Thursday, July 18, 2024

Ruta 15 brings a new level of mariscos to Long Beach

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Ruta 15 is extremely new, having been opened only a few weeks—but it is bringing a level of mariscos to Long Beach that echoes some of the region’s best spots. It also harbors the essence of a culinary tradition in Mexico that is as precious as corn itself, where seafood becomes a representation of not just its people’s gastronomical talent but the way in which Mexican people come together.

Ruta 15 is of a quality and innovation that harkens to our region’s best

Surely, Long Beach has had decent mariscos—with, to be frank, some of the best spots being Instagram-based, like El Pelicano Loco, or straight up birthed out of garages, like Mariscos El Garage—but our neighbor to the north has long held the trophy. There’s Holbox and its Chef Gilberto Cetina Jr. recently being a finalist for a James Beard award this year. Mariscos Jalisco, one of the strongest representations of mariscos from the great west coast state. El Muelle 8, which opened a shop in Downey and hails from the mariscos-richc city of Culiacán in Sinaloa.

And with the closure of Cheko El Rey Del Sarandeado last year—Long Beach’s sole Sinaloa-style mariscos joint that was from Coni’ Seafood alumni—our city needs a mariscos uplift.

Mariscos that are some of Long Beach’s finest representations of seafood dishes

In a sense, Ruta 15 harkens to this style of mariscos. The places where the seafood of the day is displayed over ice. Where oysters are shucked off the side of the road. The places where a variety of house-made hot sauces line up for your choosing. The type of place that would exist in Jalisco. Or Nayarit. Or Sinaloa. The very states where La Carretera Federal 15—or Ruta 15—runs through, a freeway which stretches from Nogales in the north before hitting the coast and ending inland at Mexico City.

“This is different—and that is specifically what we aimed for,” said co-owner Richard Mosqueda. “We want to highlight the rich culture of not just Mexican food as a whole but specifically mariscos and the places to which it originated. Food is always a communal experience—but in Mexico, it is taken to another level. Food is an essential part of our identity. And we want to share that with Long Beach in a way that goes beyond the typical.”

With Richard’s lengthy background in food—from distribution to chef-ing it up directly—he knew he need someone to “understand that Ruta 15 is an expression of a culinary tradition that has existed in Mexico for hundreds of years.”

Mariscos is about connection and quality over pretentiousness and exclusivity—which is exactly what Ruta 15 exudes

Executive Chef César Sánchez understands Richard’s assignment clearly. Having worked at restaurants across both sides of the border, the Mexican native’s grasp of the importance of mariscos to the culture is one that harkens to Chef Sergio Peñuelas, who opened Cheko shortly after leaving Coni’Seafood. There is a deep respect of where the fish and seafood come from. How they’re prepared.

“Food is what brings people together, right? We say that a lot,” César said. “But for me, it is something I live by because it is my culture. Some of these foods were created by people who had very little but look at the result. It’s innovative and seems simple but mariscos is one of the most important parts of Mexican food and culture.”

And, even more, César does not let tradition bind his work. Because of this, the man shares a love of a very Californian ideal: melding flavors while simultaneously harnessing the traditional. His esquites? Charred bits of yellow and white corn are melded with soy and ginger—anything but traditional but certainly a complexity of flavors that make it one of the best corn sides in the city.

And then there are, for lack of a better term, Mexican A Things. Like the tostadas. Yes, there is a yellow corn tostada. And a green one made from cactus, layered with flax seeds. But the ones that make you feel like you’re standing at the side of the grill where carne asada is being made for the family in the backyard is the unevenly curled tortilla charred with black stains.

“Some people don’t like the char but that? That brings me back to nearly every fiesta of my childhood,” Richard said. “But the food, as a whole, is something I really feel isn’t really in Long Beach—and that is what I am most excited about.”

A blend of traditional and nouveau, Chef César Sánchez’s menu is an ode to mariscos

César’s pulpo Zarandeado—an octopus cooked Nayarit-style, meaning over an open flame and amped up with citrus juice—is an ode to the great mariscos of Nayarit. Sitting atop the aforementioned esquites, bits of fried potato are slapped atop a caramelized onion and butter purée that is delectable enough to be a soup on its own. Then, the crown jewel: Strands of braised-then-grilled octopus tentacles,

Add to this a few dollops of his charred habanero salsa—a beautifully mute grey concoction that serves as much heat and it does lime brightness—or a dip into his salsa matcha—a beautiful array of Yahualica chiles, peanuts, and oil.

Speaking of his salsa macha, his stuffed coconut is bathed in it. This magical dish, where the body of the nut is used as a serving bowl spilling out with aguachile, is the epitome of mariscos. Layers of shrimp, octopus, scallops, and fish—all marinated in a citrus concoction ultra-packed with acidity—are combined with cubes of coconut and mango flesh. The result is a beautifully balanced, umami-meets-savory-meets-sweet bomb that is masterfully crafted.

There’s other wonderful nods toward the traditional: Little chochoyotes, fried bits of masa, sitting next to charred chunks of fish. Hints of Tijuana—one of chef’s favorite places he cooked—where there is a play on the tacos vampiros famous on the streets of the border city. Camerones al mojo de ajo, where butter’n’garlic act as the star for this famed shrimp dish from Guerrero. A variety of tostadas. Oysters. Shooters. This is Mexican mariscos at its finest—and, at some points, some of its most innovative.

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All sides of Ruta 15 are worth exploring—including the ones without seafood

“One of my favorite things about Chef is his ability to make it feel like we’re in Mexico even when he is bending the boundary a bit,” Richard said. “Like his vegan ceviche—I could eat that all the time. And it reminds me how there are things which use a technique, like ceviche. It isn’t just about fish; it’s a technique of using citric acid to bathe foods in. It’s not the same as pickling—at all. And Chef gets that.”

The vegan ceviche Richard refers to is made with Portabella mushrooms, marinated in citric acid before being tossed with mango, peanuts, and cubes of coconut meat before sitting atop an avocado sauce-topped tostada. Handsomely layered with flavors, this dish is an earthy ode to what is traditionally seafood. It is somehow simultaneously hefty and light, exuding everything you want from a ceviche but with the umami of mushrooms over fish. It’s outright delectable.

And this plays to a ton of non-seafood dishes: César’s enchiladas suizas. Or his ribeye (either as a straight-up steak or as a taco, which is an ode to the Sonora-style flour tortilla taco).

This is unquestionably Long Beach’s best new restaurant—and I would suggest going before there is a consistent line of hungry patrons waiting to get in.

Ruta 15 is located at 1436 E. 7th St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry, you lost me with the photo of octopus on the plate. I love Mexican food and the rest of the photos look appetizing — but I will not contribute to the slaughter of a sentient creaure. YMMV, of course.

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