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A great spot for fresh, tasty Mexican seafood dishes

SANTA FE, N.M. — Given the culinary demands of a friend on a low-carb diet binge and my own ever-present hankering for Mexico’s fresh seafood preparations, a meal at Puerto Peñasco Restaurant, out on Airport Road, was a no-brainer. Besides, it was outside my Santa Fe orbit and that made it a good choice for a review.

So off we went one recent Monday for a three-course lunch. We departed pleased with our choices.

Puerto Peñasco serves up a roasted tomato salsa and chips with what I call avocado crema – lightly soured cream laced with jalapeño – when the menu arrives. It suited us: The salsa was hot enough for my guest and the crema, while also spicy, was tame enough for me.

An extra side of guacamole ($6.95) arrived fresh, chunky and spicy, with fresh chips, and a small shrimp cocktail ($8.95) merited the same adjectives and pleased my guest.

Puerto Peñasco’s entree list includes just about every type of seafood preparation you’d typically find south of the border, including steamed fish with garlic and butter, or with mushrooms and tequila, or chipotles and cream. Fish tacos, of course, and shrimp every which way. But you can get a variety of steak preparations, including one or two straight up with baked potato, as well as classic meat tacos and enchiladas.

We were there for seafood, however, so we bypassed everything except that. My guest chose ostiones gratinados, a half-dozen oysters on the half shell, briefly broiled with bacon and cheese ($8.95). I confess to preferring my oysters fresh, raw and unadorned, but she found the very smoky bacon and bland queso fresco atop the broiled half-shells tasty.

I knew what I wanted before we even got to Puerto Peñasco, so I ordered what I almost always get at Mexican-style seafood places: levantamuertos, or raise-the-dead – a goblet of fresh seafood, including shucked raw oysters, squid, shrimp and scallops, in a tomato juice-like sauce, well garnished with onion, avocado and cilantro ($14.95).

Served up with a generous helping of lime slices, it was all I wanted it to be. If I had a criticism, it would be that the tomato “broth” was not quite as rich as elsewhere in town, but the seafood was fresh and the serving generous. (Puerto Peñasco also serves this combination hot, as a caldo or stew, but I’ll save that for a winter visit.)

Like most Mexican restaurants hereabouts, Puerto Peñasco offers only a few dessert choices. We bypassed tres leches cake, actually a favorite of mine, in favor of my guest’s preference for flan ($4.95). It was straightforwardly good: a little more of the burnt-sugar caramel flavoring than usual, which I counted as a plus, and nicely dense.

I am sure the common contemporary preparation involves sweetened condensed milk, rather than the old-fashioned, tedious eggs-and-milk preparation that’s the basis for flan’s French cousin, creme brûlée. While I didn’t find a recipe for flan in any of my own Mexican cookbooks, an internet search provided several such, most of them involving sweetened condensed milk and eggs – a modern hybrid, apparently, of the old-fashioned stove-top pudding and baked custard.

I wouldn’t give Puerto Peñasco many points in the decor department; it’s a modest cafe by any standards. But the booths are comfortable and the service was good (and bilingual). And on the Monday we visited, it was pleasantly uncrowded. If you’re down on Airport Road and hungry, it’s a good place to find a relatively healthy meal.

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