The northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa is nestled between the western Sierra Madre Mountains and the Gulf of California – putting it between surf and high desert, and the sea doth offer bounty.
Be it gigantic squid, run-of-the-mill “fish” or marlin, the sinaloenses fear not the chopping block when it comes to seafood, and the state’s devil-may-care attitude (cooking with lime instead of actual heat) comes full force at Los Sinaloenses, located in trendy Roma Sur.
The scrappy refuge lights onto a seafood-based, regional cuisine that manages to stand out in a nation with more than 9 km of coastline. It’s characterized by an array of ceviches, cocktails and other arthropod and piscine specialties.
Los Sinaloenses is nothing flashy. The décor is chalkboards and plain-Jane wooden stools and benches. The day we went, the heat was unbearable, and the service was kind of meh, but the food was excellent in its many-legged freshness, sometimes chopped and served in rolls with avocado, accompanied by salsa options and a cold glass of anything.
There are two pillars for presentation in Sinaloense cuisine: ceviche and tacos. Ceviche is essentially chopped seafood usually mixed with diced tomatoes, avocado, chilies and onion, topped off with a curing shower of squeezed fresh lime. Options include conch, squid, crab, scallops, cooked shrimp and the ultra-spicy Sinaloense, which is a mix of seafood. Ceviches come as a tostada or as a full order, both soaked in the traditional, brown-tinted agave-based salsa.
The salsa itself is a treasure, so tangy and so picante that you can forget that what salt there is doesn’t play a key part in the flavor profile.
And then there’s the reason most come: aguachile. This ceviche concoction hinges on curing fresh raw shrimp with heavy infusions of lime. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, but Los Sinaloenses prides itself on a level of expertise that sets it apart. Its aguachile allows the shrimp to retain a meaty, uncooked grain, able to absorb the gamut of potential salsa pairings while holding fast to the chilies and spices within which it has been soaking.
All of these options for ceviche are also available in (corn tortilla) taco form as well.
Looking beyond the basics, there are vampiros, or vampires, a meat-tower taco, available here with carne asada (sirloin strips), arrachera (spicy beef strips) or machaca, dried and cured meat, or made from marlin or shrimp.
A cousin to the vampire, the torito – little bull – comes with the same options, but with a light but quite robust chile güero sauce. Carnivores may go for the anything-goes mixtas, and the soup/stew list lies in the caldos section, solid for the sniffles.
Getting back to what really works: if one’s stomach is ready, the coctel – or cocktail – section of the menu offers real chunks of fresh-off-the-boat seafood, and you really can’t go wrong with the freebie corn tostadas, four salsas and limes.
To wash it all down, the drinks menu only begins with beer. The michelada tradition runs strong here. Try the beer cocktail with salt and lime; with salt, lime and mixed chili powder; salt, lime, chili powder and Worcester sauce; salt, lime, chili powder, Worcester and a kick in the pants. There are options, and all are geared towards easing a hangover and work beautifully with fresh seafood and camaraderie.
For the novice foodie visiting D.F. for the first time and fearful of venturing beyond Condesa or Roma, this is a little taste of the real food and the real people of the city – a bit stubborn, a little uncomfortable and holding onto a little bit of the amazing.
This review was first published on May 30, 2016.