Fourth Street in downtown Santa Ana brings back memories of Mexico City when I visited there at 10 years of age. There are pushcart vendors hawking fresh fruits and Mexican snacks on every corner of this business district lined with restaurants, bridal shops and discount stores with windows signs that say "Envio Dinero." That could mean "send money" or "envy my diner," depending on how well one paid attention in Spanish class.
Scoping out restaurants by car is difficult on this narrow one way street, because of all the traffic behind me. Parking on Fourth Street can be a dodgy proposition, but I managed. Dodgy not because it's a bad neighborhood, but because parking spots are rare and watched over by the meter maids in their triwheeled scooters. I dumped an hour's worth of quarters in the meter, and walked a half mile stretch. Among the several candidates, I chose Mariscos Tampico for a light seafood lunch.
The place looks like it's been around since the`70's judging by the wood paneling and the bright, handpainted underwater motif on the walls, and fishnets draped from the ceiling. Think Spongebob Squarepants meets the Brady Bunch on the Gulf of Mexico. A jukebox by the door played Mexican ballads with instrumentation that sounded several decades old. A retro, not-intentionally-ironic, kitschy place.
The antojitos menu offered some interesting snacks, including a taco of smoked fish (pescado ahumado) and a chicharron de pescado (fried fish skins) . They were out of the smoked fish, and I wanted something more substantial than chicharron de pescado, so I ordered a small mixed seafood cocktail, and a fish taco off of their antojitos menu. The large entrees were more than I wanted.
The seafood cocktail arrived quickly in a sundae glass, filled with shrimp, octopus, fish, and raw oysters and accompanied by a handful of saltine crackers. Its tomato sauce tasted oversweet. A heavy squirt of fresh lime juice cut the sweetness nicely, and the pieces of fresh avocado on top added a nice richness to the seafood-topped saltines. The other seafood tasted just fine, bu the oysters were small and flabby, leading me to think they use canned oysters for the cocktail. I will have to go back and try their ostiones menu to see if they use freshly shucked oysters on those dishes.
The fish taco, however, was terrific. Two large corn tortillas were griddled with a bit of oil, and topped with a big heap of grilled fish fillet pieces (I think it might have been catfish, judging by its fine flakes), shredded cabbage, tomatoes, avocado and oddly, a squirt of mayo. The mayo worked just fine, I just don't think of it as an especially Mexican condiment. Perhaps they do this in Eastern Mexico, I don't know.
Paid my $9 tab, ran back to the car and pulled away from the meter maid with four minutes left on the meter. I will go back to try other interesting dishes on the menu. Most entree items are in the $10-$19 range. The fresh fish and lobster dishes, and several behemoth seafood soups on the caldos menu caught my eye as they left the kitchen. They also offer two kinds of chilaquiles, in Mexican and Norteño styles. Does anyone here know the difference between those two styles?
220 E. 4th St
Santa Ana, CA
Two other locations in L.A. county, too.