Across Orange County, you’ll see restaurants claiming to specialize in mariscos estilo Nayarit—seafood prepared in the culinary style of the Mexican Pacific coastal state, a place as renowned as Baja and Sinaloa for preparing treasures from the sea. Almost all of them, however, are frauds, content to serve shrimp cocktails heavy on the Clamato and little else, too-sour ceviche, and hot soups swarming with bad clams.
The one great exception has always been Mariscos los Corales, a Santa Ana institution that decided to join the taco-truck rat race a couple of months ago. The seafood is purchased fresh daily, even for the taco truck, and the oysters and other critters come from the Gulf of Mexico. You know they’re the real Nayaritan deal due to a painting on the truck of a man and woman in the traditional dress of the Huichols, the state’s indigenous people, best known for their colorful knitted bags.
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Mariscos los Corales sells Mexican seafood standards and does them great—massive ceviche tostadas, steaming caldos most eaters take home by the quart, scallops and clams prepared to your liking—but since when has this column ever been about the tried-and-true? Instead, order the aguachile, the legendarily furious ceviche writ large, a plate of chilled shrimp bathed in lime juice and topped by a house salsa greener than a lawn and just a couple of notches below habanero-level heat. Almost as hot is the salsa used in the camarones al veneno (shrimp prepared poison-style, a name that works better in Spanish), about two dozen whole shrimps in their shells pan-fried with a chile de arbol salsa that seeps into the meat. Tear off the head to suck out its sweet, sweet meat; rip into the shell, but first make sure to give it a good slurp. The results look like a murder scene—your hands covered in the salsa’s gory tincture, a mound of shells, legs and eyeballs strewn every which way.
The shrimp tacos are also unlike any others found in Orange County. Instead of small shrimp mixed with cabbage and a sauce and folded into a corn tortilla, they grind the shrimp, mix in red onions, then stuff them in a tortilla that gets the fried treatment akin to potato tacos. The shrimp becomes sweeter due to the grease; the taco shell glistens. And the fish taco is so buttery and crunchy—it’s like eating chicharrones while still keeping kosher.
Mariscos Los Corales, 2629 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 554-6860. Taco truck located on the corner of Main and Pine streets, Santa Ana. No phone number.