Mariscos La Playa – Espanola, New Mexico

 Mom on her 39th birthday

Even though it seems most women celebrate it every year in perpetuity, a woman’s 29th birthday actually occurs only once. On my mom’s umpteenth 29th birthday we wanted everything to be perfect so we took her to her favorite mariscos restaurant for a fabulous meal of Mexican seafood served impeccably. We baked her favorite cake, a rich, moist carrot cake with homemade frosting.

We had the restaurant play her favorite birthday songs–Las Mananitas (a stirring rendition by Vicente Fernandez whose soulful voice plumbs the depths of the emotional scale) and Mananitas Tapatias by Pedro Infante (the undisputed greatest idol in Mexican cinematic history). Knowing what a great sport she is, we even asked the wait staff fete her with flan and photograph her in one of those colorful sombreros. There was only one problem.

When the wait staff came to our table bearing celebratory accoutrements, my mom had just stepped away to the restroom. There we were–music blaring, wait staff in tow and no guest of honor. We had to do the whole thing all over again minutes later.

Mariscos La Playa is the perfect restaurant for a birthday celebration. Moreover, it’s the perfect restaurant for a great meal.

There are actually two Mariscos La Playa restaurants, one in Santa Fe and one in Espanola. The Espanola restaurant is owned by the Jose Ortega family which once shared ownership of the Santa Fe Mariscos La Playa with Jose’s cousin Nora Lopez. Jose also owns Mariscos Costa Azul in Santa Fe. All three Mariscos restaurants are outstanding!

Mariscos La Playa in Espanola, an outstanding Mexican restaurant.
Mariscos La Playa in Espanola, an outstanding Mexican restaurant.

If you’ve been to any of the family Mexican restaurants, the menu is certainly familiar–and not just because it’s a multi-page boatload of fresh Mexican seafood. The menu is shaped like a plump blue snapper.

Like its sister restaurants, Espanola’s Mariscos La Playa is awash in a veritable spectrum of color, particularly of soothing azure shades the color of Mexico’s Pacific coastal waters. Structurally, it is somewhat of an interesting dichotomy–a wood plank exterior facade, adobe and stone colonnades and red brick floors.

The interior is a bit cliché. It seems every mariscos restaurant in New Mexico starts with the same basic template–a large blue marlin (looking more ceramic than taxidermy) on the wall, murals of sandy beaches and more colorful nautical themed decorations than you’ll ever see in coastal Mexico.

The service is impeccable with one of the most attentive and polite wait staffs around–a hallmark of the Mariscos family of restaurants. Better still, the wait staff makes sure there’s no surcease to the salsa and chips or the incomparable creamy avocado-based dip that won us over years ago.

This is a fabulous dip–wasabi-colored and mayonnaise enriched, melding ripe avocados, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos in a creamy concoction that puts to shame some of the best guacamole we’ve found. It’s so good that you might not even touch the wonderful pico de gallo style salsa that along with the chips and dip, forms a great pre-prandial triumvirate.

A colorful interior awash in colors.
A colorful interior awash in colors.

As great as the salsa, dip and chips are, you don’t want to fill up on them because the menu features some of the very best mariscos north of the border.

The start of a memorable meal might include tostadas de ceviche crafted from crispy (yet formidable enough to support handfuls of seafood) tostadas first layered with mayonnaise then heaped with either shrimp or a seafood combination, cilantro, onion and chopped tomatoes. It’s a colorful and delicious appetizer you can also have as an entree in which it comes as an order of three.

If the incomparable taste of bacon is what you crave, try the Discada Norteña, grilled diced beef with bacon, onions, tomato and white cheese served with corn tortillas, lettuce, tomato and avocado. While all the ingredients go together very well, it’s the bacon that comes across as the prevalent taste–and that’s not at all a bad thing. This entree comes in portions for one or for two and is served in a flat, circular pan with a can of Sterno to keep it warm.

Naturally, you’re going to want to wash down all this great food with a gigantic goblet of horchata and Mariscos La Playa’s version is among the best. You can get a work-out lifting the oversized goblet to your mouth.

Mariscos La Playa
2413 North Riverside Drive
Espanola, NM
LATEST VISIT: 9 December 2006
COST: $$
BEST BET: Horchata, Avocado Dip, Salsa and Chips, Tostadas de Ceviche, Discada Norteña

Mariscos La Playa on Urbanspoon

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