If you follow this rag faithfully, you should know this is a re-review of Mariscos Licenciado #2, an Anaheim restaurant Gustavo has long championed, both in these pages and on our Stick a Fork in It blog. Recently, it went through a remodel. They busted down a wall or two, expanding into what used to be adjacent stores and becoming what Gustavo estimates is three times its original size.
But Licenciado’s enlarged and now spacious dining room wasn’t what surprised me. It was the live banda sinaloense that Gustavo, in one of his many odes to this dive, only casually described as “eardrum-disintegrating.” For my mates and me, it turns out that even this warning was insufficient. We noticed the music as we drove in from across the parking lot. We heard it clearly when we opened our car door. And then, when we walked into the room, we felt its piercing trills and booming bass scrambling our internal organs.
The band, as typical of the genre, was a mestizo oompah group: tuba, trumpets, clarinets and, most devastating of all, an overzealous, overenthusiastic drummer who repeatedly drove his beat sticks down with such force and conviction that I had to believe he wanted to physically cast out the demons from his instrument. Helped by the amplifiers and the echoing acoustics of the tile-covered room, the banda was an all-out, first-degree cochlear assault that would’ve been recognized as festive music about 100 decibels ago. At its present volume, this was a jet engine chewing up a jackhammer.
But then, as I looked around the room at my fellow customers that Friday night, not one person blinked at the cacophony. These were men, mostly in groups of two or four and a majority of them burly, gruff and mustachioed, the sweat of the workday still drying on their scalps. Some sat in rickety plastic picnic chairs in a room that could conceivably be hosed down at the end of the night. In front of these sullen-looking gents were ice buckets full of Modelo, Dos Equis and Corona. As they drank, the music—though unbearable to our virgin, non-Mexican ears—washed over them like a calming ocean breeze. Meanwhile, buxom, big-breasted girls in shirts two sizes too small, jeans practically painted onto their ample hips, brought out more beer and refilled tostada discs and saltines. These gals, I thought, must have the patience of saints or have already suffered irreparable hearing loss.
It was when our orders arrived that I finally noticed something even odder than the fact that the din fazed no one but us: No one was really eating. A few of the men nibbled on ceviche tostadas, snowy-white pieces of shrimp and fish mixed with square-cut bits of tomato, onion and cucumber made bracing with the squeezed juice of lime. But practically everyone else was munching on those free tostada rounds and stuffing their faces full of crackers.
So it was with curiosity that most of the eyes in that room turned toward us as our orders came. We ordered more food than the whole restaurant combined. The plate of smooth-shelled oysters was probably the first thing that singled us out from that night’s crowd, more so than our choice of Mandarin Jarritos as drinks. Feeling the stares, we plucked the bivalves before they sank into the quickly melting ice. We baptized its dripping wet, fleshy morsels with drops from five different bottled hot sauces, and then showered them with the juice of limes from a Lexan container. The oysters’ entire flavor, we noticed, was owed to these accoutrements, and not the bland meat itself.
Cocteles frios were served in chalices as big as sports trophies. We drank the chilled and vaguely V8-like watery broth and felt its freezing tingle travel down our throats and through our spines. We scooped out the chunks of rubbery octopus, bloated shrimp and pristinely tender fish from the cold vortex of the liquid, then chewed them up, swallowed and chugged the invigorating seafood-flavored punch some more. For the aguachiles, a molcajete overflowed with the still-raw squiggly flesh of shrimp. But before long, a science fair project happens. The searing, cold heat of citric acids cooked the crustaceans in front of our eyes. A few quick flicks of a spoon to distribute the juice and voila: The flesh, once gray and translucent, turned white and opaque, ready to be eaten through wincing bites.
And then there were langostinos, perhaps the grandest dish of the night, where whole giant prawns are bifurcated lengthwise like miniature lobsters, fried and then steeped in a slowly separating slurry of melted butter and chile powder. The sauce shifts and pools like what comes out of a broken lava lamp and tastes almost like the concoction used by those Vietnamese Cajun crab shacks on their own critters. Just like at their cross-town Asian cousins, this sauce is best dribbled over rice.
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For the fish-and-chips crowd, there are some recognizable dishes such as the filete de pescado, a simple and well-done curl of a fish fillet fried to a golden-crusted crunch without the assist of a heavy batter. There are even bacon-wrapped shrimp called camarones rellenos that could do very well stuck with toothpicks and served at a hoity-toity Newport Beach soiree where smooth jazz, not banda sinaloense, is played at a whisper level. To those who prefer this kind of environment, and to witness actual customers doing actual eating, do visit on Mondays. Or really, come on any night of the week or during the day, when families swarm the place. Fridays are saved for when drinking and going deaf prematurely are your goals.
Mariscos Licenciado #2, 1052 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 776-3415. Open daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Food for two, $10-$30. Beer and fake sangria.
This review appeared in print as "Set the Volume to 11: Whether it’s the banda sinaloense or its Sinaloa-style seafood, Mariscos Licenciado #2 isn’t for the faint of stomach or hearing—but fabulous for everyone else."