The name Chef Sergio Penuelas is synonymous with the best Mexican seafood in Los Angeles. Always based out of one of LA’s several Mariscos Chentes, Penuelas amassed a dedicated (if fanatical) following of diners who sought out the master chef’s mariscos creations. Just recently, Penuelas established himself in Inglewood by opening Coni’Seafood with Mariscos Chente family member Connie Cossio.
The news comes as a relief to everyone, since weekend trips to Coni’Seafood have become something of a rite of passage for Los Angelenos who take mariscos culture seriously. Coni’Seafood is unrivalled when it comes to ceviches, aguachiles, and some of the finest head-on shrimp you’ll find outside of the American South, but there are fantastic fish taco spots in Chinatown that do justice to the Baja Peninsula, and Jalisco-style fried shrimp tacos dorados that are worth their own drive to East LA.
At Coni’s Seafood, even the fried tortilla chips are delicious. Before you can take in the seashells and starfish that adorn the half walls surrounding you, a basket of the thick, crispy triangles and accompanying salsa arrives at the table. The remainder of the room is a bare stretch of grey walls that have been recently cleaned and decorated with framed articles extolling the culinary delights that await you. A trio of Smoked Marlin Tacos will appear in front of you, seemingly out of thin air, and set you back $9.
You may have heard about or perhaps tasted the smoky, tender palm-sized tacos that come with an alarming habanero salsa and a refreshing slice of avocado from this year’s Tacolandia event. Don’t doubt the buzz. Penuelas has prepared for you a cheesy, deliciously fried welcome to the world.
Coni’Seafood begins to show its mettle in dishes like the Coctel de Camaron y Pulpo (shrimp and octopus cocktail, $12). The coctel is precisely what it claims to be: a light and refreshing dish made with marinated shrimp and sliced octopus served in a thin soup with a moderate and slightly acidic taste. There is nothing heavy or fatty about this mariscos dish; simply clean, fresh fish.
The Camarones a la Diabla are a great choice if you want to advance in levels.
The heads of these deviled shrimp are left on, and they have a very thin shell that must be removed before eating. Indulge in the pleasures of flawlessly realised shrimp drenched in a thin chile de arbol that rises up in heat the farther you go into the dish while keeping the youngsters delighted for hours on end (though your vegetarian buddy may have to look away). The rich, almost sweet tastes are sealed in with a spray of well-warmed onions. You can always use the cold, crisp cucumber slices and heap of white rice at the edge of your sea of red, hot shrimp to bring yourself down to earth.
More shrimp, doused with pepper or a little vodka sauce, is constantly available. Chicharron de Pescado (tilapia) costs $16 and is served fried in dark pieces. The Pescado Zarandeado ($22), a full butterflied snook whose salty, flaky white fish is courtesy of caramelised onions and a marinade that includes a hint of mayonnaise, could serve as the centrepiece of your dinner if you’ve come to Coni’Seafood with a large pocketbook and a few pals. In terms of cost, this is one pricey piece of fish, but in chef Penuelas’s capable hands, it becomes a rare delicacy. Anything else on Coni’s Seafood’s menu might make the same claim.