Mariscos El Salpicon is your Latin American hangover cure

What a catch

Mariscos El Salpicon is your Latin American hangover cure
Photo by Scott Spellman

Mariscos El Salpicon

8600 Vernor Hwy. | 313-914-2214 $2.50-$45 | Wheelchair accessible

See 16 photos of Mariscos El Salpicon

The mythology of the hangover cure varies worldwide, with remedies running the gamut from starchy to fatty, spicy to boozy. Many cultures believe the right soup, filled with restorative broth, protein, veggies, and an aromatic quality, will do the trick. And in many a Latin American household, the caldo is a catch-all cure for what ails you.

Some swear by their abuela's caldo de pollo, prepared with huge pieces of bone-in chicken, corn still on the cob, and other hearty chunks of veggies. Others are steadfast in menudo — a spicy, red broth fortified with tripe, hominy, shredded cabbage, diced onion, and cilantro. For folks who hail from more coastal regions of Mexico and Central America, the sopa de mariscos — seafood soup — as well as ceviche and shrimp cocktails, are the ultimate in helping one overcome a long night of boozing. It's believed that the acidity of lime and tomato juice usually associated with this cuisine (also commonly known as aguachile) and the light, healthy morsels that come from the pieces of fish, octopus, shrimp, shellfish, and scallops are sure to bring anyone back from the brink.

In Detroit, we don't see much in the way of Latin American seafood. Sure, plenty of Mexican and Caribbean restaurants serve a few shrimp or seafood cocktails, maybe a whole fried fish, or camarones a la diabla (spicy sautéed shrimp, smothered in spicy sauce — of the devil), but seafood is not the main draw on the menu. That's why Mariscos El Salpicon has received such a warm welcome since it opened a brick and mortar location two months ago on West Vernor Highway in southwest Detroit. Launched first as a food truck last year by husband-and-wife Aldo Dominguez Perez and Yuriviana Angel and friend Esteban Perez, the trio were intent on capturing the flavors of the Pacific Coast Mexican state of Nayarit, where Aldo hails from.

The place feels like a sleepy beach town eatery, with a thatched grass roof motif at the bar, fishnet on the ceiling, and brightly painted walls. Out front, there's a tiny, sandy beach, complete with grass umbrellas (which we admit, during an unusually frigid visit in April, seemed a bit out of place). Dreary Detroit weather aside, once you're settled and offered a complimentary serving of ceviche and tostadas, you'll be feeling the warmth straight away.

What we discovered was a boatload of creativity in all manner of fish. In Mexican and Central American cuisine, salpicon refers to a salad mixture of a thinly chopped protein — in this case seafood — along with onion, chili, tomatoes, vinegar, and avocado. It's usually served with tostadas, tacos, or as a cocktail in a glass. Diners are encouraged to amp up the tartness by squeezing wedges of lime on top. And the more intricate the combination of mariscos, the better. Here, the kitchen goes to great lengths to incorporate the salpicon in a number of innovative presentations.

We started with a simple serving of ceviche with tostada chips and saltines. With just the right balance of vinegar and lime juice, this makes for the perfect summertime snack, (ideally lake or pool side). Onto a plate of fried empanadas, the outer crust is crispy (not so much flaky), and packed with minced shrimp. Think Upper Peninsula pasty with a Latin twist.

Next up, we were wowed by the Piña Suprema, which draws from a common specialty found on food carts in many Latin American neighborhoods. The concept is to take a whole pineapple, hollow it out, and then stuff it with a mix of fruits, cucumber, and Chamoy — a spicy sauce typically made with fruit, chilies and lime juice. Here, peeled shrimp, octopus, scallops, cucumber, and onion are also thrown into the mix, making for a vibrant, tropical flavor that soaks right into the meat. An alternative to the piña is a coconut, which is similarly loaded with seafood — and its water is offered to the diner.

A specialty of Nayarit is found with the camarones de cucaracha (which roughly translates to cockroach shrimp). Don't let the name scare you, as there's really no translation for this regional dish. To make it, a small amount of butter or oil is heated in a pan, then whole, unpeeled shrimp are added and covered with a red chili and vinegar sauce sautéed until the shrimp are well-done. What comes out is a crunchy outside, with a tender inside, and a spice not too different from a Buffalo wing sauce.

Onto the ultimate in hangover cures, the Molcajete de Mariscos, wherein a medley of seafood (shrimp, scallops, octopus, mussels, and crab legs) is loaded into an oversized volcanic rock mortar. It's got a lot of heat and is a bit on the salty side, but again, with a helping of lime juice, the flavors come together in a nice balance.

To drink, the place lacks a liquor license (we're told one is in the works), but we were dazzled by a concoction known as a Rusa. It's made with grapefruit soda (in this case Squirt), Chamoy, lime juice, and garnished with orange wedges and a Tajin chili powder-rimmed glass. Once the liquor license is in place, we look forward to the creative michelada cocktails that Salpicon is bound to come up with (a michelada is considered another common hangover cure, made up of beer and tomato juice — a beer Bloody Mary of sorts).

The timing of Salpicon's arrival in the city couldn't be better. We'll be heading into the summer months, filled with late nights out in the warm breeze. What better way to recover from those evening romps than with a nice coctel de camaron in a pineapple and a refreshing Rusa?

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