El Sarape is one of my favorites in East Los Angeles (Boyle Heights) right now. I don’t know which family owns it, but it’s probably the same ones that owns the automotive junkyard/repair shop in the back.
I also don’t know what type of fish is being used in the zarandeado — it’s definitely not red snapper at only $10 — but I do know that the sarandeado is ala plancha’d (not a real verb) on a backyard gas grill out in the back. There’s simply no room in the tiny kitchen sized for a Tokyo apartment in the front shack that also acts as a take-out waiting room. I also know there are tchotchkes everywhere in this front room: weird? or awesome? Now that Bahooka’s closed (RIP), why not find some substitutional food kitsch in Boyle Heights? If you’re taking out, this is where you place the order, and wait for said order. If you’re doing the “aqui” thing, head on back to the covered patio.
Shortly after a visitor digests the scene [tarp covered patio, random folding tables covered with plastic, a sometimes working juke box, a few children playing on the side, the BYOB situ, the communal-only tables, the fact one could be facing the driveway while noshing on raw shrimp, the fact a BBQ is nowhere near the actual kitchen, the fact this location could be marked for demolition, ad nausea], a small order of pescado ceviche will be offered with a stack of commercial tostadas con limon, along with a side of watery salsa verde. Eat that knowing it’s an amuse, but understand the salsa verde packs a bit of heat.
If you’re into ceviche, go for the simplest option: pescado on a tostada. It’s done in a “Tecuala” style, which apparently means there’ll be grated carrots and a healthy dose of lime. Skip the mixta because it contains a rather generous portion of crab sticks. This is a common theme amongst cevicherias in LA: jaiva means surimi means do not order that shit. One of the few exceptions is the “true” jaiba ceviche offered at El Coraloense in Bell Gardens. It’s $10. That write-up will hopefully hit the stands sometime this March. What one should really hope at El Sarape though, is the half portioned cooked seafood. You can get the above pictured una persona zarandeao (I’m convinced this is snook) for $11. It comes with rice and tortillas, and actually serves two, assuming some antojitos are also ordered. Ditto to the molcajete, which smells like a seafood dish out of a Stinky Rose.
The true value here though, is actually the kids. They’re natural born workers despite carrying thick Mexican accents. You’ll see the eldest policing his brother, you’ll see the young’un offer toys to visiting toddler, you’ll see the cook ask the future head of household to run tortillas from the back storage shack. Food wise, the aguachiles offers a huge bang for ten bucks. Much like el jato, a pound of haphazardly plated shrimp arrives, surrounded by some cucumbers. It is perfected cooked by lime, and ready for immediate consumption. It’s twice as expensive as the aguachiles tostadas offered at Mariscos Jaliscos, but you’re not getting parboiled shrimp masked by spicy insanity. There’s over a pound of deveined shrimp, some avocado, plenty of cucumber, and limitless tostadas.
Contrary to Mariscos Jaliscos, Sarape doesn’t deep fry the entire taco. The pescado taco here, with a light and fluffy fillet o fish, is refreshing change from the Baja battered style. It’s like Rubio’s, but made by an abuelita, except the cooking team is not granny age. They’re just neighborhood moms (or cousins?) who arrive at 10:30 A.M. with their kids in strollers, ready to turn a shack in the hood into a small plot of Nayarit. Half of the signs on the menu wall still deploy commas for decimals, that’s the kind of casual, unintended authenticity which permeates El Sarape.
Did I mention it’s BYOB? And there’s a Korean owned liquor store 50 yards East? The mariscos pairing drink of choice in this neighborhood seems to be Pacifico, so follow suit ese.
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