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L.A. Taco Guides

Six Refreshing Cócteles de Camarón to Eat in L.A. During a Heat Wave

Is a cóctel de camarón the perfect food? 

When the weather is nearing the 100s and all you are craving is food that is served chilled or cold, the argument can certainly be made for it. Even for those of us who are lucky to have air conditioning in our home, no one is ever trying to produce any kind of radiating heat from our kitchens during a heatwave. This is when L.A.'s sprawling marisquerías rise to the occasion, cooking and assembling cold Mexican-style seafood on scorching hot days for everyone else to enjoy.

A proper cóctel is hard to find because it takes patience to make. Many mariscos shops pour a tomato cocktail with clam extract with a couple of cooked chopped shrimp and a fat squirt of ketchup and call it a day, and many hungry customers are happy to eat that. But for those of us who have a passion for mariscos, nothing will ever replace simmering shrimp shells with vegetables and aromatics to make an old school shrimp consomé, then chilling it and using that as a base. 

Most places offer “mixto” or “campechano” versions with chopped octopus, surimi (imitation crab meat known as “jaiva” in the U.S.), and imitation abalone made from cuttlefish or squid. Some places also offer a couple of oysters thrown into the mix to complete the seafood-induced bliss when eating them. And of course, a non-sheisty portion of buttery avocado to top it all off.  

Whether you are crudo or not, these long-simmered versions of a true cóctel satisfy your soul and are good to the last sip. The next question is: Are you team pile-of-tostadas? Or are you team galletitas?  

A close-up shot of the cóctel at Mariscos El Mazatleco. Photo via @tacabronese.
A close-up shot of the cóctel at Mariscos El Mazatleco. Photo via @tacabronese.

Mariscos El Mazatleco (The Valley)

16530 Sherman Way, Lake Balboa, CA 91406

When eating mariscos, a great rule of thumb is: If the owners are from Sinaloa, it is most likely going to be a delicious experience. This prideful region of Mexico is the country’s capital for shrimp production and has been since the 70s. Prideful Sinaloenses in L.A. have shaped the city’s mariscos culture for being some of the first to open seafood-only trucks and family restaurants. El Mazatleco is one of these institutions. It’s situated in the Valley that often gets the brunt end of any L.A. heatwave, too, making it all the more respectable to work in a food truck under the relentless Southern California sun. The shrimp quality here is impeccable.  

Mariscos El Faro (Highland Park)

6139 N Figueroa St # 6113, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Ana Victoria Ibanez is another proud Sinalonse in L.A. and owner of Mariscos El Faro, which specializes in aguachile and callo de lobina (salt-cured fish ceviche) in Highland Park. However, her cocteles de camarón are also a work of seafood art. It is delicate in flavor and is packed with tender shrimp.  She grew up eating shrimp there in the same way that American kids grow up eating chicken nuggets in the States, so she knows a thing or two about how to prepare them to taste their best. Ask for extra peppery chiltepin chile if you want the full Sinaloan experience. 

Mariscos Jalisco (Boyle Heights)

3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90023

M.J.’s taco de camarón is arguably L.A.’s most iconic daytime taco. It only makes sense that their cóctel de camarón, which is also made from shrimp, is treated with the same respect as their coveted shrimp taco. Each shrimp is perfectly poached and never rubbery. The cubed avocado is always buttery. And if you feel like balling out, adding a few oysters to your coctél is definitely the next best thing to being in an actual beach eating mariscos. Protip: Ask for your cóctel “natural” and add the ketchup to your liking.

Mariscos El Garage (Long Beach)

E 19th St, Long Beach, CA 90806

Elsa Barragan, owner of Mariscos El Garage, was just a teen when she learned her late father’s beloved secret cóctel de camarón recipe. She was always by her father’s side, taking notes of how he prepared the shrimp and ingredients. A sacred process to her father, so sacred he would say no when she would ask if she could help. “He only trusted himself and my mom when it came to helping him prepare everything,” she said. “Especially the shrimp, no one else was allowed to touch the shrimp.” You can go taste this family-guarded cóctel de camarón recipe that has been passed down to her in an actual beach, too. Long Beach, that is.  

A cóctel de camarón at 106 Underground Seafood.
A cóctel de camarón at 106 Underground Seafood.

Underground Seafood 106 (Lennox)

4302 W 106th St, Inglewood, CA 90304

Classic mariscos dishes like cóctel de camarón and just hit differently when prepared by someone who grew up eating it every day along Mexico’s coast. Sergio Peñuelas’ cóctel is served confidently at a warm temperature and without being drowned in ketchup, instead of most cocteles that are served ice-cold and as sweet as a soft drink to hide an unfresh product. It also has an ungodly amount of shrimp. The former is how a cóctel de camarón is normally served on the coast in Mexico unless requested to be served cold. Enjoy and keep this low-key ‘hood secret a secret.  

Mariscos Tocho (Lynwood) 

11299 Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90059

Francisco “Tocho” is so prideful about his long-simmered cóctel de camarón, that he is likely to hand you a cup of his savory shrimp consomé while you are waiting in line for food. He’ll also hand you a shrimp even. His cóctel de camarón has nothing to hide. While you’re there, definitely also try his lip-smacking sazón via his salsa blanca and salsa negra, which are two of the best salsas over seafood that I’ve had in Los Angeles. 

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