Ever since I’ve been exploring the plentiful Sinaloan and Nayaritan restaurants in Los Angeles, now going back for more than a decade, I’ve had Mexico’s luxury seafood item, callo de hacha (pen shell clams), with varying levels of freshness and quality. That was until Mariscos El Cristalazo arrived with the finest callo de hacha L.A. has ever tasted.
Callo de hacha isn’t cheap on either side of the border, and is often priced out of reach for the proletariat. But pluck a largemouth bass from the lakes in Sinaloa, cut it into strips, pack it in salt and ice, and let it cure in the fridge overnight, and you’ll have a similar delicate texture as callo de hacha and something priced for the common man. Callo de lobina is traditionally made with largemouth Florida bass (that were introduced to Sinaloa), which have become prized by fishermen around the world. But in L.A., a variety of bass are used, depending on availability.
Giovani Valenzuela and his partner Cruz Ariel Rayos of three-month old Lincoln Heights seafood trailer Mariscos Los Sitios are making the best callo de lobina I’ve come across in recent years here in Los Angeles, “It’s not worth doing something unless you love what you’re doing,” Rayos says. The care and detail are evident from the umami-soaked tostadas to their delicious salsa, made with wild chilpitin, a throat-searing dried red chile native to Sinaloa.
The octopus and aguachile (spicy shrimp cooked in lime) tostadas are drowned in a mixture of lime, a little tomato juice or perhaps Clamato, and a dash of Mexican umami—Worcestershire or Maggi, leaving a pool of delicious juices on the plate. Best get to eating before the tostada gets soggy. But the ideal way to have the callo de lobina at Los Sitios (named after the people of Badiraguato, Sinaloa) is in botana, or snack form, to enjoy with some tostadas and as much chilpitin salsa as you can handle. Los Sitios’ callo de lobina cures for a minimum of 12 hours, and is a much better cut than you’ll find at other places serving this dish. This is a trailer that’s dedicated to making great seafood, Badiraguato-style.