With the first hills of Baja California rising on the horizon, South Bay is home to a number of mariscos joints that follow in the seaside tradition of Baja and beyond.
La Palapa Nayarit is a cozy locale in the corner of an Imperial Beach strip mall. The blue walls are festooned with colorful depictions of thriving sea creatures, many of which you are presumably about to eat.
The menu is massive. It includes breakfast (chilaquiles, birria, pozole), 20 takes on fried fish, burritos, tacos (gobernador!), empanadas, enchiladas, and around 100 seafood preparations. In order to best consider my meal in the light of Baja standards, I ordered a fish taco and a medium mariscos cocktail ($11.95).
To be clear, the 99-cent fish taco is always a risky choice, especially as a first meal 20 miles into a bike ride on a muggy summer afternoon. But it had to know. When it arrived, it was a titillating monstrosity to behold. The thing came out wallowing in enthusiastic torrents of chipotle mayo and white sauce (mayo + water). The small strips of fish were breaded with an aromatic dash of herbs, but the fry was soggy and, like so many of its under-a-buck brethren, the taco suggested microwave fish sticks. That aside, the corn tortilla was fresh, albeit greasy, and a compelling array of bottled salsas kept the taco interesting.
As I doctored up the final bites with potent chiltepín, the waitress brought out three freshly shucked oysters for my approval before tossing them in a cocktail with shrimp and callo de hacha (scallops). The tomato sauce was light but full of vibrant, diced tomato, onion, cucumber, and cilantro. The seafood, meanwhile, redeemed all of the previous dish’s misgivings. Everything oozed freshness: the saline squish of bivalve here, a delightful insectoid snap of shrimp there, an elusive scallop chew. An added squeeze of lime and a generous spoonful of the house salsa tied the cocktail together.
The verdict? It’s no Mariscos Germán, but should you ever need a nice place to sit and watch Mexican soap operas within stumbling distance of the Southbay Lounge, La Palapa Nayarit is your jam. They have a solid grasp on fresh seafood, and if you’ve been at the Lounge for a while the fish taco might work for you.