TJ Oyster Bar, Baja in Bonita

Bonita lived up to its name this past weekend when I went to one of my favorite spots for Mariscos. The wildflowers were in full bloom, and the hillsides and pastures had transformed from the usual dusty brown to a lush green. That’s right, one of my favorite fish tacos is 15 minutes Southeast in Bonita. I have been driving to Baja for the good stuff, so this seems more than reasonable.

4246 Bonita Road, the original TJ Oyster Bar. There are two other locations, but not for me.

There are now three TJ Oyster Bars, but the original is at 4246 Bonita Rd. This location reminds me of a roadside stand you might find in the fishing village of Puerto Popotla in Baja. The only things missing are the sand and the waves. You simply sit at the counter while taqueros serve some of South Bay’s best seafood right off the grill in front of you. This is a no-frills operation with paper plates, plastic cups, and cutlery. The focus is solely on excellent service and fresh seafood, and they nail it every time.

The sign on the wall says it all, El Original, and it is.

TJ Oyster Bar must be doing something right because the original location has been slinging tacos, oysters, and much more for 20-plus years. I am ashamed to say I was late to the party and only discovered this place about seven years ago. I have made up for the lost time by heading there whenever I get the craving. 

This is it, maybe six seats at the counter, a few across the window and a few two-tops along the wall.

Years ago, a good friend of mine, Megan, and I had a standing lunch date. Every week one of us would pick a place – each one of us trying to out do the other. TJ Oyster Bar was one of her picks. She said, “we have to go for the Smoked Tuna Taco.” Now that had piqued my interest.

Chopped smoked tuna sitting on a healthy amount of melted cheese, you can see the cheese on the tortilla in the back.

When I placed my order for this intriguing taco, the taquero asked if I wanted cheese on it.  The man next to me answered for me, “yes, he does”; he turned to me and said “you will thank me later.” Give me a counter or a bar over a table any day! The taco was just short of a religious experience. 

Finely chopped smoked tuna anointed with a kiss of smoke finished on the griddle then stuck to a corn tortilla fused with melted cheese. The taco is then topped with the holy trinity, white sauce and a sprinkling of onions and cilantro.  

The Smoked Tuna Taco is simply adorned with a splash of white sauce, cilantro and onion.

This smoked tuna surprise sealed the deal, it has kept me coming back to this inland oasis for years. It was also the last lunch date before Megan moved to North Carolina. Until we cross paths again Megan, we will always have dirty martinis at Pal Joey’s and smoked tuna tacos in Bonita, cheers until next time.

The Salmon Taco. Don’t forget one of the three signature sauces, this is the Salsa Roja Japonesa, made with Japanese peppers.

The original TJ Oyster Bar location is small; you order first, then take a seat. I always sit at the counter and keep an open tab. First I choose which of the five Micheladas with which I will wash down my tacos. I love the Clamato version, but they are all delicious. I also ordered my Smoked Tuna Taco because that goes without saying. 

All the micheladas are wonderful, I love the Calmato, pictured is the Tamarindo.

The most recent trip was no different. Once my girlfriend and I were situated at the counter, each enjoying our Michelada, we devoured our tuna tacos then started freestyling, time to try some other things.

Shrimp Ceviche Tosatada, a great starter.

First came the Shrimp Ceviche Tosatada, followed by a Garlic Shrimp Taco. Then there was a round of Fish (Baja style), and Salmon tacos. The oysters on the half shell were coming out all around us so we finally went all in and ordered a half dozen before we tapped out. 

Before I forget, there are three signature sauces and you need to try all of them; chipotle, serrano and Japonesa (made with Japanese peppers).

The Garlic Shrimp Taco, don’t forget to use one of the three signature sauces, Chipotle, Serrano or Japonesa.

The Oyster Bar is a real neighborhood place; the steady stream of take-out orders was ever present during our entire stay; This restaurant is much loved, and it is easy to see why. The food and the people never disappoint.  

Raw Oyster on the half shell with a touch of the Japonesa sauce.

The other two locations are more like proper restaurants, one is just a short distance away. I hear they are great, but I will never know. The original is my spot. It is the only one for me. Why mess with perfection? You will have to tell me about the other two or just thank me for turning you on to this iconic Mariscos oasis in South Bay.

The Salmon Taco is cooked perfectly, still a little pink in the middle.

If you can’t make the journey to Bonita and want to experience this unique taco, Serrano’s in Coronado has a good version of a Smoked Tuna Taco.

TJ Oyster Bar
4246 Bonita Rd
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Clyde Van Arsdall