Seafood lovers on a budget will rejoice at this nondescript Pilsen restaurant located across the street from the more colorful and popular Nuevo Leon. The atmosphere inside is no-nonsense; the few decorations that do hang from the ceiling and walls, like a giant mermaid statue and plastic fish suspended on a line above the bar, make it clear that Playa Azul specializes in cookin' up fish and crustaceans.
Its menu offers spicy ceviches, pico de gallo loaded with octopus, whitefish, and shrimp (both served with crunchy tostadas) and shrimp empanadas with a sweet deep-fried dough. The small seafood cocktail—your pick of shrimp, crab, whitefish or calamari—can easily feed two at $5.95. Entrees include huachinango a la veracruz, deep fried red snapper served on a bed of avocado, onions, tomatoes and cilantro. It's listed on the menu at “market value,” but if that's the case, it's a market we've never been to with insanely inexpensive seafood.
For diners who don't like a whole fish staring up at them, Playa Azul's shrimp fajitas cost $11.95 and don't scrimp on the shrimp. You get a hearty helping of 20-25 count freshly caught ones, cut butterfly-style and served with a gorgeous array of sweet peppers, tomatoes and Mexican-style rice. If you don't opt for seafood, you can order various taqueria staples like carne asada and chicken mole. But going to a Mexican seafood restaurant and eating chicken or steak is like going to a steakhouse and eating salad: It defeats the purpose. So go for the seafood, pair it with a beer and add some hot sauce and lime to turn the beer into a michelada. Before you know it, you'll imagine yourself in Cabo.
Playa's got another spot in Buena Park, should you find yourself on the North Side craving fish.
Centerstage Reviewer: Chuck Sudo