Holbox is the most exciting stall to hit USC adjacent Mercado La Paloma since Mo-chica. Gilberto Cetina, Jr. runs this seafood-focused spinoff of Chichen Itza, a thriving Yucatán restaurant that his father founded further back in the market. Holbox is named for an island off the Yucatán Peninsula, and people are piling into counter seats and communal market tables to enjoy creative preparations. During my visit, a glass case to the left of the counter featured a selection of whole and sliced sea creatures including a massive 82-pound opah from Hawaii, pata de mula (blood clams), boxes of sea urchin, and huge diver scallops.
I enjoyed these scallops in tacos, and even better, prepared two ways for Scallop al Carbon ($18 per pound). Cetina shucked a smooth-shelled scallop that clocked 0.8 pounds. He grilled the firm, sweet meat (rich, rosy coral attached) over a wood grill that burns mesquite lump charcoal, plating on the half-shell in bright orange chile x’catic salsa crafted with a Yucatán pepper that wasn’t as fierce as it looked. Cetina took the frill, connective tissue that holds the meat to the shell, fried until crispy in light batter, and plated on the second half-shell with dabs of mayo, spicy, smoky salsa morita, and a bed of raw, crunchy purple cabbage. If this is how they cook on Holbox, I’m destined to visit. Until then, I’ll gladly explore more of Cetina’s menu.