Los Arcos +++ (out of four)
89 Bonita Road, Chula Vista 91910
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily
Cuisine: Mexican-style seafood
Budget impact: Moderate
The restaurant scene is loaded with copycats, but the oceanic dishes at Los Arcos are marvelously unfamiliar and have avoided pirating since making their U.S. debut in Chula Vista last year.
Arriving with a full-blown seafood menu established 30 years ago in Mexico by the Angulo family, you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere in San Diego such delicacies as meaty Callo de Hacha scallops plucked from deep-sea waters or whole octopus splayed across plates with butter and fresh garlic. Even the shrimp cocktails are stamped with novelty. They’re served in an invigorating chilled broth exploding with lime juice, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Consider it your ticket to the Mexican Riviera, perching you on a breezy veranda under the midday sun with a frothy margarita parked alongside.
From shellfish to fin-and-tail species, their preparations vary wildly. Smoked, flaky tuna machaca, for instance, emerges from a memorable appetizer of feisty stuffed Caribe peppers, while oysters and octopus make unexpected appearances in ceviche. Swai fish, termed “the new tilapia” by foodies because of its firm white flesh, shows up in fish rolls layered with cream cheese, as well as stuffed with shrimp and sautéed spinach.
Only if you’re a fan of heavy sauces, look no further than “fish al Culichi,” which smothers the catch of the day in a satiny green concoction of poblano and cream. We liked the piquant essence of the sauce, but in this au gratin approach the fish was silenced and we couldn’t tell if we were eating swai, red snapper or sea bass for that matter. Ditto for the crab delight, in which the sea meat was dominated by tangy aurora sauce, similar to Thousand Island sans the relish.
Los Arcos allows for half orders on all menu items except for whole fish and market-priced lobster. The uncommon amenity afforded us the opportunity to further encroach on Torres fillet (swai) stuffed with shrimp, calamari and octopus. Except for a fairy dusting of savory grilled spices on the exterior, the combined specimens tasted refreshingly unadulterated and swam through our palates with harmony.