Whether it’s kept in a well-worn Moleskine notebook, a meticulous Excel spreadsheet, or simply in one’s mind, every serious eater has a “To Eat” list. Mine is currently 47 items long and resides in the drafts folder of my email inbox. Every time I come across a noodle house or a bakery that piques my interest, it gets added to the document. Since my capacity for reading about food far exceeds my ability to eat it, I’ve come to realize that I’ll never get around to sampling everything. Nevertheless, it will be very fun to try.
Mariscos Chente has been on my list for almost a year. It was added right after I wiped up the drool that resulted from reading Dylan’s write up on his blog Eat Drink & Be Merry. Any place that’s dubbed a “shrimp morgue” definitely deserves a visit.
The Astronomer and I, along with our friends Bill (Street Gourmet LA) and Fiona (Gourmet Pigs), met up for lunch at Mariscos Chente a few weekends back. The informal room was filled mostly with locals when we arrived. There was also a trickle of folks from outside the neighborhood who may have learned about the place from C. Thi Nguyen‘s glowing review in the Los Angeles Times or from Jonathan Gold‘s praise in the LA Weekly. Or perhaps, like me, they’ve been scrounging the food blogs.
Mariscos Chente was started over 20 years ago out of a home in Hawthorne. The Mar Vista location opened early last year. Similar to the earlier incarnations, its menu is devoted to seafood from the Mexican states of Nayarit and Sinaloa. Sergio Penuelas, a native of Sinaloa, runs the kitchen while his wife Angie, a native of Nayarit, takes care of customers in the dining room. All of the restaurant’s recipes are from Angie’s father Vicente, or “Chente” as his friends were fond of calling him.
Magdalena Garcia, the restaurant’s owner, takes a bus down to the Mexican coast several times a month to bring back fish and shrimp for the restaurant. While that initially struck me as a lot of unnecessary work, one taste of the camarones aguachiles ($11) and it was clear that the extra effort was worth it. Flash marinated with lime, salt, and jalapeno, the raw shrimp were supple and crazy delicious.
The pescado zarandeado ($20 per kilogram) was equally amazing. The dish was comprised of a whole snook (robalo) butterflied, grilled, and served flat as a pancake with warm corn tortillas and caramelized purple onions. While it’s unknown what goes into Sergio’s marinade, according to Bill, pescado zarandeado is traditionally dressed with a fatty agent like olive oil, mayonaise, or butter, lime, spices, and garlic before meeting the sizzling grill. Whatever the formula is, pescado zarandeado is nothing short of dreamy.
Next, we sampled a plethora of shrimp preparations. The camarones borrachos or “drunken shrimp” ($12) rested in a tequila-based sauce that was intriguingly red and all sorts of buttery. The sweet slices of garlic really made this dish special, as did the abundance of cilantro.
The camarones a la diabla or “deviled shrimp” ($12) were pleasingly spicy with their blend of chile de arbol and California dried chilies. Eaten with the sopping sauteed onions, the shrimp’s burn wasn’t as hellish as one would imagine. Hell, it was downright tasty.
The camarones a la pimienta or “peppered shrimp” ($11) reminded me of a deeply savory Vietnamese dish called tom kho. In place of fish sauce was a combination of garlic powder, salt, chili oil, and enough black pepper to properly dust each shrimp. The side of rice was necessary to balance out the dish’s punch. This was my favorite among the trio of cooked shrimp dishes.
Lastly, a plate of chicharron de pescado ($15), fried chunks of tilapia coated in chipotle powder and floating in a pool of Worcestershire and lime. The fish’s texture was a cross between beef jerky and a tough steak, while the flavors were surprisingly tangy. I liked this dish alright at the restaurant, but didn’t fully grasp its awesomeness until I dug into the leftovers a few days later. Without an array of shrimps competing for my attention, I appreciated the chicharrones’ uniqueness.
Mariscos Chente has been officially crossed off of my “To Eat” list. One down, dozens more to go!
3544 ½ W. Imperial Hwy.
Inglewood, CA 90303