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El Viejon adds mariscos to the Convoy menu

Mexican seafood is definitely happening in the Asian Cultural District

Almejas chocolatas, otherwise known as chocolate clams: available weekends only at El Viejon
Almejas chocolatas, otherwise known as chocolate clams: available weekends only at El Viejon

What do yakitori, dim sum, soft tofu stew, and mariscos have in common? In general, not a lot. But when you find yourself hungry in San Diego, they have all turned out to be fine reasons to dine on Convoy.

Place

El Viejon

4619 Convoy Street, San Diego

With regard to the first three, this should be obvious to everyone by now. But mariscos are the obvious outlier. In a county absolutely loaded with Mexican restaurants, why go to the city’s designated pan-Asian cultural district in search of ceviche or aguachile?

The answer is a little counter shop called El Viejon Seafood. It opened last fall within the same shopping strip as Convoy institutions Dumpling Inn, just across the parking lot from trendy newcomer Mochinut Donuts.

"La oriental," an ahi tuna tostada dressed with oyster sauce

I’d had my eye on the place for some time, imagining that, in a pinch, it could provide me an easy, fish-out-of-water narrative for this column. “Oh look,” I might write, “someone decided to open a mariscos joint on Convoy. How interesting.” Except, the story idea evolved a bit once I finally got around to trying it. Because El Viejon’s food turned out to be outstanding.

Probably in deference to the reputation of its neighborhood, El Viejon (which means "old man") bills its cuisine as a sort of Asian-inflected Mexican seafood. And occasionally, we do see Eastern influence, whether it’s the inclusion of oyster sauce on the La Oriental ahi tuna tostada, or a more liberal use of sesame seeds than most mariscos outfits employ.

A mariscos counter shop doing brisk business on Convoy

But there’s little doubt most of the inspiration draws a direct line to the seafood traditions of Mexico’s west coast, especially the state of Sinaloa, and our neighbor to the south, Baja California.

The menu features ceviches of fish, shrimp, or mixed-seafood ($6-7 tostadas, $12-15 bowls); shrimp or mixed-seafood cocktails ($15); seafood towers ($25-35); and a choice of red, green, or black-spiced aguachile, served in a stone molcajete and billed as a hangover cure ($15/half, $23/full).

A green aguachile, served in a stone molcajete

Because it’s 2022, the place offers a birria menu, which includes the suddenly prevalent dish, birria ramen ($13.50). Because El Viejon embraces creativity, it’s developed a mariscos ramen, which features toppings such as shrimp and octopus ($16).

More than most eateries, the shrimp allergy becomes this food writer’s Achilles heel at a place like this. But as I sat in the packed restaurant, every single table around me was too busy devouring things I couldn’t eat to maintain a conversation. And everything I could eat tasted better than I’d reasonably hoped: most of it spicy, exquisitely saucy, bright, and refreshing.

Tacos of smoked marlin (left) and grilled mako shark (right)

Almost as an afterthought I ordered a pair of fish tacos — smoked marlin ($7) and grilled mako shark ($4) — and they immediately became two of my favorite fish tacos in the city. But most interesting had to be the almejas chocolatas (3/$15). The “chocolate clams" (named for the color of their large, smooth shells) are a delicacy from both coasts of Baja, and only available from El Viejon on weekends. The clam meats swim in their own shells, in a spicy, acidic cold broth with diced onion, jalapeño, and mango.

Consider these all the reason you need to brave Convoy parking this weekend. I never expected I would ever crave Mexican food as I approach that inverted triangle of Kearny Mesa, but for the foreseeable future at least, El Viejon will be the first place on my mind.

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Almejas chocolatas, otherwise known as chocolate clams: available weekends only at El Viejon
Almejas chocolatas, otherwise known as chocolate clams: available weekends only at El Viejon

What do yakitori, dim sum, soft tofu stew, and mariscos have in common? In general, not a lot. But when you find yourself hungry in San Diego, they have all turned out to be fine reasons to dine on Convoy.

Place

El Viejon

4619 Convoy Street, San Diego

With regard to the first three, this should be obvious to everyone by now. But mariscos are the obvious outlier. In a county absolutely loaded with Mexican restaurants, why go to the city’s designated pan-Asian cultural district in search of ceviche or aguachile?

The answer is a little counter shop called El Viejon Seafood. It opened last fall within the same shopping strip as Convoy institutions Dumpling Inn, just across the parking lot from trendy newcomer Mochinut Donuts.

"La oriental," an ahi tuna tostada dressed with oyster sauce

I’d had my eye on the place for some time, imagining that, in a pinch, it could provide me an easy, fish-out-of-water narrative for this column. “Oh look,” I might write, “someone decided to open a mariscos joint on Convoy. How interesting.” Except, the story idea evolved a bit once I finally got around to trying it. Because El Viejon’s food turned out to be outstanding.

Probably in deference to the reputation of its neighborhood, El Viejon (which means "old man") bills its cuisine as a sort of Asian-inflected Mexican seafood. And occasionally, we do see Eastern influence, whether it’s the inclusion of oyster sauce on the La Oriental ahi tuna tostada, or a more liberal use of sesame seeds than most mariscos outfits employ.

A mariscos counter shop doing brisk business on Convoy

But there’s little doubt most of the inspiration draws a direct line to the seafood traditions of Mexico’s west coast, especially the state of Sinaloa, and our neighbor to the south, Baja California.

The menu features ceviches of fish, shrimp, or mixed-seafood ($6-7 tostadas, $12-15 bowls); shrimp or mixed-seafood cocktails ($15); seafood towers ($25-35); and a choice of red, green, or black-spiced aguachile, served in a stone molcajete and billed as a hangover cure ($15/half, $23/full).

A green aguachile, served in a stone molcajete

Because it’s 2022, the place offers a birria menu, which includes the suddenly prevalent dish, birria ramen ($13.50). Because El Viejon embraces creativity, it’s developed a mariscos ramen, which features toppings such as shrimp and octopus ($16).

More than most eateries, the shrimp allergy becomes this food writer’s Achilles heel at a place like this. But as I sat in the packed restaurant, every single table around me was too busy devouring things I couldn’t eat to maintain a conversation. And everything I could eat tasted better than I’d reasonably hoped: most of it spicy, exquisitely saucy, bright, and refreshing.

Tacos of smoked marlin (left) and grilled mako shark (right)

Almost as an afterthought I ordered a pair of fish tacos — smoked marlin ($7) and grilled mako shark ($4) — and they immediately became two of my favorite fish tacos in the city. But most interesting had to be the almejas chocolatas (3/$15). The “chocolate clams" (named for the color of their large, smooth shells) are a delicacy from both coasts of Baja, and only available from El Viejon on weekends. The clam meats swim in their own shells, in a spicy, acidic cold broth with diced onion, jalapeño, and mango.

Consider these all the reason you need to brave Convoy parking this weekend. I never expected I would ever crave Mexican food as I approach that inverted triangle of Kearny Mesa, but for the foreseeable future at least, El Viejon will be the first place on my mind.

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