A Ceviche Lover's Guide to Los Angeles

Ceviche de camaron estilo Nayarit at Mariscos Chente | Story and photos by Bill Esparza

While the origin of ceviche is disputed, the Latin American expression of citrus-marinated raw and cooked seafood is the national dish of Peru, ubiquitous along Mexico’s shorelines, and celebrated in virtually every Latin American country. Los Angeles is home to the broadest range of Latin American cultures in the US which is mouthwateringly good news to aficionados of this cool, refreshing beach preparation. Each Latin-American culture has put their unique expressions of raw, marinated, and cooked dishes using different seafood, citrus, crunchy elements, sweeteners, and condiments depending on provincial flavors. Here’s a 10-stop ceviche tour of Latin America right here in Los Angeles.

Mexico

Aguachile verde at Coni'Seafood | Photo by Bill Esparza

Coni'Seafood
The newly remodeled Coni'Seafood looks like a piece of Brentwood just landed in Inglewood—a seashell aquarium rides along the tops of a faux slab island. Owner Connie Cossio runs the best Mexican Pacific coast style cold bar, hot bar, and grill in Los Angeles, and has retained cocktailer and grill man extraordinaire Sergio Penuelas. Here is where you’ll find the best Nayarit-style aguachile verde, or fire water in Los Angeles—large, sweet head-on shrimp from Mazatlan are doused with lime juice and pure jalapeno salsa. This is the Cadillac of the Mexican cold bar, where the finest raw shrimp is given a quick citrus bath before arriving to your table, prepared to order.

El Tejado
Jose Alcala’s Mariscos El Tejado has been entertaining families in Boyle Heights on weekends for the last decade, where rowdy ranchera bands, out-of-tune karaoke singers, and sassy cross-dressing tribute singers keep the cervezas flowing and the fish frying out to tables equipped with call buttons. Alcala brings a distinct Mexican ceviche style from the state of Colima, where finely chopped red snapper is marinated in lime then tossed with diced tomatoes, onions, and an added provincial sweetness from grated carrots. There are always buttery slices of avocado served on top—avocadoes are Mexico’s answer to Peruvian cebiche’s sweet potato. This is michelada (Mexican beer cocktail) fueled afternoon at a Tecoman, Colima beach restaurant minus the plane ticket.

Los Dorados
Located in a Paramount strip mall with windows tinted by cartoonish sea creatures, this Sinaloan style seafood restaurant is bringing some special dishes we’ve not seen in these parts. The rarely seen callo de hacha (scallops), the prized pen shell scallops of Sinaloa(a splurge on both sides of the border) are prepared like aguachiles—the ambrosial, delicate chunks are flash cooked in lime juice and fiery chiltepin or jalapeno chiles, then garnished with sliced purple onion and cucumber. Making its LA debut here at this well hidden gem is callo de lobina (large mouthed bass), which has the same tuna-steak like texture as callo de hacha, with a milder flavor.  These two plates are aguachiles for high rollers.

Mar Azul
Mexico City isn’t well known for its seafood, but chilangos are less than 6 hours from the sea in either direction; there are a few excellent seafood stands in DF, and there’s a row of seafood restaurants near Mercado de la Viga. Felipe Cejudo’s big ocean blue truck brings big city sensibility to his seafood styling here with an arsenal of proprietary condiments that ignite your tastebuds with cool creams, flavorful salsas, and luscious oils. His shrimp cocktail might be the best in town—it’s a cup flush with fat, cooked shrimp swimming in a cold soup bursting with tang, nectar, and spice from Cejudo’s magical potions.

Mariscos Chente
It all started with Vicente Cossio for LA’s first family of Nayarit-style seafood—he taught young Sinaloan apprentice and future son-in-law, Sergio Penuelas of Coniseafood, how to prepare seafood the Nayaritan way. His namesake restaurant in Lennox is decorated in crazy crabs, and giant, flying shrimp painted indiscriminately from sidewalk, to all over the walls, and over the restaurant’s windows along S. Inglewood Ave. Vicente still makes a mean Nayarit style ceviche de camaron: toothsome, raw shrimp in tossed in lime juice and a stinging dose of jalapeno salsa with diced cucumber, purple onion, tomato, cilantro, and a finish of salt.

Mariscos Los Lechugas
Whether you arrived by cruise ship or car, anyone who’s ever visited Ensenada is familiar with the ground marinated tuna ceviche found at Ensenada’s seafood carts. Ensenada native, Jaime Lechuga’s seafood trailer painted with a campy Mexican seafood comic theme, has been quietly parked in El Sereno for several years serving some of the best ceviche de pescado in LA. While most inexpensive fish ceviche around town is prepared with frozen tilapia, Jaime has beaten the system—he just happens to be friends with a supplier of fresh tuna that cuts us all a cool deal. The piquant, saturated tuna is marinated in lime juice with white onion, tomato, and cilantro tastes like summer in Ensenada without the Papas and Beer.

Mariscos Yucatan
Lula Canto has been working out of a converted hamburger stand in South Gate for the last 18 years in what might be LA’s only Yucatan-style seafood restaurant. There are many seafood items, but the pulpo en su tinta, or octopus in its own ink, is the way to go here. The dish is served warm, or guisado style, but the well-herbed, octopus ink serves as an acidic agent in the preparation of ceviches in the Yucatan. The dish comes disguised as a child’s plate with a head of Mexican rice, a body of stewed inky, tender octopus, guacamole, and tentacles made of thick-cut French fries that’s both startlingly delicious and silly.

Central America

Ceviche de caracol at Copan Sula

Copan Sula
This newcomer to Huntington Park has set itself apart from the other Honduran restaurants around town by offering a more regional taste of the Caribbean flavored Central-American country. The restaurant features dishes from the western edge of the Honduras from the breathtaking Mayan ruins of Copan to the industrial city of San Pedro Sula.  Honduran ceviche comes cocktail style, and the house specialty here is ceviche de caracol, which in Honduras means conch. A tall, slender cocktail glass is filled with sharp white onion, tomato, cilantro and springy, conch—it’s made for eating with a cold, bottle of Barena or Port Royal, both national beers of Honduras.

Ceviche de concha negra (bloody clams ceviche) at La Cevicheria

La Cevicheria
In El Salvador and Guatemala, bloody clams, or pata de mula are the ingredient of choice for ceviche—we’ve plenty of Salvadoran seafood options in LA, but Julio and Carolina Arellano’s homey, Guatemalan cevicheria trumps them all. The ceviche de concha negra (bloody clams ceviche) is prepared in a cocktail style--sugary mint and tomato is contrasted with lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and the aggressive seafood-in-your-face flavors of bloody clams in their own bitter liquor, brought in from Baja California. For those looking to brave the bloody clam, Julio’s well-balanced ceviche technique has taken the dare out of the challenge—you’ll slurp this until the last drop.

South America

Cebiche de pescado estilo Peruano at El Rocoto

El Rocoto
Jorge and Javier Chan’s Gardena restaurant was Peruvian fine dining in LA before Chef Ricardo Zarate came along, and a recent visit confirmed that this now casual spot hasn’t lost an Incan step. The cebiche de pescado is served with the characteristic fleshy chunks of succulent, halibut and sliced purple onion cooked with leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk (Peruvian lime-based cebiche marinade) heaped in the center of a plate accompanied by chilled sweet potato, Peruvian corn, crunchy Peruvian corn nuts known as cancha, and crowned with a ring of rocoto pepper. This is a classic taste of Peruvian cebiche tradition.

INFO

Coni’Seafood
3544 ½ W. Imperial Hwy., Inglewood, 90303
310.672.2339

El Tejado
1426 S Soto St, Los Angeles, 90023
323.261.6661

Los Dorados
8111 Rosecrans Ave., Paramount, 90723
562.531.6200

Mar Azul
4702 N Figueroa St, Highland Park, 90042

Mariscos Chente
10020 South Inglewood Ave., Inglewood, 90304
310.672.0226

Mariscos Los Lechugas
5244 S Huntington Dr., Los Angeles, 90032
323.537.3234

Mariscos Yucatan
3469 Tweedy Blvd., South Gate, 90280
323.357.0906

Copan Sula
6030 Santa Fe Ave., Huntington Park, 90255
323.589.1603

La Cevicheria
3809 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 90019
323.732.1253

El Rocoto
1356 West Artesia Blvd., Gardena, 90248
310.768.8768
www.elrocoto.com