A great place for fresh and tasty Mexican seafood dishes

Given the culinary demands of a friend on a low carb diet binge and my own ever-present craving for fresh Mexican seafood preparations, a meal at Puerto Peñasco restaurant on Airport Road was a evidence. Plus, it was out of my Santa Fe orbit, and that made it a good fit for a review.

So we went on a recent Monday for a three course lunch. We left satisfied with our choices.

Puerto Peñasco serves roasted tomato salsa and fries with what I call avocado cream – a lightly tangy cream with jalapeño – when the menu comes up. We were fine with that: the salsa was warm enough for my guest and the cream, while also spicy, was tame enough for me.

An extra side of guacamole ($6.95) arrived fresh, big, and spicy, with fresh fries, and a little shrimp cocktail ($8.95) earned the same adjectives and pleased my guest.

Puerto Peñasco’s main course list includes just about every type of seafood preparation you’ll typically find south of the border, including fish steamed with garlic and butter, or with mushrooms and tequila, or chipotles and cream. Fish tacos, of course, and shrimp all over the place. But you can get a variety of steak preparations, including one or two straight with baked potatoes, as well as classic meat tacos and enchiladas.

We were there for the seafood, however, so we bypassed everything but that. My guest chose ostiones gratinados, half a dozen oysters on the half shell, briefly grilled with bacon and cheese ($8.95). I admit I prefer my oysters fresh, raw and no frills, but she found the bacon very smoky and the bland queso fresco on the grilled half shells tasty.

I knew what I wanted before I even got to Puerto Peñasco, so I ordered what I almost always get at Mexican-style seafood restaurants: levantamuertos, or raising the dead – fruit cup fresh seafood, including shucked raw oysters, calamari, shrimp and scallops, in a sauce resembling tomato juice, topped with onion, avocado and cilantro ($14.95).

Served with a generous helping of lime slices, that was all I wanted. If I had one criticism, it would be that the tomato “broth” wasn’t as rich as elsewhere in town, but the seafood was fresh and the portion generous. (Puerto Peñasco also serves this hot combination, like a caldo or stew, but I’ll save that for a winter visit.)

Like most Mexican restaurants around, Puerto Peñasco offers only a few dessert choices. We bypassed the tres leches cake, actually a favorite of mine, in favor of my guest’s preference for the flan ($4.95). It was downright good: a bit more burnt sugar caramel flavor than usual, which I considered a plus, and quite dense.

I’m sure the common contemporary preparation involves sweetened condensed milk, rather than the old-fashioned, tedious preparation of eggs and milk that is the basis of flan’s French cousin, crème brûlée. Although I couldn’t find any flan recipes in any of my own Mexican cookbooks, an internet search yielded several, most involving sweetened condensed milk and eggs – a modern hybrid, apparently, of pudding with the old one on the stove. and pastry cream.

I wouldn’t give Puerto Peñasco high marks in the decor department; it is a modest cafe in every way. But the cabins are comfortable and the service was good (and bilingual). And on the Monday we visited, it was pleasantly uncrowded. If you’re on Airport Road and hungry, this is a good place to find a relatively healthy meal.

Dino S. Williams