If a mariscos restaurant serves botanas big enough to feed a small Sinaloan village and there’s no one around to order a bucket of Coronas to go with it, is it a mariscos restaurant at all? That’s the question I keep asking myself when I go to Mariscos Los Buchones, a year-old business in a massive corner space on Long Beach Boulevard and 7th Street that even during the lunch rush (and despite above-average ceviches, cocteles and caldos) remains mostly quiet and empty. The answer, of course, is yes — downtown Long Beach finally has the mariscos restaurant it's been waiting for.
Sure, it’s not as barren as the location used to be when it was a sad Italian restaurant that served tomato goop from a can slopped over boiled Barilla, and the dining room does fill up more on Friday nights when booming banda sinaloense performances soar over the entire downtown block. But more likely than not, the vibe behind the wooden-door entrance is demure compared to other Southern California mariscos experiences, which at many places of this size (see: SanTana’s Mariscos Hector) is now a male-dominated exercise in drinking as many Chamoy-and-Tajín loaded chelas as possible while slurping down various citric-acid-soaked sea creatures served by a team of pretty ladies.
With a pastel, sea-faring decor reminiscent of a beachy San Diego timeshare more than any eatery in Mazatlán (or SanTana for that matter) and a shimmery corrido-filled jukebox in the corner that goes unused during daytime hours unless a rogue child decides to start pushing buttons, Mariscos Los Buchones doesn’t seem to attract these crowds.
Which is all well and good if you're just looking to offset the summer heat with a pile of spicy, refreshing seafood, since they still serve an exquisite array of over-the-top mixtures and combination platters that you can dress up to your liking with any of the sweet/smokey/salty/savory hot sauces sitting at your table.
True to its name (“los buchones” is slang for narcos), Mariscos Los Buchones’ dishes have adopted some of the drug world’s slang, with botanas named “del patrón” and “los jefes” plus oysters and beers serves perronas (badass) style — for the slimy guys in a half shell, that means topped with ceviche; for the Modelos, it’s a rain of shrimp, cucumbers, peanuts and tamarindo candy. You can also get mariscos specials from other coastal fishing states like Veracruz and Nayarit, or opt for their sweetly marinated coctel mixto (shrimp, octopus, imitation abalone and crab) served decadently inside of a coconut or on a plate made from half a carved out pineapple.
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Veer from the standard mariscos dishes and there's still a neighborhood Mexican restaurant underneath, with quesadillas, tortas and carne asada combo plates at prices even the Long Beach crackheads who pace past Buchones’ large street-facing windows can afford. All tacos (except the marlin) are $1 on Tuesdays. Lunch specials include a $6 cheese enchilada combo plate and an entire mojarra frita for $8, which can easily feed two. Even the parillada mixta — an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink table spread fit for six or more people — averages out to less than $10 a person.
At Mariscos Los Buchones, you can enjoy the simple serenity of a michelada and shrimp cocktail (both served in the local vessel of choice, a schooner) without any of the lady-ogling, ear-piercing chaos that usually accompanies it. Good times!
Mariscos Los Buchones, 701 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 435-6238; losbuchonesrestaurant.com