Mariscos El Cristalazo Sets the Standard for Sinaloan Seafood in L.A.

Chef Ninive “Cristal” Vargas stuns with stellar ceviches and more

I recently wrote about Mariscos El Cristalazo for my Essential T column, featuring their delicious regional tamales barbones from Escuinapa, Sinaloa, but as exciting of a discovery that is, it’s not quite the whole enchilada.  Ninive “Cristal” Vargas, a former waitress is serving up exquisite Mexican seafood from her hometown with fine products, creativity, solid cooking and refined presentation. In just one year, El Cristalazo has gathered a regular clientele for their private and catered events, appearing on Univision and racking up a sizeable Instagram following.

Vargas has attractive ceviches and the best callo de hacha (pen shell clams) in Los Angeles that are professionally trimmed and sliced, tossed in lime juice and pureed jalapeños and garnished with julienned red onion and cucumber. The freshness and knife work make the difference, which is best experienced in the cristalazo, an oversized martini glass filled with an ocean of shrimp ceviche, aguachile shrimp and callo de hacha. The house chabela, a michelada with clamato, clams, and a garnish of vegetables and cooked shrimp is a fitting match in savoriness and scale.

Mariscos El Cristalazo also has some great hot dishes like a lemon-pepper shrimp and chilitos cri cri, a tempting trio of blonde chiles wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese and shrimp that displays Vargas’ ability to balance flavors and textures like a seasoned chef.  Shrimp albondigas have recently been added, handed down from Vargas’ grandmother and made with the same loving care that’s only surpassed by a spicy bowl of tlaxtihuille, a pre-Hispanic mole that originated in Nayarit, but has a regional version found in Escuinapa called tixtihuil. El Cristalazo’s exquisite tlaxtihuille is a base of shrimp and chiles, including chile guajillo and chile de arbol , that is thickened with corn masa that’s perfect for picking up with torn patches of warm corn tortillas. When Vargas gets a brick and mortar (hopefully soon after the new year) she can count herself among the elite Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles for a menu and cuisine that’s stylish, inspired and 100% Escuinapa, Sinaloa.

Mariscos El Cristalazo, for catering and private events call 626-736-3104