Aguachile is one of the great seafood dishes of the Americas, a blistering study of contrasts native to the Mexican Pacific coastal state of Sinaloa. It seems simple enough—chilled shrimp marinated in lime juice, served on top of onions and surrounded by cucumber slices, then topped with salsa. The tastes of tart and sweet, hot and cold, refreshing and filling hit every section of your palate and live up to aguachile’s translated name: chile water.
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Few restaurants in Orange County carry this meal, since only Sinaloans (respected and feared in Mexico as the most chingones de los chingones; there’s a reason why so many of the country’s drug barons are sons of the state) seem to truly appreciate the meal. But at OSTIONERIA PLAYAS DE SINALOA, aguachile is mandatory, the best choice in a restaurant brimming with future dinners for you. The aguachile’s green salsa scalds, but the chilled shrimp quickly soothes. You might think cucumber’s a bullshit vegetable, but you’ll welcome its watery consistency after downing your drink in a vain effort to cool down. Once you try this aguachile, you won’t care much for any other seafood dish, even as you pant and gasp and swear you’ll never try it again.
Playas de Sinaloa is like most any other Sinaloa-style seafood restaurant—cheesy décor, light provided by neon beer signs, buxom waitresses in impossibly tight skirts and shirts that respectively rise too high and sink too low. And you can find most of what they offer—red snapper, catfish, soups, tostadas topped with octopus or shrimp—at other places, prepared with different methods. But visit here for the aguachile, and then try two other Sinaloan specialities. Tacos gobernadores are all the rage in San Diego County, and you’ll understand why after a bite: a half-taco, half-quesadilla stuffed with cheese, shrimp and strips of poblano peppers that’s cooked in butter. Butter! They’re expensive, so order them at lunch, when the special grants you two big tacos gobernadores, beans, rice, a soda and unlimited cups of their excellent house salsa for six bucks. Just as enjoyable are the camarones culichi, a specialty of the Sinaloan capital, Culiacán. Somewhere in the past, the geniuses of this town decided to create a sauce of a mild green salsa and cheese and pour it over seafood. Here, it’s just on the shrimp, and the sauce is as decadent as anything you’ll ever eat once the temperature cools. The great thing about the camarones culichi is that there will be mucho leftover sauce after you finish the beans, rice and shrimp. Don’t be shy—ask for a plate and chips to create nachos worthy of a summer game at the Big A.
Ostioneria Playas de Sinaloa, 1320 Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 953-0455.