El Zarandeado's is a great spot for reasonably priced mariscos.
By Steve “Mo” Fye
New Mexico is not known for its seafood. In fact, locally owned fish restaurants are not often successful.
It seems that mariscos (Spanish for seafood) restaurants are the exception; there are several places in town that seem to do just fine. I have spent most of my life land-locked, but I still crave the fruits of the sea. I have family in Portland, Oregon and am able to scratch the seafood itch on every visit, but one of my favorite local sources for salty, oceanic goodness is at a Mexican mariscos place.
El Zarandeado on Central Avenue, across from the fairgrounds, takes cues from west central Mexico, in the state of Nayarit.
The place is not exactly in a posh neighborhood, but inside, it’s clean and nicely furnished. A parade of Albuquerque’s denizens file by on Central, while Mexican pop plays over a TV set to Spanish-language news.
Our waiter, Adrian, handed us menus written entirely in Spanish and – with no condescension – offered to translate if we needed. I know far more Spanish than one would guess by my appearance, but the offer was welcome. The more obscure Mexican culinary terms had me stumped. We had just started our translating when he dropped off freshly fried chips and an amazing tomatillo salsa. If they ever put this in jars, I’m investing.
I had heard good things about the cheladas (beer and seasoned tomato juice) and decided it was time to learn the difference between a “chelada” and a “michelada.” It turns out they can either be synonymous or the basis for a doctoral thesis detailing the history and nuances. Think of it as the Mexican beer-based version of a bloody mary and go out and try as many versions as you can find. This one was served in a giant mug rimmed with chile-lime salt and a side of lime wedges. There were literally 10 different salsas on the table for us to doctor our drinks and food.
Friends familiar with El Zarandeado recommended the campechana, part ceviche, part shrimp cocktail and part soup. Avocado tops a tall parfait glass filled with citrus-spiked tomato juice, fresh oysters, cooked shrimp, octopus and squid. It’s bulked out with diced cucumber, fresh tomato and jalapenos. Order it as an appetizer to share. The medium fed two easily; the large can do four.
After a huge drink and appetizer, I opted for the Tostada Nayarit. At six bucks, it did not seem like that great a deal. However, a six-inch tostada heaped three inches high with seafood and fresh veggies turned out to be plenty.
Simmered and cooled mixed seafood, chopped and mixed with mayo and peppers is far more filling than it appears. Fans of avocado will be thrilled here. Generous portions are used as garnish, included in the mix and seemingly scattered everywhere. It took a knife and fork to get the tostada down to a size I could pick up and eat with my fingers.
My buddy ordered the pescado empapelado. Fish smothered with salsa and cheese and cooked in an envelope of foil. It’s the Mexican version of French cuisine’s poisson en papillote (fish with herbs and vegetables baked in a parchment paper envelope). The flavors are concentrated and there is no loss of moisture. The rice and salad work wonderfully as accompaniments.
We left groaning from the large portions and the never-ending chips and tomatillo salsa. The check was reasonable, especially considering the expense of getting decent seafood to our land-locked High Sierra.
6500 Central Ave. SE, 87108
Steve “Mo” Fye is an Instructional Tech in the Culinary Arts program at Central New Mexico Community College and keeps a pretty impressive array of Mexican salsas.