It’s been many years since pescado zarandeado—a whole snook grilled over charcoal and dressed with lemon and onion—has been on the menu at Mariscos Chente’s. At 71 years old, Vicente “Chente” Cossio, the godfather of Mexican seafood in L.A., has earned himself a break from flipping fish over a hot grill.
Still, the dish, perhaps more than any other, was instrumental in establishing Chente’s legacy, even if people didn’t realize he was the driving force all along. In 2011, Jonathan Gold published a review of Coni’Seafood, where he expressed concern that Sergio Peñuelas, the cook he deemed responsible for the excellent zarandeado, may not have been in the building.
“Is Mr. Peñuelas at the Hawthorne Avenue restaurant, has he moved to the Mar Vista branch or has he hopped to the one in Gardena?” Gold wrote. “Does he work every day? Do the other chefs know how to grill snook?”
Gold doubled down on that fear—admittedly fueled by rumors on message boards like Chowhound—in his 2015 101 Best Restaurants list. He deemed Coni’Seafood worthy of the ballot, but questioned the future of zarandeado due to the departure of Peñuelas. Had he tried it lately? The same—and that’s no coincidence.
And, as long as we’re going down that road, it’s somewhat condescending to praise restaurants with local celebrity chefs that are rarely in the kitchen and then apply a different standard to a traditional restaurant that’s been in business since 1987. Ludo or Jon and Vinny don’t have to be in the kitchen but Peñuelas does? That’s a ridiculous double standard. Traditional restaurateurs are just as capable of maintaining their recipes, perhaps even more so.
Plus, it was Chente’s recipe all along, not necessarily Peñuelas’s proficiency on the grill, that was garnering all the praise. Especially in today’s cult-of-the-chef restaurant climate, you don’t credit the cook reducing the sauce or searing off the meat; you give the genius who crafted the food their due.
Regulars who have been eating Chente’s food—whether it’s at Mariscos Chente’s or Coni’Seafood—since the beginning know that his restaurants have maintained their flavor and quality through the years. (Though the same can’t be said for his ex-wife Magdalena’s similarly named Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista, but that’s another story altogether).
I might spend more time at Coni’Seafood these days, because that’s where the best pescado zarandeado in the U.S. lives, and that’s where you can find what is essentially the original Mariscos Chente’s experience. But everyone who loves Mexican seafood owes themselves a pilgrimage to the man’s whose recipes changed Mexican seafood in L.A. And when you go there—get the ceviche. Trust me.
Though the family has done an excellent job of maintaining Chente’s recipes, no one can make a traditional Nayarit-style ceviche like him; it’s always brilliant at Coni’Seafood, but Chente just does it better. “It’s my dad’s flavor; no one does it like him—I mean, I do the same recipe but it just tastes a little different. I can tell”, said daughter Connie Cossio. According to Chente, Connie was the best cook he ever trained, so that’s saying a lot.
Head down to Lennox, look for a handsome, older gentleman with impeccable curls, and ask him to please make you his ceviche de camaron. A plateful of raw shrimp sourced from Mexico is tossed with diced tomato, cucumber and purple onion, lime juice and a puree of jalapeños. I always ask for it extra spicy—it’s ceviche man, not a pinche seafood salad. Scoop up the ceviche with a tortilla chip and you’re in Essential T country.
Chente’s nautical themed hole-in-the-wall may look like a shipwreck, but the patriarch of L.A. first family of Mexican seafood is still an outstanding cook and seafood cocktailer.
Mariscos Chente’s, 10020 S Inglewood Ave., Lennox, (310) 672-0226