Mariscos El Yaqui Is Badass Baja
In the world of culinary truth in advertising in Orange County, few dishes ring truer than the tostada perrona from Mariscos El Yaqui. The Badass Tostada is a haul of octopus, shrimp, crab, fish and scallop piled onto a sturdy tostada, the seafood chilled in tomato-spiked salsa, everything topped by red onions pickled alongside habaneros for the slightest of fiery afterkicks and so fresh you half-expect it to slither off the plate. Even though the tostada is sturdy, it shatters under the weight of all the marine jewels, hunks of chewy, briny wonder. It's large enough, so you can separate each seafood variety into its own mound and have plenty to make a good lunch, but the fun of the meal is to eat it as one, the jumble producing multiple, well, badass tastes every time you take a bite.
Mariscos El Yaqui is a relative rarity in the county: a Baja California-style lonchera that goes beyond tacos to serve food that actual natives eat outside resort towns and surfer spots. The shrimp and fish tacos are fine, but much better are those made with marlin, its ruddy flesh smoky and sweet and bound to the tortilla with a combination of melted cheese and a crema that splits the difference between sour cream and aioli. The ceviche is delicious, but better to order it in the form of aguachile—traditionally a Sinaloan specialty, but assimilated over the years into the Baja California diet thanks to the state's across-the-Sea-of-Cortez proximity to Sinaloa. Here, it's as hellish and puckering as anything available. Much better are the seafood empanadas, fried to order, the masa airy and delicate.
But you can find these dishes at other places. What you won't get anywhere else is the cahuamanta and pata de mula. The former is a spicy soup made with shrimp and manta ray, an invigorating potage that has its roots in caguama (Mexican sea-turtle soup that became outlawed once the poor critters became endangered). El Yaqui's cahuamanta doesn't skimp on the manta, whose flavor is similar to that of squid. Even better is the pata de mula, a gigantic cockles native to the Sea of Cortez, its flesh blood-red, its taste pungent. It's served on the shell here, so that one of the five homemade salsas can play off the pata de mula. Wash down anything you order with a Jarritos, and the thought of Wahoo's—as delicious as it is—fades into the sunset as a new Baja asserts itself on the landscape.
And the Kewpie Pie mascot? Cutest local restaurant logo since Pasta Connection's crying baby.
This column appeared in print as "Badass Baja."
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