While Sinaloa may get most of the attention when talking about high-end seafood, I want to recommend thinking about other lesser-known regional cuisines. Even though Nayarit is just south of Sinaloa and was considered part of Jalisco until 1917 the cuisine is different. The sauces taste a little bit sweeter and lemon is used in smaller quantities. I was kind of surprised to see carrot in one form or another in so many different plates. Oh, and the food is SPICY. The house made salsas range from spicy to very spicy to pureed habanero. The quality of the seafood products is really spectacular and the price is hard to beat. All in all, you need to eat more Nayarit style food.
The family that owns and operates Mariscos Campomar is from the town of Ixtlán del Rio not far from the Jalisco/Nayarit border along the route that goes from Guadalajara to Tepic and the beach. As the name implies, the food is focused on the country and the sea.
Campomar pays a lot of attention to the details without being excessively priced. The place is packed all the time. I don’t remember ever going and not having to wait for a table. But the outdoor waiting area is comfortably shaded and they are handing out free beers. They are the little ones but who cares. That is the difference between somebody waiting an hour for a table or going to something less cool in the Glorieta Chapalita that never has a wait.
As you arrive at your table there is a stack of tostadas and two really simple, unique and delicious salads. Cucumber and onion, and marlin, carrot and onion. Mixed with some local sea salt and some spicy salsa you will be salivating for some appetizers.
The Raw Bar
Right next to the waiting area there is a display case of the daily specials. I have become a sucker for sea scallops and whenever I see them in the display case I need to get an order. These are not your typical Costco brand frozen sea scallops. I remember selling an order smaller than this for 30+ dollars in La Jolla a while back. These scallops are truly a world class delicacy.
The enormous reina clams are rather mild while the chocolata clams have a little stronger flavor. Both are exceptional.
There are a lot of recipes that are common but there are also a number of recipes that I have not seen before. The orange aguachile is one of those recipes that I have not come across before but understand completely. Its a mixture of raw shrimp and ‘callo de almeja”. I can’t find out exactly what a callo de almeja is but it looks like a bay scallop, the smaller ones than I have only seen frozen before.
The aguachile is served in a broth of lemon juice and orange juice with all the traditional fixings. Except the little cucumbers. Nobody uses the little cucumbers in a ceviche dish but they should. The lemon juice has enough acidity to “cook” the seafood yet the sweetness of the orange juice kind of hides the acidity of the lemons. Oh yeah, and its spicy. Its that creeper spicy that doesn’t hit you until you are getting into your second helping.
One of the ideas that always goes through my mind is how simple everything is. The seafood is the centerpiece and everything else is just complementary. Nothing overpowers those delicate ingredients that are the star of the show. A lot of sauce can sometimes hide less than ideal shrimp but at Campomar all the seafood is about as good as it gets quality wise.
Don’t be afraid to order tacos at a seafood joint. The first couple of times that I came I ate mostly tacos because I was afraid to ask how much the off menu specials were. Not to worry, everything is super affordable.
You need to order something zarandeado at Campomar. It is one of their specialties. The sauce is a mixture chiles, garlic, butter and soy sauce. Since I eat gluten free I ask them to hold off on the soy sauce. My personal favorite is the zarandeado whole fish. I am a huge fan of all the different ways that you can prepare a whole fish, and this has to be one of my favorites. Again, that sauce is spicy but it comes creeping up on you and you don’t notice at first.
I find it so ironic that for much of my childhood I didn’t like octopus. I had never had it prepared properly. Today, octopus is one of our go-to dishes. It can be hard to decide between a zarandeado fish, octopus or shrimp.
Tamal de Camaron
So this was one of those dishes that means a lot to me. I make tamales around Christmas time and have experimented with a number of different recipes. I am always looking for new flavors and takes on a treasured dish. This was the first time I have tried a really good shrimp tamal and it won’t be the last.
I am sure there is more than one dessert on the menu but I never bother to look anymore. The only one that matter is the fried bananas with sweet and condensed milk, and cinnamon. If nothing else on the menu does, this dish will transport you to the beach. It is amazing how smells and flavors can evoke memories but this is the plate that does that for me. This is the plate that takes me back to the beach. I don’t care how full I already am, I am ALWAYS going to order a plate of fried bananas with sweet and condensed milk because it is one of my favorite things on this earth.
I like seafood a lot and I don’t get to eat this well often. I can trace by love of specialty seafood to a stint I did working at Sushi on the Rock in La Jolla. Paul, the owner of Sushi on the Rock, taught me to try new things and how to spot the true delicacies. Mariscos Campomar in one of those true gems that you don’t find in every town. I hope that you get a chance to try this place because I really think that you are going to love it!