Mariscos Hector: Seafood for Real Hombres

Most of you don't have the countenance to weather either of the Mariscos Hector. If you're a group of women, the nearly all-male clientele will ogle you as though you're stars taking a break from a Brazzers shoot. If you're a man and not ready to drink a couple of beers and instead just sip on horchata, the waitresses will think you have no huevos—and you never want that to happen. And if you like your meals peaceful, forget it: Between the live bands, the multiple flat-screen TVs showing sports from across the world and the jukebox blasting menacing corridos praising cuernos de chivo (Mexican Spanish slang for AK-47s), Chalino and narcogod Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman, your eardrums will be as numb as your lips by the time you step out.

Mariscos Hector in SanTana is one of Orange County's most popular Mexican seafood spots, places patronized almost exclusively by working-class Mexican men who will get drunk off multiple cubetas (buckets of beer) and eat gargantuan platters of every marine animal imaginable. The first location, off Main Street, has a parking lot that hasn't had an open spot since the Clinton administration; the newest venue opened about three months ago in the Hell's Kitchen that is the intersection of McFadden and Standard avenues, and it's already packed. The food is a bit more expensive than at other mariscos palaces—because hot chicas, music and big portions of food ain't cheap. But the cost is worth it. The aguachile (a magnificent Sinaloan dish that finds raw shrimp marinating in a pool of chilled lime juice that's spiked with a serrano salsa, red onions and cucumbers) is so radioactive you'll actually shovel in the ruthless in-house chiltepín salsa to cool your palate—and the chiltepín just happens to be one of Mexico's hottest chiles. Empanadas come stuffed with marlin or shrimp and are always as flaky as a chicken pot pie; shrimp and catfish come prepared in ways that range from fried to drowned in salsa, swimming in a good mojo de ajo or studded with capers and olives à la huachinango à la veracruzana. Or, if you just want to plow through oysters, you can do that as well, with an arrangement of salsas that range from smoky to tasting akin to Worcestershire sauce.

Now that I think of it, you can survive the Mariscos Hector experience. And when the machine guns rattle from the speakers, don't flinch; just crack open another Bohemia and nod at the paisas around you.


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