For years, Chef Sergio Penuelas has been a top name for Mexican-style seafood in Los Angeles. Always operating from one of several Mariscos Chentes dotted across LA, Penuelas developed a loyal (if a bit rabid) fan base that would seek out the master's mariscos dishes. It wasn't until a few years ago that Penuelas finally put down roots in Inglewood, working with Mariscos Chente family member Connie Cossio to create Coni'Seafood.
This is very welcome news for us all, and weekend runs out to Coni'Seafood have become somewhat of a rite of passage for anyone serious about mariscos culture in Los Angeles. Yes, there are fantastic fish taco spots in Chinatown that represent the Baja Peninsula well, and Jalisco-style fried shrimp tacos dorados that are worth their own drive to East LA, but for ceviches, aguachiles, and some of the finest head-on shrimp you'll find outside of the American South, Coni'Seafood stands alone.
Even the fried tortilla chips at Coni'Seafood are a delight. A basket of the thick, crispy triangles and accompanying salsa hit the table before you've even had the opportunity to take in all of the seashells and starfish that line the half-walls around you. The rest of the room is a sparse run of scrubbed gray walls and framed articles telling you just how delicious the food you're about to eat is. And then, as if by magic, a trio of Smoked Marlin Tacos ($9) will land in front of you.
Perhaps you've already tried them at this year's Tacolandia festival, or heard tell about the smoky, tender palm-sized tacos that arrive with an alarming habanero salsa and a cooling strip of avocado. Believe the hype. These are a cheesy, perfectly fried introduction into the world that Penuelas has prepared for you.
It's in a dish like the Coctel de Camaron y Pulpo (shrimp and octopus cocktail, $12) that Coni'Seafood really starts to show off its appeal. A simple preparation of thin broth, marinated shrimp, and sliced octopus, the coctel does exactly what it's supposed to: refresh you, keep you feeling light, and beguile you with a mild, slightly acidic flavor. There's nothing greasy or burdensome in this mariscos preparation, just fresh fish that's allowed to shine all on its own.
If you're looking to level up, give the Camarones a la Diabla a shot.
These deviled shrimp are served with their heads still intact and a thin shell to be peeled before eating. Your kids will be endlessly entertained with a dish like this, your vegetarian friend might have to look away, and you get to enjoy the spoils of perfectly realized shrimp doused in a thin chile de arbol that ramps up the heat the further into the dish you get. A nice splash of well-warmed onions help to seal the deal with savory, almost-sweet flavors. And if you need to slide back down to reality, the cooling, crisp cucumber slices and pile of white rice at the edge of your sea of red, spicy shrimp will do just fine.
There is always more shrimp on the menu, drowning in pepper or a thin vodka sauce. There's tilapia of course, fried into dark chunks politely referred to as Chicharron de Pescado ($16). And if you're coming to Coni'Seafood with a fat wallet and a few friends, the cornerstone of your meal should be the Pescado Zarandeado ($22), a whole butterflied snook that relies on caramelized onions and a marinade that includes a touch of mayonnaise to create perfectly salty, flaky white fish. Priced by the kilogram, this is certainly one expensive piece of fish, but it's a rare delicacy in the hands of chef Penuelas. The same could be said for just about everything else on Coni'Seafood's menu.