I’ve had many run-ins with the michelada, Mexico’s most popular beer cocktail, but nothing could have prepared me for the chabela from Mariscos El Cristalazo, a catering company run by Cristal Vargas in the San Gabriel Valley. Street Gourmet LA founder Bill Esparza led us to an undisclosed SGV location to enjoy lunch on his birthday, and while we didn’t quite drain the seas, there was certainly plenty of seafood on our table and in our chabela.
Cristal Vargas, who worked in a series of seafood restaurants both Mexican and Japanese before setting out on her own, showcases the flavors of Esquinapa, a coastal Sinaloan city sandwiched between Mazatlan and Nayarit. Seafood arrived in jumbo martini glasses, on plates, and in gargantuan 32-ounce steins, which contained each chabela ($10), more or less an oceanic Big Gulp, but way better. Vargas starts with a choice of beer. Esparza and I opted for Pacifico, though Corona and Bud Light are also options. Next comes a river of Clamato, a deluge of plump de-shelled clams, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of dried chile. Coarse sea salt lines the rim, along with four sizable shrimp, a slice of cucumber and hot sauce. Celery stalks join the intoxicating liquid, along with a spoon to dredge the bottom of the glass, a straw, and plenty of ice to keep things cool throughout what will undoubtedly be a leisurely meal.