When it comes to international trends in music, fashion, and food, Los Angeles as well as the neighboring communities of San Bernardino and Riversides counties, is only a few steps behind Culiacán, the capital and largest city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. That’s all thanks to social media. Whether it’s tacky shirts from Barabas Premium Apparel, the latest romantic ballad by Banda MS, or intricate, glistening ceviche towers, Sinaloenses have always kept up with news from back home from South Central to Huntington Park to Moreno Valley.
So when business partners Jorge Angulo, and Alex Sanchez met with Carlos Castro of Alhuey, Sinaloa’s Mariscos El Paradero (a double meaning equivalent to the effects of an aphrodisiac) in September 2017, they picked the perfect time to capitalize on the flashy, new style of northern Sinaloan ceviche that has developed in the last three years.
When Mariscos El Paradero opens on March 15, it will start at the top of the heap in a robust field of Sinaloa-style seafood restaurants, and trucks, for an ever-growing customer base of Sinaloenses who can’t get enough seafood, with fresh crab, tuna, shrimp, pen shell clams (callo de hacha), and more imported from Bahía de Santa María — just 10 minutes away from Alhuey. All great seafood restaurants begin with the finest product, and Castro’s Bellflower branch is second to none.
Seeing fresh crab tostadas on a Mexican seafood menu in LA for the first time should be marked by a parade float down Alondra Boulevard. Many diners had given up along time ago after countless cloying tostadas mixtas sweetened by surimi, often misspelled as jaiva instead of jaiba, to denote imitation crab meat.
Of course, the best seafood still needs context and inspiration to come alive. Many local Sinaloa-style restaurants have added seafood seafood towers formed in cylindrical molds, and have added over-the-top snack trays of raw seafood items dressed in various sauces But they all seem to be missing something. “We’ve grown up with this food,” says Angulo. Chef Castro, like all Sinaloans, has seafood in his blood, and has joined many of his contemporaries in elevating the traditional barra fria (cold bar) and barra caliente (hot bar), with chef training. He studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente in Mazatlán before opening Mariscos El Paradero in 2012, at first as a pop-up, then an aqua blue oasis of stylish seafood in an open air, thatched roof restaurant in the small town of Alhuey.
Castro has a beautiful mis-en-place, not uncommon in the new wave of cevicherias back in Los Mochis, Culiacán, and Mazatlán, as he and his jefe de cocina (chef de cuisine), Juan Rodriguez, prepare a cubed tuna ceviche on a wonton-style tostada dressed with black and white sesame, grilled leeks, with a chipotle aioli dressing. While LA’s more standard versions often employ farm-grown tilapia, El Paradero’s elegant tuna ceviche is a delicious reward.
There are plenty of ceviche options — tostitos mixtos (mixed) is a mix of raw and cooked shrimp, plus octopus, served with spicy tostitos. For a sweeter taste of Bahía de Santa María, their marispiña is loaded with chopped pineapple, diced cooked and raw shrimp served in a hallowed half of a pineapple, before getting seasoned with a rich dressing of soy sauce and Clamato.
The scaled down Bellflower menu will also have a few extra dishes like taco gobernador (shrimp and melted cheese), a few Sinaloa-style sushi rolls, and seasonal items like crab claws. “We only plan to get products like crab, pen shell clams, and kumquats, when they are available. We cook to the seasons,” said Castro. And as soon as the liquor license arrives, the iconic Sinaloan beer of Pacifico will offer a proper pairing (despite that ridiculous Spirit of Baja commercial). Castro prepares ceviche in the northern style that stretches from Culiacán to Los Mochis, where restaurants often use Asian condiments and the flavors of the chuchería (candy and junk food shop), like chamoy, Tajín, and tamarind. But Castro has his own unique touch.
“My aguachile has the chile serrano to represent the southern green aguachile, and chiltepín for the red aguachile we do here in the north,” says Castro, as he carefully lifted the mold off of what might be the most impressive seafood tower in Los Angeles. The meticulous construction of raw and cooked shrimp, mango, sliced avocado, cubed tuna, and pen shell clam — shining from a bath of lime juice, soy sauce, and Clamato — is a mission statement. The freshness, technique, and tradition of one of Mexico’s two greatest seafood states (along with Nayarit) is now on display at a strip mall in Bellflower.
Mariscos El Paradero. 9251 Alondra Blvd., Bellflower, CA, (562) 346-7152. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Update: The original version of this story stated it would open the weekend of March 2, but the restaurant has now changed the opening date to March 15, 2019