Making the leap from outlaw vendor to a fully licensed brick and mortar is no easy feat, whether you’re one of countless Mexican and Central-American operators vending in backyards, living rooms, and at folding tables, either street side or at a successful underground pop-up. Some of the best and most iconic restaurants evaded the reach of the law or got popped by the health department, tipped off by vendido (sell out) neighbors. Such was the case for Mariscos El Cristalazo in the winter of 2014.
Escuinapa, Sinaloa native, Ninive Vargas, quickly procured a restaurant space in the city of La Puente, where she experienced the shock and stress most first time restaurateurs have to endure. Although Vargas had an amazing menu of regional specialities and a strong Instagram presence, it didn’t translate into enough sales, and by February of 2016 El Cristalazo closed and relocated to the Mexican suburb of Fontana. The venture was short lived and Ninive all but disappeared from the food world until last week, when she posted a photo of her new food truck in La Puente.
Parked on the corner of Valley Bl and Alderton Ave in the parking lot of Rene’s Tire Service, Ninive’s unwrapped blue food truck, appropriately lined with aqua colored waves, is turning out most of the old menu at Mariscos El Cristalazo. Gone are the large, thickset glassware and chabelas (large cocktail glass) found at most marisquerías, including El Cristalazo’s signature over-sized martini glass, but the imported callo de hacha and smoked marlin are just as good as they ever were.
There are seafood cocktails like the campechana, a seafood mix of raw and poached seafood covered in cooled shrimp stock, lime juice, chopped vegetables and fresh avocado. You can add hot sauce and ketchup to taste, but this is tasty in its natural form. The vasito loco (pictured above) is a smoky, umami stew, jam-packed with chopped seafood in a murky liquid loaded with Maggi. And then there’s the Cristalazo, a seafood centerpiece of ceviche, raw shrimp and callo de hacha sprinkled with salt, pepper and crushed chile chiltepín.
It’s worth the drive to La Puente alone for Ninive’s exceptional, firm callo de haha imported from Nayarit, prepared to order, and flash cooked by lime juice, then garnished with raw purple onion and cucumber. You can add raw shrimp too if you are so inclined.
As Ninive gets her bearings, more of the menu will be added, but until then Mariscos El Cristalazo has ceviches, cocktails, seafood tacos, and cooked dishes from the impressive seafood tradition of Escuinapa, Sinaloa, with Ninive’s own flare for presentation. There are plans to find a parking space out in Los Angeles so she can begin to establish El Cristalazo in the LA market, and until then, we can all breath a sigh of relief because one of LA’s best Mexican seafood restaurants is back, albeit on wheels.
Mariscos El Cristalazo Truck, 17855 Valley Blvd, La Puente