Mariscos El Bucanero II on the North Side

Camarones par excellence - JOSH HUSKIN
Josh Huskin
Camarones par excellence

Consider this a disclaimer of sorts: as a stalwart Southside resident, I feel seduced and abandoned by the move of Mariscos El Bucanero from WW White to Blanco Road, a sector of the city known as “nosebleed territory” to some of us.

But as a realist (and discounting the notion that they might someday return to refurbish the original location), it’s clear why the move was made: Blanco just south of 1604 pulls in the newly arrived Mexican nationals, the area in general is much more upscale, and, if there were lines before, there may now be mobs; the much larger space is already looking a little worn as a result, and management seems to be especially concerned about not seating incomplete parties.

The good news is that service remains fast and friendly, and that, if you liked the ceviche de pescado before (the finely chopped fish isn’t everyone’s preferred texture), you’ll still like it. True, the price has gone up, but at $5.99 the small version still seems generous, fresh, and spunky. And it works with the almost-alright house margarita, oddly served in a pilsner glass.

Another dish fondly remembered from the Southside location is the tacos El Gobernador, and they, too remain generous — almost to a fault, making them a little hard to eat without first forking out some of the tiny shrimp in their tomato-dominated sauce. It’s a sauce that could use more emphatic spicing for the chile-heads among us, but the plate still delivers regardless. And those unique thin tostadas are still a worthy alternative to the standard Tex-Mex chip, especially if one is willing to play Jackson Pollack with the three different salsas in squeeze bottles carefully labeled with the day of service.

There are, however, disappointments. The sopa de camarones did boast nine large shrimp (yes, I counted them), along with huge carrots and celery that needed cutting. One shouldn’t need a knife for a soup dish. The spicing here seemed more like Old Bay than anything classically Mexican. Adding the supplied lime and a squeeze from the bottle of orange salsa helped substantially. Another miss for me was the fish taco, generally thought of as a no-brainer these days. Part of the problem might have been that, as an avid fried food abstainer, I picked the grilled version. But the bland white fish, mounds of shredded lettuce, and the unremarkable sauce didn’t ring any bells, either. Sorry, Charlie.

Having learned my lesson — if only temporarily, I next dutifully ordered a combination plate consisting of a chile relleno with fried shrimp. Sinaloa, the home base of El Bucanero, is shrimp country, so it stands to reason that the restaurant should have a feel for them, even fried. Do they ever. Lightly dusted in cornmeal and perfectly fried, these were some of the best camarones I have had in a very long time. (Note to self: if ever ordering the fish taco again, despite the offending lettuce, get fried.) The rest of the plate couldn’t top the sublime shrimp, but it put up a good fight: the chile relleno, filled with a spongy white cheese and topped with more, sported a truly great red sauce that puts much conventional Tex-Mex to shame; the often knee-jerk “salad” alongside was a genuinely worth-eating field greens blend; and the refried beans offered a deep, earthy flavor.

So, El Buc, I’m willing to overlook bland fish and horse carrots if you’ll renovate home base on the South Side. I’m learning to tolerate the nosebleeds, but there’s still culture shock to contend with.

Mariscos El Bucanero

16505 Blanco
(210) 408-9297
Best Bets Fried shrimp, fish or shrimp ceviche, tacos El Gobernador, chile relleno de queso
Hours 11am-10pm Mon-Sun
Prices $$-$$$
The Skinny El Bucanero hasn’t suffered much in its move to the North Side; with some exceptions (bland grilled fish and soups), the seafood is still exceptional.

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