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Underground 106 Seafood, L.A.’s Best Backyard Mariscos Restaurant, Shuts Down

1:50 PM PDT on October 5, 2022

    “It was just time to move on,” a nonchalant Sergio Penuelas told L.A. TACO over the phone last night.  

    L.A.’s mariscos-loving community was shocked to see a story on Instagram yesterday afternoon announcing the immediate closure of his beloved backyard restaurant, 106 Underground Seafood. The ominous post featured the words: “We will be closed until further notice, thank you,” under an all-black background. 

    Prior to this sudden news, 106 Underground Seafood had been open five days a week since 2019. The restaurant operated on a “don’t ask/don’t tell”-style gray area in home kitchen stuck somewhere between the pages of California’s Cottage Food Operation permitting codes. Penuela has a business license for his operation and is highly experienced in food safety after working in multiple L.A. County restaurants throughout his life. Perhaps most importantly, he had to straddle blessings and the tolerance of neighbors while not operating within the proximity of any nearby brick-and-mortar restaurants.

    Sergio's kitchen space in backyard.
    Sergio's kitchen space in backyard. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    Sergio's dining space in the backyard. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

    “The reality is that I outgrew my backyard restaurant,” Penuelas says in reflection.  “I need space for at least 100 people,” The line for a table can get out of control on weekends.”

    He informs L.A. TACO that his decision to move on from his unique setup was a personal one intended to help grow as a business that he knows it’s the right time for, particularly following a misunderstanding with his landlord. Penuela and his family have lived in that same home for more than 30 years.  

    “It has nothing to do with the Health Department or police or neighbors,” he affirms. 

    Penuelas is L.A.’s most celebrated chef who specializes in mariscos. Born and raised in Sinaloa, he first earned recognition while working at Chente’s in Mar Vista, Coni’Seafood in Inglewood, and consulting for the menu at El Rey del Zarandeado in Long Beach. Jonathan Gold,  obsessed with his butterflied grilled robalo (snook) fish, dubbed him the “Snook Whisperer” in 2017. 

    Shrimp in Salsa Macha, one of Penuela's most-ordered shrimp dishes.
    Shrimp in Salsa Macha, one of Penuela's most-ordered shrimp dishes. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    Sergio Penuela in his backyard kitchen space.
    Sergio Penuela in his backyard kitchen space. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

    Since then, Penuelas became a near-mythical figure, sought after for his bold sazón and even bolder personality, and pursued by both local and national food media. Since 2019, his DIY-style restaurant, located in what would normally be his yard, became a quintessential destination to distill the excitement and exhilaration of L.A.’s dining scene down pristine quality seafood prepared simply, enjoyed al fresco in a random-ass location, with a cold beer and a Boeing  737 flying just a few hundred feet above your head.

    106 Underground Seafood retained a permanent spot in top food lists by publications across the city and was a favorite spot for celebrities and social media influencers, who loved to film his food and upload videos of it—including his home (and business) address. Just last month, Penuelas was formally reviewed by Bill Addison of the L.A. Times.

    At the time of publishing this story, Penuelas has not yet committed to a location for a brick-and-mortar space, but tells L.A. TACO he has “a few spots in consideration,” which reinforces his optimism in the face of this closure. He intends to stay close to his home. 

    “Why be sad?” he says stoically. “It was a great run.” 

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