Lunch at Mariscos El Bucanero

click to enlarge The best fried shrimp in town
The best fried shrimp in town
Release Date: 2010-03-17

If you take the long way to El Bucanero, the Mexican-seafood joint of the hour, you’ll drive San Antonio’s soul-food row, past Chatman’s Chicken, Mr. & Mrs. G’s Home Cooking, and Big Lou’s Pizza, all the way down South W.W. White almost to Southcross, your stomach rumbling the entire way. But push on, it’s worth it. The Fast Foodie dropped in for lunch on a recent Saturday, lured by tales of perfectly fried shrimp and a review by a certain daily that mentioned our dish of the hour: camarones aguachile, freshly peeled and deveined raw shrimp dunked in a spicy marinade. El Bucanero serves a limper shrimp than 7 Mares, but they taste absolutely fresh and the verde sauce is spicier, richer, and more well-rounded (after a plate of aguachiles and a michelada at 7 Mares last week, I was pretty sure my tooth enamel was gone). The maritime-themed décor on the pale-yellow walls includes an encyclopedic poster of decapod crustaceans in all their heads-on glory, but I couldn’t tell you which we were eating.

After we scarfed the entire baker’s dozen, my trusty companion and I split a basic ceviche, which also tasted fresh and not too citrusy, but the fish was diced smaller than I care for, making it almost mealy. We were stuffed, having also chomped the entire basket of tostadas so that we could adequately savor the three salsas served in squeeze bottles (a medium-spicy roasted red; a fiery, tomatoey orange; and a creamy, mild green), which meant a second trip for hot seafood. So we returned again earlier this week, this time with a pair of friends in tow. Realtor and foodaholic Niles Chumney ordered a platter of fried food that included what may be the best fried shrimp I’ve ever eaten: lightly coated with a cornmeal breading, thoroughly salted, cooked just al dente. After admiring the menu, which reminded her of Veracruz, Current arts editor Sarah Fisch went ... overboard, with both the sopa de mariscos, which included plenty of carrots as well as shellfish swimming in a richly saffron-colored broth with real depth (we could picture the cooks throwing discarded shells and other ocean goodies into the stockpot) and the whole fried tilapia (the deal of the day at $7.99), which she raved about. My faithful dining companion ordered a landlubber plate to test the kitchen’s carne chops, and gave two forks up to his asada and enchiladas (the chile relleno was an unnecessary add-on, but this is hardly a criticism).

Most importantly for the long hot days ahead, the camarones aguachile were excellent again — I’d drive across town any day for this dish. If only El Bucanero served micheladas; you can bring in your own cerveza, but I haven’t perfected a pocket mich-mix yet. — Elaine Wolff

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