Typically we're put off by chain restaurants. They're anything but imaginative. The food is overly processed. The menu almost always includes some sort of blob of pasta, a flavorless burger, or an obnoxiously sweet cocktail.
Then there's Mi Lindo San Blas (My Beautiful San Blas), a fairly new Mexican seafood restaurant that serves to introduce Detroiters to the delights of all manner of mariscos. Under the ownership of Arnulfo Ramirez, who runs nearly 20 locations of the Tres Amigos Mexican restaurants in several parts of Michigan, Mi Lindo San Blas takes a step away from the ordinary enchiladas, tacos, and burritos, and offers a menu almost entirely dedicated to fish.
The eatery, which opened in October, sits on Livernois, just off Vernor Highway. The interior is brightly decorated to give the place the feel of a Mexican resort town (San Blas is one such place a couple of hours outside of Puerto Vallarta), with murals of its seashore painted throughout. Colorful seating featuring carvings of playful fish and crabs are handcrafted in the Mexican state of Jalisco and brought over to the Southwest Detroit spot, giving it an "always-summer-in-Detroit" feel.
The space is pretty sprawled out, with the capacity to seat just under 200, and plenty of room for a dance floor or karaoke stage (both of which it houses a few nights a week). Against the back wall, a long bar, which prominently displays its vast array of tequilas and Mexican beers.
The menu brings a Mexican vacation to mind. You'll find a variety of spicy or citrusy shrimp dishes, whole fried fish, prawns, scallops, ceviche, octopus, crab legs, oysters — you name it, Mi Lindo has set out to make it available.
We dove right into the menu and attempted to try a little bit of everything. On two visits with hungry dining partners, we could only scratch the surface by sampling a handful of dishes. We started with was a complimentary serving of ceviche with crunchy tostadas. With a mixture of white fish, octopus, and shrimp, it was nicely seasoned with a generous splash of lime juice — a refreshing start to the meal.
With main courses, you're promised a dish that will satisfy any sized appetite. The Copa San Blas cocktail, rich in tomato-y broth, offers a heaping selection of clams, crab, scallops, shrimp, and octopus. It's one of those goblets we often turn to after a night of heavy imbibing when we're in need of a hangover elixir. That alone is enough for a satisfying meal. Of course, that doesn't mean we stopped there.
We tried a platter of ostiones preparados (oysters) topped with that tasty ceviche. The sheer size of these shellfish may be intimidating, large enough to take up your whole palm. The presentation is quite exquisite. Missing though is a bit of the salty brininess we often associate with oysters, though, it's mostly made up for with the ceviche.
We continued with a helping of camarones zarandeados: grilled shrimp in a smoky, spicy red sauce. Accompanied with a side of rice, a simple garnishment of lettuce and tomato, and a creamy potato salad, we thoroughly enjoyed ripping the shrimp from out of its skin.
One of the unique things we enjoyed about the offerings was the selection of whole fish. If you can get over your squeamishness about having the fish looking right at you with its eyes, you'll be pleasantly rewarded. The skin has a delectable crunch and the flesh manages to stay moist. You can choose from whole red snappers or mojarras that either come drenched in sauce or al natural. We tried a snapper a la diabla (of the devil). It came out fiery, so much so that water was definitely needed to cool our palate. We preferred the simplicity of the mojarra, sans salsa.
During one of our visits, a dining partner who has less of an appetite for seafood indulged in a carne asada dinner, so keep in mind that for the more finicky of eaters, there's a small section on the back of the menu that offers the basic burritos, quesadillas, etc.
If you're in for a drink, you could go for a classic margarita, but we suggest taking a look at the Michelada Factory. For the uninitiated, a michelada incorporates a Mexican beer with a spicy tomato juice. Think of a Bloody Mary, but with cerveza instead of vodka. At Mi Lindo, the michelada is part of the fun, with not just the tomato mixer, but also shrimp, avocado, cucumber, and hot sauce — essentially a boozy seafood cocktail. During one of our trips, we saw a large group order the "seis al hilo," basically a six-pack of canned Modelos with all the ceviche and shrimp fixing pouring out over them on a plate — quite the festive presentation.
The idea of a Mexican restaurant that deals primarily in seafood is somewhat new in metro Detroit. But with the popularity of places like Mi Lindo and Mariscos Salpicon farther west on Vernor, we're starting to see that folks here are warming to the concept. In fact, Mi Lindo is planning a second location in Lincoln Park in the coming months. Now that's a chain we can get behind.
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