Blackened Tilapia Tacos with Red Cabbage and Avocado Crema

A few weekends ago, we drove down to San Diego for Comic Con, the convention of nerds, creators, vendors, cartoons, costumes, comic books, big budget superhero movies, fantastic television shows, low budget science fiction, smelly crowds, uncool guys, sex-ay girls, and Stan Lee. It was a spectacular spectacle, even outside the venue. Across from the convention center, Violet and I marched up and down through the Gaslight District, people watching, having snacks, and taking a look around. San Diego is a sparkling city by the sea with lovely architecture, great expanses of green parks, ocean views, and quite a lot of bums. And uh-may-zing fish tacos. It’s the last stop before the border, Baja, Tijuana. It shows.

Just out of reach, like a dirty mirage in the near distance, beckoning with its Siren song of vice. We drove south from our slightly seedy motel in San Ysidro to get a closer look. Mostly I saw families bustling around busses and trams, shopping, eating, doing errands. It was there, in the nowhere land between us and them, that we had the best fish tacos: doubled up corn tortillas the size of a Mexican mother’s hands, fried pieces of flaky white Mahi, crunchy green slaw, runny, tangy dressing, slipping down my sleeves. I could eat a quick dozen without thinking twice.

When I was a small child, I took a trip to another border town with my aunt and mother. In Nogales, on the other side of Tucson, I tasted a sip of beer, bought a piñata and a sweet tricycle at a flea market. I think I remember this crossing. Or else from photographs and stories, I have cobbled together a memory. Will Violet have any recollection of this trip, I wondered? Our last one as a family of three? We’ve taken her across the country and now as far as one can go in the American South West. Will she have an unexplained affinity for palm trees one day? Will she go Jeeping through the desert in search of something she thinks she’s seen before? When Malcolm and I die, will she eat fish tacos at a roadside stop, on a quest to resurrect us from the Pacific? The adventure continues, I know that. I hope she remembers the fun. This recipe is uncomplicated and so delicious you’ll want to make them once a week. It’s not quite in the Baja-style, but with perfectly balanced flavors and textures, I think you’ll find that they take you someplace.


Blackened Tilapia Tacos

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 8
  • Total Time: 18


  • 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound fresh tilapia fillets
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Combine ingredients in a small bowl and mix.
  2. Dip fillets in mix and spread evenly on all fish.
  3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
  4. Cook fish until browned and firm, about 3-4 minutes per side.


  • DON’T FORGET cabbage slaw and avocado crema preparation found below!
To assemble:
  • 24 corn tortillas
  • Hot sauce, to taste

Cabbage Slaw Ingredients:

  • ½ red cabbage, sliced very thin
  • ¼ yellow onion, sliced very thin
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt

Cabbage Slaw Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to combine. Allow flavors to meld in the refrigerator while you prepare other ingredients.

Avocado Crema Ingredients:

  • 1 large, ripe avocado, very well mashed
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup milk, plus more as needed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ½ jalapeno, seeded and finely diced

Avocado Cream Preparation: Warm tortillas in a skillet or on a comal. Use two tortillas for each taco, layering ¼ or each fish fillet, cabbage slaw, and a generous slather of sauce. Add additional hot sauce, as desired.


Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. I LOVE fish tacos and these look absolutely incredible! The addition of the avocado crema is enough to send me over the edge – I could eat that stuff just by itself!

    1. It’s totally true! We had a little left over, which we found ourselves putting on everything for the rest of the week. 🙂

  2. Never heard of “blackened” tapas before (except when things went wrong 😉 Thanks for your delicious recipe. When proposing aquaponics and raising tilapia as the fish component of it among friends and family I was countered with quotes from (real or self-proclaimed) gourmet chefs that tilapia was a “tasteless” variety and invasive species and so on. Then I started looking for alternative tilapia recipes (not those where trout is exchanged for another species) to prove my detractors wrong. I have yet to try your above recipe but it is mouth-watering to read.

    1. I don’t find tilapia tasteless at all, and its texture is perfect for tacos. In particular, I like the way the sugar in this rub forms a bit of a glaze on the fish. And you can’t beat the price!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.