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Head to This Backyard Restaurant in Lennox to Find L.A.’s Most Notorious Mariscos Master

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]ergio Peñuelas is the Where’s Waldo? of the mariscos world.

The shrimp and fish Sinaloan maven first swept Jonathan Gold off his feet with his pescado zarandeado on Centinela’s Mariscos Chente in 2009, earning Peñuelas the honorable nickname of the “Snook Whisperer” of Los Angeles, named after the type of fish (robalo) he became famous for grilling. 

Then, he popped up on the border of Hawthorne and Inglewood, feeding the tlacuache masses of south Los Angeles at Coni’Seafood for a couple of years. He then set his sails southeast to Long Beach and finally opened another spot with a partner named after himself, Cheko El Rey del Sarandeado. And just when his loyal cult of mariscos fiends found out and started to regularly make the trek to L.B., he split.

He’s left a trail of spicy, vibrant, and unabashed mariscos at all of these places, with his classics like his zarandeado and tostaditas smeared with his smoked marlin fish pate still available—and still executed very well. But if you are one of those people who won’t go to a restaurant unless the namesake chef is in the kitchen and need to get your hit of Peñuela-stamped ocean goodness, L.A. Taco has located the whereabouts of the city’s most notorious seafood master: Straight posted at his pad, not giving a fuck, at an underground restaurant he is now fully operating out of his backyard that rivals any other great mariscos restaurant in the city. 

He has a full and well-maintained garde manger station where he assembles each ceviche’s elements to order; a commercial deep fryer for his famous fish chicharrón; a range big enough to get him through the busiest Sunday afternoon after a payday; and a well-seasoned grill that permanently reeks of delicious charred seafood. All of this heavy-duty equipment stationed in what can be best described as a maritime-themed backyard kitchen pod that would probably get nonstop praise if it was on an urban issue of Dwell

Pulling Up to 106 Seafood Underground

Your best chance of procuring the address to 106 Seafood Underground, the dangerously generic name for his new operation, will be via a DM on his Instagram account or through word of mouth from a fellow mariscos-loving plebe. And once you score it and confirm that he is open, you will smash that address into your phone for guidance, find some parking nearby, do a double-take to make sure you are in front of the right house, and very gingerly walk in through the house’s front yard. If you’re from the barrio, you’ll most likely have a very brief worry of being in the wrong house and getting hit up for trespassing, but it is all in your head because you have arrived to perhaps the “most L.A.” eating experience in all of Los Angeles.

On a weekday afternoon, Peñuelas says what’s up to his regulars by name. On the cool afternoon that I’m there, it is a landscaper coming in for a coctél and a couple on a lunch date nursing a plate of his electric-tasting aguachile. He shows off that even Hollywood’s Latino elite have stopped by for some shrimp, including Edward James Olmos and George Lopez. 

Tacos de Marlin

All of Peñuelas classics from the last decade are present, but he’s kept up with the times as well. Like his Camarones a La Salsa Macha, which materializes as a savory seafood mole of sorts instead of just the shrimp drizzled in the trendy oil-based Mexican salsa. Or his, “Green Apple” ceviche, which combines his addicting raw salsa verde that he serves with chips and also doubles as the base for his aguachiles with the similar tartness of crisp green apples. 

Peñuelas' Green Apple Ceviche

When asked why he decided to open his own backyard, Peñuelas humbly responds with “I just tried the concept to see what’s up and I just stayed here; people like it.” His wife, Maria de Los Angeles Peñuelas, works the front of the house and helps with prep. He has a tarp set up for rare rainy days.

Camarones a La Salsa Macha

Classic mariscos dishes like cóctel de camarón and tacos de [smoked] marlin just hit differently when prepared by someone who grew up eating it every day along Mexico’s coast. 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. Those smoked marlin fish tacos have plenty of ham-like marlin instead of a mixture mostly full of fillers and cheese.  

Mariscos at Home

At Peñuelas’ new mariscos base, he is free to effortlessly flex his seafood literacy and ability to draw swoons with chiles, acid, crustaceans, and whole fish. But with the laidback comfort of kicking back in someone’s backyard—because it is indeed in his own backyard. 

Blue prawns before they become camarones zarandeados
Camarones Zarandeados

As for the legality of Peñuela’s operation, he assures me that he is “legit” and has no problem with me going on record about his operation. In a way it is, and I’m sure the reason why his regulars keep coming back is because of his attention to cleanliness and freshness in his food that is immediately apparent after the first bite. He sources all of his seafood from the Pacific, which explains why his stuff isn’t the cheapest, but it’s the best you can get. This is not easy to do with such a delicate protein like raw seafood.   

After you’ve ordered your food, it’s hard to not peek into Peñuelas in action in his backyard pod. Slamming his low boy as he brings out some pristine head-on blue shrimp for his camarones zarandeados the size of a Pacifico bottle and slicing into them with the same precision as a sushi chef 20 miles away but for about 20 times less the price of what you’ll pay for the same stuff here. Like many Sinaloans, he’s confident as hell but he backs up all of his shit-talking with his immaculate skills in the kitchen and passion for mariscos. 

“Uno ahí en Sinaloa, no es por presumir pero, es tonto y raro el cabrón que no sepa hacer un aguachile—de verdad.” 

In English, this quote perfectly captures the essence of what it means to be from Sinaloa; prideful, witty, and with a masterful edge for seafood. 

“It would be weird and someone would have to be an idiot to be from Sinaloa and not know how to prepare an aguachile, for real.”  

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