Recently opened Yum Balam already ranks among the state’s premier seafood restaurants, its look is as sleek and chic as its seasonal menu. Among perfectly executed entrées, the seared ahi tuna was moist yet firm, its pistachio mole sauce a bold combination of traditional and experimental. With plastic fish swimming on faux-wood walls, Senor Fish serves up superior low-budget seafood. It focuses on shrimp done every which way and also offers red snapper filets (or black bass, depending on the season) with your choice of sauce; the wicked diabla (chipotle jazzed up with bell pepper, jalapeño, and bacon) is the chef’s specialty.
At hole-in-the-wall El Asadero, the caldo mixto—huge shrimp and chunks of flaky whitefish with bits of chipotle, cilantro, and green onion in a tomato-laced fish broth—resonates with freshness in its gorgeous Mexican crockery bowl. The prize pick at La Playa Maya—a typically crowded, two-story restaurant in a vintage building once used as a school and a jail—is the vuelve a la vida (“return to life”), a tall, chilled glass packed with small, firm shrimp, plump oysters, and pleasantly chewy chunks of octopus in a tomato-rich cocktail sauce.
Fresh seafood on ice and blaring Latino music greet you at the door of Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexicana, an unpretentious place near the Heights neighborhood outfitted with nautical nets and trophy fish. Outstanding snapper veracruzana is spanking fresh, swimming in stewed tomatoes, onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Also worth sampling are Tampico’s crispy snapper a la plancha (a specialty), shrimp enchiladas, tacos al carbón, and tortas.
RIO GRANDE VALLEY
La Jaiba in Edinburg is the most inviting of several Valley seafood restaurants in a group that encompasses both La Jaiba and the L. J. Shrimp Houses. It occupies a sprawling converted creamery, and its top dishes include the savory pescado veracruz—a huge flaky fish filet topped with sweet, lightly cooked tomatoes balanced by green olives and capers—and the tender shrimp al cilantro, in a bright, herbal sauce that is seductively creamy.
Easy-going, unpretentious El Siete Mares—with schools of colorful, plaster fish swishing along the walls—is San Antonio’s most authentic Mexican seafood restaurant; its best fish entrée may well be the perfectly grilled whole red snapper in a light, wonderfully zesty veracruzana sauce (don’t order the snapper filet, which is inferior).