Bracero Cocina is a contemporary, double-decker Mexican restaurant from Javier Plascencia and business partner Luis Peña in San Diego’s Little Italy. The name honors Mexican farm workers who stepped up to perform manual labor in the U.S. under the Bracero program from World War II through 1964. My first visit to Bracero Cocina was a hit from beginning to end, but one dish stood out more than the rest: Zarandeado Whole Fish ($28).
This butterflied and wood-grilled fish preparation is popular in coastal Mexican states like Sinaloa and Nayarit. I’ve been a big fan of the pescado zarandeado at Coni’seafood in Los Angeles, where they use snook. At Bracero, they use a different marinade and showcased pink grouper, a flaky fish with crisp skin that cooked in the custom Caja Baja, Bracero’s oak-fired riff on the Caja China. The fish rested in a silky sabritas emulsion crafted with puréed potatoes, heavy cream and San Felipe sea salt, an elevated reference to Mexico’s popular Sabritas chip company. Up top, they placed crunchy, house-made fingerling potato chips. The plate also hosted beautifully charred scallions and a thatch of fennel. The fish pulled easily from the bones and tasted great in a sturdy house-made corn tortilla, drizzled with one of four house salsas. I was a big fan of the salsa roja crafted with roasted tomato, onion, garlic and jalapeño, even though other salsas delivered more heat. The dish kept giving, with pockets of tail and cheek meat slowly revealing themselves. The plate even came with a cast-iron dish of roasted seasonal mushrooms al ajillo, served in a garlicky jus.