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Meet the Former Ace Pitcher for the Mexican Leagues Who Is Making Addictive Salsas and Amazing Sonoran-Style Mariscos in L.A.

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles is a mariscos town just as much as it is a taco town.

There is no other city in the United States that comes close to rivaling the regional depth of Mexican seafood options. While Sinaloa holds the most power—properly so with its ballerisms in the form of food-costs-be-damned bulging shrimp and making it rain with pricey chiltepin chiles—there is also the ground fish-style of Nayarit and Jalisco from places like El Sarape or El Tejado in Boyle Heights, with its tender shredded carrot instead of tomato. Then there is the more common soggy, pico de gallo-like style of Baja California. Or the upscale takes of Quintana Roo’s coast via Holbox. All of these styles can absolutely kill any cruda, respectively.

However, the sauciest regional style of them all to be found in our Mexican’s home away from home of a city is Sonora-style via Mariscos El Tocho in South Los Angeles.

El Tocho is not a new mariscos truck and this is not the first time someone writes about them. It is also the kind of place that’s hard to find even when trying to find it since it is hidden inside an industrial private lot between two one-way side streets. But what’s made me drive all the way from Highland Park to 111th street for sometimes two weekends in a row, passing dozens of other mariscos spots along the way, is chef and owner’s Francisco “Tocho” Daniel’s crazy, addictive salsas. 

“Many people have come to me, asking me to bottle it and sell it, but this salsa is meant to be enjoyed here, not somewhere else,” Daniel tells me in Spanish over the really loud chord structures of the bajo sexto-led narco corridos bumping through a speaker next to the truck. “The moment that you add preservatives, the flavor changes. I want all of my salsas to make you feel like your mother or grandma is cooking for you.”

Those wonder salsas that he is talking about are a chunky, slightly sweet and smokey salsa negra that is the color of spent motor oil and an extra savory, garlicky mayonnaise-based salsa that brings to mind the Lebanese-inspired crema de ajo that you find all over taquerias in the Yucatán. 

Salsas have always been an element in mariscos, but never the star, because that is and should always be the quality of seafood. This is not the case at El Tocho, as briefed by Instagram user @Westrider310, an L.A. native and mariscos enthusiast, one night while sharing a table and drinking beer at Dry River Brewing. His comment went something like, “I don’t know what the hell they put in that salsa negra, but it is chunky and it is insane.” 

He wasn’t lying. 

The salsa negra in his tostada negra, piled high with shrimp and octopus, is unlike anything I’ve had before. It takes cues from your classic salsa negra used on raw seafood from Sonora’s neighboring state of Sinaloa but it’s amped up with the chunky texture of a salsa molcajeteada. The white salsa adds that little bit of richness that light mariscos often needs to hold you over until dinnertime. 

Francisco Daniel handing out some shrimp consomé that he makes from scratch.

This is the second life for Daniel, a former ace pitcher who played for the Águilas de Mexicali, Naranjeros de Hermosillo, Los Cañeros de Los Mochis, Los Venados de Mazatlan, and Los Tiburones de Puerto Peñasco. He’s been bi-coastal, living in Los Angeles and along Sonora’s coast on and off since 1993, which explains why he’s the flavor memory of his mariscos is still so accurate: fresh-tasting acid and chile flavor bombs that you keep you coming back for another bite.  

“I first made this salsa negra when I was 14 years old, I knew then that when I was older and would have my own restaurant, I would add it to that menu.” He won’t disclose even a bit off the ingredients, understandably. I suspect a burnt chile or two and Worchestershire at least. 

Daniel showing off his high-quality naked shrimp caught off the Pacific.

Mariscos El Tocho is a weekend-only operation, only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and they run out of food as early as noon because Daniel’s seafood sazón has a regular following of families and foos who show up with cases of pisto. If you happen to go there early enough and they miraculously still have some of their amusingly named tacos de chichi (stingray), get them. He sources a “white variety” of skate that is exclusively from the Sea of Cortéz off Sonora and stews it into a meaty estofado guisado for his tacos that is perhaps one of the deepest expressions of mariscos literacy in Los Angeles at the moment. The same goes for his callos de hacha, if you happen to get there and they still have them. Which unfortunately was not my case the last couple of times I visited. 

'Tacos de Chichi,' braised stingray guisado tacos.

Daniel has dreams of eventually opening up a small restaurant nearby. “I want air conditioning for people who can’t deal with the heat but also a patio so I can finally put up some palapas, like they do it along the beaches in Sonora. Whatever environment makes it easier to enjoy your mariscos.”

Mariscos Tocho is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9:30 AM to 3 PM (they are known to run out of things early, so plan accordingly. 

(562) 415-7519. 11267 S. Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90059

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