Serious ceviche-makers and eaters know that great ceviche is about quality, not quality. The dish is a celebration of simplicity–after all, it only has a few ingredients: raw fish, citrus juices, salt, pepper, and sometimes diced onions and cilantro. This calls attention to the smallest of details like the thickness of the fish's cut, how long the fish marinates in the citrus juice, and finding the right balance between salt and juice.
Such attention, luckily, is found in various restaurants across Orange County where chefs have taken the classic dish, mastered it, and added their own touch.
10. Pueblo (Costa Mesa)
We once called Pueblo "the newest and perhaps greatest hope for Spanish cuisine in these parts" and though many of its dishes are to blame, we particularly like the ceviche. The ceviche de camarones–shrimp, red onion, seasonal citrus, and cilantro–is balanced and light with a mouthfeel that's cold and not too acidic. A touch of it to the throat feels like the throat-version of a face mask, which we all need every so often.
3321 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa, (714) 340-5775; pueblotapas.com; Twitter: @pueblotapas
9. Clemente Seafood Restaurant (Santa Ana)
Tucked an unassuming plaza off MacArthur and Main, is Clemente Seafood Restaurant, a Mexican seafood restaurant that's particularly known for their ceviche (and large portions of it, at that). They don't skimp out on anything here–lime, cilantro, cucumber, jalapenos, onion, avocado–which means you should eat it with everything–the provided saltine crackers and also house-made chips.
124 W MacArthur Blvd, Santa Ana, (714) 556-2815; facebook.com/pages/Clemente-Seafood-Restaurant/117725338246529
8. The Lime Truck
The Lime Truck fans are usually people who aren't just open to something new, but expect it. The truck's blue crab ceviche, which is made of cooked blue crab meat, shrimp, tiny bay scallops, sugar, salt, cilantro, lime juice, and good ol' Sriracha, does a good job of combining textural and flavorful surprises.
(949) 232-0690; thelimetruck.com; Twitter: @thelimetruck
7. Inka Mama's (Multiple Locations)
If you're looking for Peruvian cuisine's greatest hits, come to Inka Mama's. They have tallarín, saltado, chaufa, braised-meat stews, and ceviche that even the mysteriousEdwin has praised. See below:
Inka Mama's ceviche is very good. The fingers of white fish, wiggles of squid and shrimp are acid-firmed by not only lime juice, but also a yellow-tinted, chile-inflected liquid that could function as a spicy chaser to tequila. It's listed as an appetizer, but as with everything here, it's portioned as a meal and grounded by boiled potatoes, yams and a sprinkling of crunchy cancha. Get this over the jalea, which has the same list of sea critters battered and deep-fried, but is bogged down with sarza criolla and pickled onion that turn everything into a mess as soggy as newspapers left out in the rain.
3930 S. Bristol St #107, Santa Ana; (714) 557-6262
26676 Portola Parkway #B, Lake Forest; (949) 951-MAMA
26741 Aliso Creek Road #E, Aliso Viejo; (949) 360-6263
821 Via Suerte, Unit 104, San Clemente; (949) 369-MAMA
inkamamas.com; Twitter: @inkamamas
6. Taqueria Zamora (Santa Ana)
Beautiful, large tacos made with fresh corn tortillas are what Taqueria Zamora is known for, but their tostada ceviche–though not as big–also has merit. There's nothing too different about it here; it's just done well. Shrimp, cilantro, red onions, and avocado are marinated in a citrus sauce and served with a tostada. Because each bite is cold, it contrasts nicely with the hot tacos and refried beans that are served with every meal.
3121 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 557-0907;www.taqueriazamora.net; facebook.com/pages/TAQUERIA-ZAMORA/353238721396
5. The Seafood Zone (Huntington Beach)
You'll want to get all of the seafood dishes here: fileto relleno de camaron, garlic shrimp, fish tacos, and especially the ceviche. Go with the tostada version (shrimp, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cilantro) or the plate, which is same as the tostada version but includes an interchanging ring of tomato and cucumber slices. Eat with a michelada for an added kick.
6441 Mcfadden Ave. Huntington Beach, (714) 891-1981, facebook.com/theseafoodzone
4. Ostioneria Bahia Mexican Seafood 2 (Orange)
Though good ceviche should cause your lips to pucker from the lime, it shouldn't leave your mouth in a state of neverending sourness. Instead, it should stabilize the sensation with another flavor like sweetness or spice. At Ostioneria Bahia Mexican Seafood 2, their ceviche does just that, using chile serrano and avocados to counter the acid. Those who are feeling a seafood fest should consider the botana bahia combo, which includes shrimp/octopus cocktail, six oysters, and two tostadas.
144 S Tustin St, (714) 997-2010, facebook.com/pages/Ostioneria-Bahia-Mexican-Seafood/108188085889933
3. Eqeko's (Santa Ana)
When the first item of a menu is ceviche, it better be damn good ceviche! The one at Eqeko's lives up to that testament, and here's Edwin to report on it:
This ceviche is real Peruvian ceviche, served with crunchy fried corn kernels of cancha and its original form called choclo. Most important, the fish in the dish is flawless, luminous, piled into an ivory mountain after being firmed up by a sluicing of lime juice. And when you bite into a cube, you discover it still has texture–it springs back at you before it melts into nothing. Each subsequent forkful is dragged through the electrified orange liquid flavored by ají rocoto, one of Peru's native peppers. And when your tongue begins to tingle from the hotness and your lips start to pucker from the acidity, you calm it all down with chunks of camote, boiled sweet potato.
309 W 3rd St, Santa Ana, (714) 547-7868; facebook.com/EqekoPeruvianTapas
2. Mariscos Mocorito (Orange)
We featured this Sinaloa-style gem for its tacos de marlín but Mariscos Mocorito's ceviche tostada is also deserving of attention. For of all, it's cheap, and–another plus–every bite of shrimp is perfectly blended with salt, lime, and avocado. Sit down at the restaurant and you'll see that almost everyone orders it here and usually, when the waiters come to take the dishes back, the plates are seemingly licked clean.
320 E. Katella Ave. Ste H., Orange, mariscosmocorito.com; facebook.com/pages/Mariscos-Mocorito-Estilo-Sinaloa/207287016027015?rf=121202614610571
1. Taco Maria (Costa Mesa)
Named our Best Restaurant and Best Mexican Restaurant in 2014, Taco Maria rarely fails–and that goes for their aguachile. Because of their ever-changing menu, fate will decide when you cross paths with the dish, but if you're lucky, here's what to expect as told by our Mexican-In-Chief:
[Carlos Salgado's interpretation of aguachile] is as expertly put as a bento box, the cucumbers and onions now replaced by some fancy-ass tuber and an herb that I can't remember that complement the lightness of the light, sweet fish he used in place of shrimp. And that dollop of red to the right? Watermelon jam, which added a cooling sweetness I would've never expected for an aguachile.
And here's the best part: Salgado didn't dial down the salsa-lime juice part. It's every bit as puckering and spicy as the diviest SanTana sinaloense-style mariscos joint, a short, intense blast of fire and ice that still had my lips numb in the most beautiful way possible even an hour after I ate it.
3313 Hyland Ave. Costa Mesa, (714) 538-8444; tacomaria.com; Instagram: @tacomaria