The Ultimate Foodie’s Guide to Sinaloa, Mexico’s Secret Seafood Capital

The Ultimate Foodie’s Guide to Sinaloa, Mexico’s Secret Seafood Capital

The words Mexican seafood might bring to mind fish tacos or Baja abalone, but east of the tip of Baja in Mazatlán, Sinaloa lies a less-explored world of maritime deliciousness. Spicy shrimp aguachile, tostadas piled high with fresh tuna and octopus, and Sinaloan-style ceviche abound. For the adventurous foodie, the local take on sushi is not to be missed: elaborate rollos horneados start with creative variations on traditional sushi rolls, cover them in rice and creamy chile sauce, and bake them.

5 of the Best Mexican Seafood Dishes in Sinaloa

Aguachile

The port city of Mazatlán hosts Mexico’s largest tuna fishing fleet, along with wide beaches, rocky seaside overlooks, and a colorful, colonial downtown. Walking the path towards El Faro in the evening, you can see the camaroneros returning in their shrimp trawlers, but for the best shrimp aguachile head north to the restaurant El Sinaloense. Just be careful if you have sensitive ears, as El Sinaloense is known for frequent nights of live banda music, a regional tradition that features brass instruments, drums, and an attitude that the louder the music, the better.

Aguachile is a uniquely Sinaloan dish. It is said that the original aguachile comes from the mountains, not the coast, and was first made with beef rather than shrimp. Dried, shredded meat was rehydrated with hot water (the agua of aguachile) along with the tiny, incredibly hot chiltepín peppers (the chile) that are traditional in Sinaloa. Eventually, the recipe made its way down from the mountains to the ocean, where coastal residents switched the beef for a more readily available local ingredient: fresh shrimp.

Mexican seafood - A shrimp and octopus aguachile.
A shrimp and octopus aguachile. Photo by Alejandra Rojas, courtesy of El Sinaloense

In present-day Sinaloa, you can find a wide variety of variations on aguachile – made with red, green, or habanero chiles; it could be based on scallops, octopus, or the usual shrimp. The dish is also increasingly available in other areas of coastal Mexico.

At El Sinaloense, you can try a traditional raw shrimp aguachile or a variation with octopus or cooked shrimp. The traditional variety is a bit like ceviche: fresh butterflied shrimp is marinated with lime and chile then served with thin slices of cucumber, purple onion, and crispy tostadas (toasted tortillas).

Tostadas de atún

Another local specialty, thanks to the abundance of fresh tuna, is the tostada de atún. A standard tostada arrives as a mountain of delicate sushi-grade yellowfin along with avocado, cucumber, and tomato. Some cooks will add shrimp, blue crab, octopus, or even manta ray.

Fishing boats at the Pinitos Beach, Mazatlan
Fishing boats at the Pinitos Beach

Decades ago, locals say that raw tuna was rarely eaten in Sinaloa, though Mazatlán has long been a center for producing canned tuna, both for domestic use and international export. But over the past ten years or so, that has changed. Fresh, high-quality tuna is now a staple in Mazatlán’s seafood restaurants, and anyone who has ordered a tostada de atún con mango from Mariscos Torito restaurant understands why. The buttery red tuna combined with sweet mango, lime, and chile is at once light and satisfying, the perfect combination for lunch or for a beach-side happy hour.

Sushi sinaloense

Part of that change could be attributed to the boom of Sinaloa-style sushi. What began as a foreign oddity in the state capital of Culiacan spread quickly through a region where fresh seafood abounds. Restaurants quickly realized that while local customers loved ceviche, the idea of raw fish was hard to swallow (In ceviche, the acidic lime juice ‘cooks’ the seafood, almost as if it had been grilled or fried). So, innovative chefs began to produce a variety of cooked sushis, based on California-style uramaki rolls. 

Sushi - Mazatlan, style. A breaded rollo empanizado in Mazatlan
A breaded rollo empanizado. Courtesy of Yokiro Sushi

Now, many of Sinaloa’s popular sushi restaurants serve rolls such as the Mar y tierra (surf and turf) with cooked steak and shrimp, rollos horneados (baked sushi rolls, usually smothered in creamy chile sauce), and rollos empanizados (breaded and fried sushi). Avocado, cream cheese, cucumber, and surimi are common ingredients, along with tuna, shrimp, octopus, and imported salmon. And as sushi restaurants have taken over, rollos Naturales (standard raw uramaki rolls) have become increasingly popular.

Your Sinaloan sushi options range from upscale to fast-food. A delicious mid-range option is Yokiro Sushi, a chain that can be found throughout the state.

Pescado zarandeado

If raw seafood is not for you, there is always Mariscos Chalio. Aguachile and ceviche are on the menu, but the specialty of the house is the pescado zarandeado. The fish of the day can be found in a large cooler; just pick which you want and the cook will grill it for you (you can also choose pescado frito, fried fish). Pargo (red snapper) is a common option, as is róbalo (sea bass). Some hungry guests like to watch the cook work; I found the combination of sizzling, roasting fish, and an empty stomach to be a little much, so I opted for a cold Pacífico beer to distract myself as I waited.

A traditional Mexican Seafood dish in Sinaloa - pescado zarandeado
A traditional pescado zarandeado

Pescado zarandeado is a traditional way of grilling fish in Sinaloa, served on a large platter, and meant to be shared. The cook opens the fish like a book, leaving it cleaned and partially filleted with the scales still on. After a quick salt and lime marinade, the cook piles on sliced tomatoes, onions, (usually) mild chiles, butter, and lots of garlic. The whole package gets wrapped in foil and grilled over high heat for ten or fifteen minutes. The result is a uniquely juicy, smoky filet that can be eaten as-is or piled onto fresh tortillas (as in every proper Mazatlán seafood restaurant, hot sauce and additional lime slices will be available in abundance).

Ceviche

Not to be forgotten, of course, is the classic of Mexican seafood, ceviche itself. Ceviche in Mazatlán is slightly different than what you might find in other regions. While many ceviches are a mix of lime-marinated fish, cucumber, and tomato, ceviche mazatleco is heavy on shredded carrot and onion. The fish, usually sierra (a type of mackerel), is ground and the result is finely textured, sweet and limey. It is perfect for a refreshing afternoon snack or, per local recommendation, as a morning hangover remedy. It is meant to be eaten with something crunchy–tostadas if you are in a restaurant.

A traditional Mazatlán-style fish ceviche.
A traditional Mazatlán-style fish ceviche. Courtesy of El Guamuchilito

Walking down the street, it is more common to see it served over green salsa-flavored Tostitos and called tostilocos. The vendor slices open the chip bag and piles on ceviche and hot sauce. You can often choose from an eclectic variety of other toppings, including Japanese peanuts, tamarind candies, and chamoy, a sweet and salty fruit-based sauce common across Mexico.

While ceviche from roadside carts is almost always good, check out a restaurant called El Guamuchilito and you are sure to get a perfect Mazatlán-style fish ceviche. El Guamuchilito is a Mazatlán institution and is also known throughout the state for its pate de camarón (Mexican-style shrimp paté), a less common but not-to-be-missed treat. Though restaurant staff declined to share the proprietary recipe, the paté is a creamy shrimp blend with just a touch of heat, served with crackers as an appetizer.

Where to Find the Best Mexican Seafood in Mazatlán

Sinaloa is a seafood paradise, and Mazatlán is a beautiful place to sample the best of what the state has to offer. Whether you are shopping for fresh shrimp downtown in the Mercado Pino Suarez or enjoying a smoky pescado zarandeado at a fine restaurant on the north side of town, deliciousness is all but guaranteed.

A vendor cleans fish to sell in the Pino Suarez market in downtown Mazatlán
A vendor cleans fish to sell in the Pino Suarez market in downtown Mazatlán

El Sinaloense

A restaurant with a wide variety of local seafood dishes. Come for an early dinner and enjoy a family-friendly environment, or come late for a night filled with raucous live banda music and cold beer.

What to eat: aguachile de camarón (shrimp aguachile)

Address: 2009 Avenida Reforma, Colonia Flamingos, Mazatlán, Sinaloa

Mariscos El Torito

A stellar option for lunch near downtown, Mariscos El Torito has everything from cheesy seafood tacos gobernador to lobster.

What to eat: tostada de atún con mango (fresh mango-tuna tostada)

Address: 329 Avenida Rotarismo, Colonia Reforma, Mazatlán, Sinaloa

Yokiro Sushi

A quick, easy and delicious place to stop for Sinaloan-style sushi.

What to eat: Try the Especial Roll (shrimp, cucumber, and cream cheese wrapped in avocado and masago, topped with more battered shrimp) or the Gohan especial pollo, a rice dish with creamy crab sauce, avocado, and chicken.

Address: 7 Avenida Playa Gaviotas, Zona Dorada, Mazatlán, Sinaloa

Mariscos Chalio

A roadside seafood stand with palm thatch for shade, and the best spot in town for snapper

What to eat: pescado zarandeado (Sinaloan-style grilled fish) or pargo frito (fried red snapper)

Address: 6 Avenida Carlos Canseco, Colonia El Toreo, Mazatlán, Sinaloa

El Guamuchilito restaurant’s famous pate de camarón. (Shrimp Pate)
El Guamuchilito restaurant’s famous pate de camarón. Courtesy of El Guamuchilito

El Guamuchilito

Started as a food cart in the 1970s and now is known throughout the region for exquisite traditional mariscos. Offers take out or dine-in, with occasional live music.

What to eat: ceviche de sierra molido (fish ceviche) or pate de camarón (shrimp paté)

Address: 232 Calle José Mujica, Colonia Tellerías, Mazatlán, Sinaloa


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About the Author

Rose Egelhoff is an American freelance journalist, travel writer, and food lover based in Mazatlán, Sinaloa. Check out more of her work at RoseEgelhoff.com or follow her on Twitter.

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