Monday, September 07, 2009

Mariscos Chente: Get your snook on in West L.A.

Sinaloa-style seafood joint Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista has already become a local foodie legend thanks to the tireless Bill Esparza, champion of authentic Mexican food. With 187 replies to Bill's original Chowhound post, nearly all glowing, this is the kind of place that everyone wishes they had discovered.
But after hearing about it for months, I may have been expecting something a little different than this very bare-bones storefront which sat empty and stuffy at lunch on Labor Day weekend. The folks at Mariscos Chente actually travel to Mazatlan every week to bring back impeccably fresh fish, so they're able to offer varieties that aren't usually available in L.A. The menu is simple: a dozen shrimp preparations, raw seafood coctels, ceviche, and a handful of cooked fish dishes. They're served simply with a little rice on the side and corn tortillas. Thick, crunchy tortilla chips come with lime-heavy salsa verde which works well on the fish dishes, too.FoodGPS, Matt and I ordered camarones a la diabla (shrimp in spicy chile sauce, $12) and pescado zarandeado, a whole snook butterflied and grilled with a soy-mayo marinade (above). We also asked for hard-to-find marlin tacos, which weren't on the menu, but Josh and I preferred the ones we had in Baja. The shrimp was excellent, with a just-spicy-enough sauce and the meaty texture you want in a Mexican shrimp dish. The snook ($20 a kilo, which serves two or three) arrived impressively splayed on a platter, glistening with marinade and perfectly cooked. It's a firm fish that stands up well to the grill. Folded into a corn tortilla with the pickled onions that are served alongside, and doused with the green salsa, it was a fine-tasting, rustic package that laughed at the complexity of a fried fish taco.
I realize now that we missed out on the raw seafood cocktails, so a return visit is now in order -- hopefully with mas cerveza on a cooler evening.
Mariscos Chente
is super-authentic and very fresh, but as a specialty operation, it's a different style of Mexican restaurant from what most of us are used to. One Chowhound poster, for example, complained that it's not cheap. It's not a taco truck, but it's an excellent value nonetheless -- it's fresh seafood, folks -- is Santa Monica Seafood cheap?
Mariscos Chente does take credit cards now and serves beer, but there are a few other things to remember:
  • It's a small, family-run operation with a Latin American approach to service -- if you need the bill or anything else, flag the server down, don't expect her to anticipate your every need. The interior is bare-bones, and there's no patio, so don't expect to replicate a hanging-out-at-picnic tables-in-Mexico type of experience.
  • As I said before, there are few extras. Drinks are mostly beer and sodas -- no iced tea or aguas frescas. There's just the one green salsa -- Bill says Mexican seafood dishes are usually accompanied with bottled hot sauce, not fresh salsas. No beans, fries, or other sides either.
  • It might be best to call ahead and make sure they're open, as hours can vary. But if you want to see what real fresh Mexican seafood is all about, and a trip to Ensenada isn't in the offing, you'll want to try Mariscos Chente.
Mariscos Chente
4532 S. Centinela
Mar Vista
Mariscos Chente on Urbanspoon


Food GPS said...

Really good write-up that captures the restaurant's pros (seafood) and cons (service, decor). It's hard to imagine a better Mexican seafood experience in L.A. at the moment. The portions were massive, and the seafood was so high quality that Mariscos Chente has to be considered a great value. That snook was state-of-the-art, just a terrific fish. And only $20?! Amazing. Good idea to use Santa Monica Seafood for comparison's sake. They might have a bigger variety, but it's also several times more expensive. Their flavors are also more conventional. Given that, I'd choose Mariscos Chente every time.

My only regret is that we didn't follow the advice of the posters that said "Try Langostines!!!"

Anonymous said...

is snook legal to buy? i know back in florida it was illegal =/

Anonymous said...

just a slight correction:
the pescado zanrandeado is not made with soy, it is made with worcestershire sauce (salsa inglesa).

Anonymous said...

Went there about a month ago, got exactly what this review had - Shrimps Diablo and the big grilled snook. The shrimps were delicious and not overpowered but the snook zanrandeado was out of this world. That fish can easily feed 2-3 if not 4.

Jeannette P. said...

I live just down the street and have been riding my bike there regularly to slowly try everything on the menu. So far, the pescado zarandeado is of course a favorite, but the raw shrimp ceviche is terribly addicting as well as the aguachiles (raw shrimp served tailed but with head on drizzled with the salsa verde). You can also get a bucket of 6 beers for $20 and you get to choose from a pretty decent variety of Mexican beers, as well as some generic American beers.