from Pampered Chef.
Blackened Tilapia Taco Bowl
Fresh bowls have been popping up left, right and center across America recently, with poke bowls, acai bowls and taco bowls on many cafe and restaurant menus. This food bowl trend appeals to those who are a little more health-conscious, as they tend to emphasize protein and vegetable-based ingredients rather than simple carbs. The West Coast rendition of a taco bowl is all about highlighting the flavors of Mexico in the most nutritious way possible.
This particular taco bowl recipe calls for the assembly of ingredients like roasted corn, black beans, lime juice, cilantro rice and blackened Tilapia fillets. Make the dish your own by adding in any variety of extra vegetables and a crema avocado drizzle. You can also boost the nutritional value of the dish even further by swapping out the cilantro rice for a bed of shredded lettuce or cabbage.
Try the recipe: Blackened Tilapia Taco Bowl from The Chunky Chef.
Chile Relleno de Pescado
Believed to have originated in Puebla, Mexico, chile relleno typically consists of a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese, then fried in egg batter and topped with a tomato-based sauce.
The dish has taken different forms in different parts of Mexico and south western America. Sometimes served vegetarian-style, chile relleno is also served stuffed with meat or seafood like Tilapia, in addition to the cheese filling. The serving of protein present in a Tilapia-stuffed chile relleno will hit the spot for any super-hungry diners.
Try the recipe: Chile Relleno de Pescado from I Am New Mexico.
The beauty of Mexican-American cuisine is that it is simple to recreate at home. The preparation is generally easy, the ingredients are adaptable and the vegetable and spice combinations are sure to satisfy all taste buds. Cook a new West Coast Mexican-American recipe this week and see for yourself!
For more Mexican inspired recipe ideas, check out our Mexican Sheet Pan Tilapia and Vegetables.