Mariscos Culiacan – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Mariscos Culiacan

Mariscos Culiacan

As a precocious product (some might say victim) of the American public school system, I learned more about the geography of old Mexico from one song than from twelve years of the best education our tax dollars can buy.

Legendary Mexican crooner Jose Alfredo Jimenez immortalized the city of Culiacan in his hauntingly stirring ballad El Caballo Blanco which recounts a bareback rider’s journey from Guadalajara to Tijuana astride a noble white horse.

In that journey, rider and horse traversed through Escuinapa, Culiacan, Los Mochis, Sonora, El Valle Del Yaqui, Hermosillo, Caborca, Mexicali and Rumorosa. How lyrically poetic and cool are those names?

The name Culiacan, I found out, has been translated by some sources as “place of snakes,” as intriguing a city sobriquet as you can have. Culiacan is the largest city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa with a population of more than 600,000.

Tostados with salsa

Tostados with salsa

Situated in northwest Mexico, Culiacan is approximately forty miles inland which is what makes even more intriguing the name of yet another mariscos restaurant in Albuquerque.

Mariscos Culiacan sprung up in seemingly no time at the Sequoia Square plaza in mid-summer 2007, occupying the suite in which once stood a failed Peruvian restaurant. Its business card promises “Autentico Sabor Sinaloense” or authentic flavor of Sinaloa.

In terms of authenticity, no mariscos restaurant in town feels more like Mexico to me than Mariscos Culiacan.

That means music turned up loud on tinny speakers competing with the sound of a television blaring. There’s variety in that competition. While the radio plays Norteno music, characterized by a polka beat created by the accordion and bajo sexto (a unique 12-string guitar), the television is tuned to a program featuring hip hop Mexican videos. It makes for a unique, albeit noisy, ambience.

A Campechana cocktail

A Campechana cocktail

There is no air conditioning at Mariscos Culiacan. Instead, large floor fans and an ineffective swamp cooler do their best to keep things cool (and thankfully drown out some of the din.

The west wall includes several framed photographs of Culiacan while another wall features framed photographs of several menu items. There are no actual paper or plastic table menus, by the way. A listing of all featured fare is posted above the order counter and it pays to know Spanish because there are no English subtitles. Unlike at other mariscos restaurants in the Duke City, there are also no meat based items on the menu. The marquee reads mariscos and that’s what you’re going to get.

There are three squeeze bottles at each table–mayonesa, ketchup and a bottle labeled “Peligro Salsa Siete Chiles” which means Danger, Seven Chile Salsa. Unlike some Santa Fe restaurants which warn tourists of their hot chile then deliver chile with the potency of tomato sauce, this label means it. This salsa has the kick of an angry mule. Instead of chips, you’re served five or six tostada shells which most diners break into pieces.

Ceviche Mixto

Ceviche Mixto

Beverages are primarily Jarritos and Coke products bottled in Mexico which means real sugar and really acidic. Soft drink options include a non-diet version of Fresca, a grapefruit flavored soda which was very popular in the early 70s as well as a refreshing manzana (apple) soda. Aguas frescas, not including horchata, are also available.

Tostadas de Ceviche are available in three varieties–pescado (fish), camaron (shrimp) or mixto (a combination of fish and shrimp). Atop a crispy shell are piled fish and shrimp marinated in citrus juice along with red onion, tomato and cilantro. Mexican tostadas are not nearly as brittle as their American counterparts so the entire concoction doesn’t come crumbling down on your lap when you bite into it.

At any mariscos restaurant just about anywhere, at least one diner at each table seems to be partaking of the unique Mexican seafood cocktail called the Campechana. That’s the case as well at Mariscos Culiacan.

Served in a large stemmed glass, a Campechana cocktail includes shrimp, whitefish (or abalone), scallops, oysters, mussels, baby squid and octopus mixed with diced tomatoes, onions, lime juice, avocado, Clamato and cilantro.

Camaron Costa Azul

Camaron Costa Azul

Campecana is as murky as some of the water in which the seafood ingredients were caught, but don’t let appearances fool you. This is a fresh and delicious entree, especially if you douse it liberally with some of that Peligro salsa. It’s sweet, piquant, tart and briny all at once.

If raw, yucky looking seafood isn’t your thing, Mariscos Culiacan can accommodate your preference for all things fried.

The camarones Costa Azul (Blue Coast Shrimp) is a very good option. Six giant shrimp (my favorite oxymoron) are stuffed with queso Mexicana then enrobed in Mexican bacon for a taste you’ll risk shark-infested waters to obtain. The bacon is neither too crispy or too flaccid so it wraps around the shrimp perfectly. The shrimp is sweet and succulent with just a bit of snap to each bite.

This entree is served with French fries (out of the bag) and Mexican fried rice with those crunchy little carrot bits.

Mariscos Culiacan
3250 Coors Blvd, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM

LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Camarones Costa Azul, Tostada de Ceviche Mixto, Cocotele Campechano

Stop And Eat Drive In – Española, New Mexico

Stop and Eat in Espanola, New Mexico

The world-famous Stop and Eat in Espanola, New Mexico: On the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

Stop And Eat–Although it seems this 50s style drive-in has always been at its Paseo De Oñate location, it hadn’t yet opened in 1598 when don Juan de Oñate led his expedition of Spanish colonists to the east bank of the Rio Grande near its confluence with the Chama River. That’s where they founded San Gabriel, New Mexico’s first capital at a site close to present day Española, home of the Stop And Eat restaurant.

While Stop And Eat might sound like a mandate, it’s really more of a strong suggestion that will visit your brain every time you drive by this restaurant. All it takes is one visit and you’ll be hooked.

This 50’s style drive-in not only has an inviting name, it’s got an inviting location on a busy intersection. It’s also got an inviting menu replete with delicious fast food New Mexico style. It’s one of a dying breed, a drive-in under whose canopy you can park your car, walk to an order window to place your order and wait to be called over a loudspeaker.

Stop And Eat features the type of Americana roadfood atmosphere Michael and Jane Stern like so it’s no surprise that this relatively obscure restaurant has been featured on their Roadfood Web site. The Sterns observed that despite its drive-in facade, this restaurant has no carhop service or picnic tables on which to dine. All it’s got is excellent roadside cuisine…scratch that, it’s roadside food. Stop And Eat makes no pretence about serving “cuisine.”

Alas, with its Anglicized spelling of “chili,” Stop And Eat may lend credence to the infamous Española jokes, New Mexico’s equivalent of Polish jokes. The menu, posted on a painted slab of plywood, spells it “chili” in several places. That’s the only faux pas this restaurant makes…and its chile is a fire-breather’s special as in muy piquante, as in the hottest green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico piquant!

The burgers are liberally endowed with fresh ingredients, among which green chile is a must. Ask for a jumbo twin, two saucer sized meat patties if you’re famished or even if you’re not and just want to maximize the sensory delights of eating a very good burger. I took two photos of the green chile cheeseburger but neither turned out clearly. Attribute that to the hiccups caused by the piquant heat generated by this excellent burger.

At Stop And Eat, the tacos are terrific, especially the rolled tacos (and nowhere in the world can you find rolled tacos as good as in Espanola) which are hand-rolled and definitely not the cigar shaped mass produced messes you find at warehouse stores throughout New Mexico. These beauties are stuffed with a bean, meat and chile (my spellchecker wouldn’t allow another misspelled version) blend.

Contrary to what you might find at other restaurants, the Frito pie contains no beans or cheese, but it does possess some of the best capsaicin laden red chile, well seasoned ground beef and at least one chip in every spoonful. It’s among the best Frito pies in the north.

The shakes are delicious–a bit thin, but always cold which really helps on a hot summer day.

Stop And Eat Drive In
110 E Paseo De Onate
Española, NM

LATEST VISIT: 21 July 2007
BEST BET: Rolled tacos, Shakes, Burgers, Frito Pie

Stop & Eat Drive-In on Urbanspoon

Felipe’s Tacos – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Felipe's Tacos

Felipe's Tacos

The rich folklore of the Hispanic culture of New Mexico and southern Colorado is preserved largely through cuentos (stories, legends and myths) passed down from one generation to the next. Among my favorites is a short story of how God named His people.

According to this cuento, God passed out so many names–Ortega, Lopez, Gonzalez, Sanchez–that He ran out of last names and said, “the rest of you will be called Martinez.”

This cuento is meant to illustrate why there are so many people with the last name of Martinez in New Mexico and southern Colorado. Told in English, God would have given everyone else the last name of Smith or Jones.

Common though the name Martinez may be, it is also a very proud name brought to distinction by its bearers–proud holders such as Rico Martinez, the brilliant founder of the now defunct The Rant Pack, Albuquerque’s most hilarious blog, and Felipe Martinez, the proprietor and creative genius behind his eponymous restaurant in St Michael’s Village.

The recipes were actually passed down from Felipe’s mother, a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, but it is Felipe who has been sharing them with Santa Fe for more than a decade. For that, budget and health conscious diners are most grateful and consistently accord Felipe’s tacos “best in the city” honors in restaurant polls.

Felipe Martinez behind the cash register

Felipe Martinez behind the cash register

Felipe’s restaurant is adorned in the colors of the Mexican flag–red, white and green. The walls are white trimmed in red while the counter at which you order is a lime green. Tables are covered in red oilcloth. Red, white and green are also the colors in Felipe’s pico de gallo–red tomatoes, white onions and green cilantro. This is some of the very best pico in Santa Fe, so good you might eschew the salsa which would be a mistake since it is also quite good.

You’ll also notice the colors of the Mexican flag on the to-go menu. In fact, Felipe’s motto “Fresh, Healthy and Authentic” is scribed below an illustration of a waving Mexican flag. On the wall between the counter and the kitchen are hung seven colorfully illustrated Mexican calendars, the sort New Mexicans of my generation might remember hanging on their abuelitas’ homes.

The lines at the counter usually stretch to the door to the restaurant. That’s the case even in mid afternoon. Felipe’s is open only for breakfast and lunch and much of the business appears to be take-out. Health conscious diners know that Felipe’s is the fresh, healthy alternative to the calorie-laden, greasy Americanized chain restaurant that teeming masses (dare I say, of ignoramuses) frequent. In no way does Felipe’s resemble Taco Bell.

Carne Asada, Pollo Asado and Al Pastor Tacos

Carne Asada, Pollo Asado and Al Pastor Tacos

For one thing, Felipe’s really does live up to its motto (Fresh, Healthy and Authentic). The restaurant only uses lean steak, skinless chicken and marinated pork. No lard is used in the preparation of any item, all of which are “just made” fresh. As for authenticity, you won’t find any hard-shelled, “pre-fabricated” tacos here.

Instead, Felipe’s serves only soft corn or white tortillas that tend to fall apart with all the ingredients crammed into them. Still, the aroma and taste of fresh corn tortillas make them the only real choice for taco lovers.

There are four basic tacos on the menu: carne asada (lean, grilled beef), pollo asado (grilled chicken), al pastor (marinated pork prepared on a vertical spit) and meatless. The salsas with which you top them provide variety.

The al pastor taco stands out among the three thanks to the flavor-rich and juicy marinade. It resembles red chile but has a sweet taste (and at many restaurants, the marinade does include pineapple chunks.)

You’ll want to wash down your tacos with horchata, a traditional Mexican rice-water drink or with Felipe’s homemade limeade in which lime slices float merrily.

Tacos aren’t the only items on the menu and may not even be the best items on the menu. Felipe’s features several gourmet burritos, all made with fresh ingredients and all bulging with content. Where the tacos tend to be smallish, the burritos are a handful.

Also on the menu are quesadillas, tortas, combination plates and several a la carte items. Breakfast goers will find their favorite early morning burritos or can opt instead for menudo or a breakfast torta.

Felipe’s Tacos
St Michael’s Village
1711-A Llano Street
Santa Fe, NM

LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2007
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pollo Asado Soft Taco, Carne Asada Soft Taco, Al Pastor Soft Taco, Bean & Cheese Gourmet Burrito, Salsa & Chips

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