Mariscos La Playa
Life's a beach
Mariscos La Playa, having made a name for itself in Santa Fe and Española, added to its family of restaurants with a spot here in Burque. Some people still cringe at the idea of traditional Mexican seafood in a place where there isn’t water in sight (to be fair, its new Central location is near the Rio Grande). And while setting out to catch fresh seafood in a landlocked state can be tricky, Mariscos La Playa makes a commendable effort and still keeps prices in a reasonable range.
Walking into Mariscos La Playa is like stepping inside a Jimmy Buffett music video. Parrots and fish in every color of the rainbow are carved into heavy wooden chairs and swim across shellacked tabletops in an attempt to evoke the Mexican seaside. Unfortunately, the décor crosses that thin line between kitschy and tacky, and wanders into Margaritaville theme park territory.
There's a welcome accent, however, in the unending basket of tortilla chips with two salsas waiting on each table. Freshly made pico de gallo is crisp and piquant with jalapeño, cilantro and chopped tomatoes. A pale-green, guacamole-related dip appears creamy at first but gives way to a watered-down sauce—it packs heat but lacks the richness of avocados.
A quick look through the fish-shaped menu is assurance that the food, replete with familiar favorites and unexpected treats, is more authentic than the mock beach painted on the wall. Chicharrón de pescado ($7.95) is a bold introduction to MLP's south-of-the-border seafood. Similar to pork rinds, the pescado (fish) is thinly sliced—skin, fins and all—then ever-so-lightly battered and deep-fried until crunchy. Along with soft, warm corn tortillas, this dish makes a lasting impression. The aggressively cooked meat has a cracking skin and perplexing dry yet chewy texture that comes together as a titillating snack.
The coctel especial la Gloria ($8.45, small) floats mild onion, fresh tomato, buttery avocado hunks, crisp cucumber and not quite enough cilantro in a sweet and clammy tomato sauce. Clams, shrimp, scallops and octopus lie underneath, where they take up every available inch of space in the glass. Each oceanic bite is firm and free of gaminess.
Better than a cheeseburger in paradise is the camarones de Santa Fe ($11.45), a simple meal that douses sautéed shrimp in a sauce of media crema (Mexican table cream), green chile and sliced mushrooms. Plump shrimp are surprisingly spirited company for the punchy chile, while the smooth crema offers some relief from the dish's penetrating spice.
With its butter-and-garlic dressing, filete de tiburón al mojo de ajo ($11.45) becomes a real beauty—a Mexican cutie, if you will—when normally heavy Mako shark meat is steamed to a tenderness that's both delicate and filling.
The Veracruz-style red snapper, filete a la Veracruzana ($11.45), rests in a light tomato sauce that's betrayed by the snapper's unmistakable fishiness. Taste the camarones a la Veracruzana ($11.45) for a better representation of the cooking style. With no fishy flavor to contend with, it becomes much easier to appreciate the subtlety of the slightly sweet Veracruzana sauce.
Most of the plates come with white rice and french fries, garnished with shredded lettuce and slices of avocado and tomato. The rice is nothing special, but it sure beats the soggy mess so many restaurants see fit to serve. The potatoes are more like batter-fried potato wedges—crisp outers with almost mashed inners, tasty and perhaps too intense for some of the items they're served alongside.
Nibblin’ on sponge cake may be Buffett’s preference for his postre (dessert), but at Mariscos La Playa, flan ($4.25) is king. Here, the popular Mexican styling of crème caramel is rich and creamy with just enough caramel sauce spilling over the molded custard's rim. Other desserts are available but aren’t listed on the menu—only your server holds the key to that information, so don't be shy about asking.
On one visit, a young, mohawked waiter was attentive and involved with every minute of the meal. Another visit brought a less interested server who spent more time chatting with coworkers than taking orders or clearing piles of dishes left on tables. The service might leave you searching for your lost shaker of salt, as Buffett says. At least there’s booze in the blender ($5.50 for a Margarita) and a decent selection of cervezas (around $3.75) to help adjust your attitude. Parrothead or not, Mariscos La Playa is worth the long trek down Central, and the psychedelic setting is ideal for blown-out flip-flops.
The Alibi recommends:
Chicharrón de pescado
Camarones de Santa Fe
Filete de tiburón al mojo de ajo
Mariscos La Playa, 4420 Central SW, 839-8081. Hours: every day 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Price range: Inexpensive. Credit cards, booze.