After finishing a construction job in Jarrell, Abel Palacios was looking for a different way to make money. His older brother, Josh Palacios, co-owner of El Remedio Mariscos y Taqueria in San Antonio, told him he needed to go into the family business built on their Sinaloan grandfather’s seafood recipes. “You need to sell ceviche, bro,” Josh recalls telling Abel in 2019. But the younger Palacios didn’t have any professional food experience, so he was hesitant. It took more encouragement, repeated visits to his grandfather’s house in Los Angeles, and a pandemic to spur Abel into action. 

He relocated to his hometown of El Paso and started delivering aguachile and ceviche from the trunk of his 2014 Toyota Camry in January 2020. He sold forty to sixty trays Wednesdays through Sundays. According to Palacios, the pandemic customer base—people who couldn’t or didn’t want to eat out—was growing beyond his car’s capacity. So that September, he bought himself a small food trailer, and wrapped it in the same black-and-red color scheme as the El Remedio truck. He moved the newly christened El Botanero Mariscos trailer into the food truck park at Buddy’s Beer Barn on the far east side of El Paso for a few months before landing in the parking lot of Texas Kids Dental Care in Horizon City, just southeast of El Paso.

After he found his current home, he began to sell out hours before closing time. I experienced it myself on my first visit to El Botanero Mariscos this past January. On my second attempt, in April, I made sure to arrive in time.

While the trailer’s first days were busy, looking back, Palacios isn’t exactly pleased with that product. “I look at the pictures of how I made [aguachile and ceviche] back then and I compare it to how I make it now,” he says. “I wouldn’t serve that.” Josh and his wife, Martha, gave him guidance on portion size, seasoning, and building individual dishes, but the couple knew when to let Palacios figure things out on his own. 

When Palacios expressed interest in adding shrimp tacos dorados to his menu, Josh shared an incomplete list of ingredients with instructions. “It taught me to figure s— out on my own, you know, because I would depend on him a lot when I was first starting,” Palacios says. He made expensive mistakes. Of his first attempt at shrimp tacos dorados, he says,“I oversalted them, and so the whole five pounds [of shrimp] was just gone.” Thankfully, he kept at it.

The tacos dorados I ate featured finely chopped (properly salted) shrimp that reached the edges of the folded, hot, and sturdy tortillas. The umami punch of the salsa negra (a northwestern Mexican specialty typically made of soy sauce, Maggi seasoning, chiles, and sometimes Worcestershire sauce) skyrocketed the dish into singularity. It’s still finding its audience, Palacios says.

The ceviche is the best-seller, although Palacios downplays his contributions. “To be completely honest with you, the ingredients are what you find in most any ceviche,” he says. The combination of fish, shrimp, cucumber, tomatoes, cilantro, loads of lime juice, and chopped onions is tantamount to an air conditioner in the desert city. Salsa negra also accompanies the ceviche. Don’t skimp on it. Pour it over the ceviche and mix before digging in.

El Botanero Mariscos’s aguachile swims in a lagoon of salsa verde punctuated by lime and salt. Whereas the ceviche offers a cooling effect, the aguachile is a fiery delight.

“I really give Josh and Martha a lot of credit for their input when I was first starting out,” Palacios says, but he shouldn’t be so humble. Throughout our conversation, he continued to emphasize his inexperience, but his knowledge of mariscos is foundational, going all the way back to watching and listening to his grandfather cook as a kid. 

The shrimp flautas and fried Baja-style fish tacos are also fantastic, and perhaps more approachable options than the chilled seafood dishes. Palacios is tinkering with traditional Mexican marlin tacos as well as octopus preparations endemic to the Sinaloa of his grandfather. “People keep asking for them,” he says.

Palacios sees the future for El Botanero Mariscos, and it’s as bright as his ceviche. He’s already purchased a second truck, which will probably find a home at Buddy’s Beer Barn, but he remains tenuous. “I’m still learning, to be honest with you,” he says. “I don’t know a lot in this business.”

He may claim he doesn’t know much, but what he does know is what the people—including this taco editor—want.

El Botanero Mariscos
13468 Eastlake Blvd, Horizon City
Phone: 915-503-7268
Hours: Thursday–Sunday noon–8