La Palmera specializes in Sinaloa-style grilled and raw seafood preparations.
We made a “Cannonball Run” like break for the border, stampeded into Mexico on foot and all had one question on our minds: Where do we eat first? We all turned to Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA, a man with an insatiable hunger for traditional Mexican cooking. He promptly directed us to La Palmera, a Sinaloan style seafood restaurant located in Tijuana’s fish market district, which owner Eliazar Diaz named for a cluster of palm trees. Diaz opened La Palmera three years ago, patterning the food after dishes from their hometown of Huamuchis, Sinaloa.
When we arrived, the covered patio had light streaming inside, hanging plants and fans on blast. The windows are painted with killer whales, dolphins and manta rays. Sadly, Diaz served none of those sea creatures, but there were still plenty of oceanic treasures.
La Palmera’s colorful raw bar offers cocteles y clamatos and counter seats.
We started with toasted tortillas and dishes of pico de gallo spiked with Serrano chilies, a spicy tomato-based salsa and halved limes.
We ordered a big plate of Almeja Reyna (1/2 dozen for 120 pesos), large chopped clams dressed with tomato, cucumber and red onion. I dripped on some spicy habanero salsa, but the clams still had an unshakable funkiness.
A dozen Pata de Mula (80 pesos, about $6), Mangrove cockles, featured black jus accented with savory Maggi sauce and an unpleasant crunchiness. Thankfully the rest of the meal was much more satisfying.
Our prospects improved with the arrival of Aguachile (100 pesos), an overflowing molcajete that came fully loaded with tangy raw shrimp flash-cooked in lime juice, dried chilies, thin shaved red onion and cucumbers.
Callo de Hacha (150 pesos) consisted of silky sliced sea scallops showered with red onion, cucumber and sliced red serranos for kick.
Up front, a charcoal pit grills the specialty of the house, pescado sarandeado. Depending on seasonality, you’ll find seven fish, ranging from Liza (red mullet) (150 pesos/kg) to Salmon (400 pesos/kg).
We ordered two kilos of corvina (150 pesos/kg), a flaky white fish. We folded soft handmade tortillas around the corvina, caramelized onions and fiery chilies. This zarandeado wasn’t as flavorful as the state-of-the-art snook at Mariscos Chente, but it was expertly grilled.
While this wasn’t quite a direct hit by the food seeking missile, and we had better seafood during our second Tijuana stay of 2009, it’s hard to argue with faultless grilled fish and premium ceviche.