One of largest groups of settlers from mainland Mexico to Baja California are Sinaloans (the other being Sonorans) and with them comes one of the greatest seafood traditions in Mexico. Sinaloan seafood cocktailing, cooking, and grilling have had a tremendous influence on Baja cuisine–Sinaloan street carts, hot and cold bars, and beach-style grills can be found throughout Tijuana, and all the way down to Cabo.
I can't get enough of Sinaloa's mariscos: aguachiles, tostadas piled high with expensive seafood, tangy cocktails, lip-numbing camarones a la diabla, sweet shrimp ceviches, and the prized pescado zarandeado (shaken fish), a whole butterflied fish plucked from the ocean and grilled over manglar wood. In Sinaloa, the restaurants inland have a barra fria (cold bar for raw preparations), and a barra caliente (hot bar for cooked seafood), but to get the zarandeado you have to go to the beach–Playa Maviri outside of Los Mochis, Mazatlan, and Altata come to mind. But in Tijuana's urban seafood buffet the beach party can be found at places like La Palmera and Chewin's World of Seafood.
La Palmera is conveniently located in Tijuana's tourist zone surrounded by the local seafood markets where live chocolata clams, fresh snook and sea bream, and shrimp from the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific are ready to jump onto your plate. A day at Sinaloa's beaches begins with heaping mounds of ceviches and seafood cocktails, but I recommend living large and getting Palmera's callo de hacha: firm, raw scallops with steak-like texture bathed in lime, finished with sea salt and thin slices of red jalapenos. If they have chocolatas get a dozen of those prepared with diced vegetables and a squeeze of lime–you'll never hold an oyster in the same esteem again.
When it comes to pescado zarandeado La Palmera's Guamuchil, Sinaloa natives offer shaken snook, sea bream, sea bass, red snapper, mullet and corvina all in the range of $11 to $12 a kilo at the current exchange rate. The marinade is simple: sea salt (or pinche Morton's), lime, maybe some soy sauce, some kind of fat to moisten the fish, and whatever other touches the grill man decides to add. Women are becoming more prominent at the cocktail station, and are exclusive to the hot station, but zarandeado is a man's domain.
La Palmera also has a nice hot bar for ordering classics like garlic shrimp, a la diabla, or fried cucarachas, tiny shrimp cooked to be eaten whole, shell and all with a squirt of lime and lots of Huichol hot sauce.
And then we get to Chewin's.
It will take a mission to get to Chewin's World of Seafood located in Otay Constituyentes, but it'll save you the trip to Playa Maviri, Sinaloa. Head east on Diaz Ordaz to Lazaro Cardenas, take a right to Tecnologico and it's located on your right in the Verduzco Centro Comercial plaza.
Chewin's has the Sinaloan vibe missing at La Palmera: lots of Sinaloan girls (highly regarded in Mexico), cubetas (buckets of beer) all around, and a couple of busy grills. After your bucket of beer arrives–you might as well order it on your way to the table–demand a molcajete of aguachile, overflowing with raw shrimp swimming in lime and opulent chiltepin peppers. You might as well get a couple of mouthwatering marlin tacos while you're at it to nosh on while you wait for your zarandeado, under the ocean blue tarp at this al fresco Sinaloan paradise.
Snook and sea bream are available for pescado zarandeado just under $11 a kilo, so grab a senorita or two, don some shades and pair of cowboy boots, order a 2 kilo fish and tell the server, “Quiero comer bien estilo Maviri.” Welcome to Sinaloa in Tijuana!
La Palmera, calle 6ta #8737, Tijuana, B.C. 664-306-7549