No questions, just eating
All photos by Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES
If you can only afford to eat out once this semester, only one restaurant should receive your precious meal money. Ditch Denny’s, abandon Alberto’s and just don’t go to Chick-fil-A. Merely a few miles from campus down Imperial Highway lies a restaurant that deserves more than a passing glance. Frankly, it is foolish not to pay attention.
Mario’s Peruvian Seafood Restaurant embodies the art of simple, flawless execution. Despite an interior reminiscent of Hometown Buffet, no trepidation is necessary concerning the menu’s plentiful selection of seafood. Dive right in and revel in the enticingly exotic provisions, even if they seem a little strange at first.
I was apprehensive when the waitress explained the chicha morada — a Peruvian soft drink made in-house from scratch — as a concoction of purple corn, cinnamon and lemon. The arrival of a jewel-like purple beverage glistening in a tall glass of ice knocked away my initial expectation of some kind of odd, thick blended corn smoothie. A unique sweetness delicately balanced by the surprisingly harmonious cinnamon and lemon refreshes with each sip. I only recommend resisting the temptation to finish the glass before the food arrives as it complements any dish just as well as it stands alone.
As for the horchata and tamarindo, our waitress all but told us to not bother when she explained in a regretful tone that they are not made in-house. The visible dispenser by the soda machine towards the back revealed neither drink would reach beyond the level of the average chain taco shop.
All the menu items from appetizer to entrée are numbered, perhaps in case the prospect of pronouncing the dishes’ Spanish names seems daunting. To start, order the ceviche, which is numbers one and two. If you aren’t sure whether raw fish soaked in lemon juice and spices is appetizing or safe, the answer is yes and yes. Order it.
The chilled ceviche mixto, which throws in a plentiful helping of octopus, shrimp and squid for the same price as the plain fish ceviche de pescado, plays up the flavors of each component with lemon and a kick of spicy peppers. While the heat is present, it does not upstage the dish or leave the diner dying for refreshment. The octopus, shrimp and squid kept up their end of the plate by refusing to be tough or rubbery, indicating that the kitchen knows how to prepare delicate seafood well.
Though the entrées seem steeply priced for a college student budget at $11 to $15 per plate, take heed that the portions fill each wide, oval plate. Whether you split an entrée with a friend or take the leftovers home, each dish easily provides two meals’ worth of food.
Pescado macho, or number 31, also exemplifies the cooks’ skill in seafood cookery. My plate arrived piled with sautéed shrimp, squid, octopus and mussels and it took me a moment to discover the fried fish filets buried at the bottom. However, for what Mario’s lacks in the presentation department, it succeeds with flavor and portion size. The savory seasoning on the mixture of shellfish and cephalopods needs no improvement. The crisp outside of the filet reveals silky, tender bites of fish worthy of a swoon. Sweet, juicy tomatoes served warm mingle with the seafood in a wonderful melody of flavor. The rice served on the side is not entirely necessary, but nice if you want it.
Perched at the top of the seafood section, saltado de mariscos is essentially the sautéed seafood featured in the pescado macho, but tossed with thick strips of French-fried potatoes as well. The “fries” are not of the deep-fried golden fast food variety but are instead coated in the same spices and sautéed with the rest of the dish, adding to its magnificence instead of acting as filler.
If seafood makes you squirm, fear not. Lomo saltado, beef sautéed with onions, succulent tomatoes and those fantastic fries, removes all suspicion of ill from the number 13. If carne asada fries are anywhere near to your heart, this might be better. Juicy strips of meat make the plate both flavorful and hearty, elevating the banal idea of “meat and potatoes” to a thing of fantasy.
Whether you have to walk, bike, drive or scooter down the street to get there, go to Mario’s. And put the spicy cilantro green sauce on everything — no questions, just do it. There are no regrets associated with a meal there, just cravings for future visits.
Mario’s Peruvian Seafood Restaurant
15720 Imperial Hwy
La Mirada, CA 90638
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Food/drink: Peruvian cuisine: pescado macho; lomo saltado; chicha morada.
Prices: Entrees: $11 - $15; Cash and credit cards accepted; two credit cards per table max
Take out: Yes
Atmostphere: Casual, with little decor. Tables and booths available.
Hours: Monday - Thursday: 11:30 am - 9 pm;
Friday - Saturday: 11:30 am - 9 pm;
Sunday: 11 am - 8 pm