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Ahoy, Amigos! 

Something's fishy south of the border(s)

Wednesday, May 12 1999
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Alameda Swap Meet

The big food stall under the awning closest to the main building here is a full-on Mexican restaurant without the walls, featuring grilled chicken, carne asada and pretty good steam-table dishes: chile verde, chicken mole and a really good, spicy goat-meat stew that's the color of fresh blood. The big awning at the other end shades a Salvadoran stall where a woman pats pupusas one after the other, frying them hard and stacking them up in front of her. Around toward the south parking lot, marinated flank steak sizzles on steel-drum grills until it's tough enough to go into tacos. The Alameda Swap Meet is also the land of chile and lime, which are dribbled on freshly fried potato chips, sprinkled on popcorn, daubed on sliced mangos, squirted on the delicious ceviche and marinated-shrimp tostadas served at El Bucanero seafood concession hard by the main building's entrance. 4501 S. Alameda Blvd.; (323) 233-2764. Open Mon., Wed.­Fri., 10 a.m.­7 p.m., Sat.­Sun., 8 a.m.­7 p.m. (though many of the food stalls are open weekends only). Lunch for two, food only, $3­$10. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only.

Boca del Rio

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This place may lack the elaborate chilpacholes, the exotic jungly stews, the strange licoricelike herbs you'll find in Veracruz, but mostly it delivers the goods: fluffy, garlicky rice; pungent fresh salsa; grilled lobster; stuffed crab; and just the best shrimp al mojo de ajo imaginable, split down the middle, frosted with garlic and grilled until fragrant and crisp. Boca del Rio also specializes in crisp-edged griddled huachinango (red snapper), either marinated with garlic and dried chiles (al pil-pil) or, more simply, al mojo de ajo with browned bits of chopped garlic or cooked in a dry egg batter. And there is a classic huachinango a la Veracruzana, braised in tomato sauce, sharply flavored with capers and olives, as complexly seasoned as anything you might order at, say, L'Orangerie. 3706 E. Whittier Blvd., East L.A.; (323) 268-9339. Open Mon.­Fri., 11:30 a.m.­9 p.m., Sat.­Sun., 9 a.m.­11 p.m. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $22­$35. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.

Mi Ranchito

Here is the best Mexican shrimp cocktail in town, a big parfait glass of crustaceans, cool and tart, elusively smoky, topped with a fan of sliced ripe avocado. Carne asada is exemplary, well-marinated, crusted with black pepper, chewy, beefy and hot; the carnitas are lean and moist, but full of flavor. The first-rate pozole has the funk of hominy, the bite of hot chile and the slightly gamy undertaste of long-stewed meat, but the chunks of boiled pork taste freshly cooked, and the soup has flavor even without the usual additions of chopped onion and oregano. The pork chile verde is spicy, tart, balanced, and there's a wonderful albondigas soup flavored with mint. And, oh yes, did I mention that Mi Ranchito serves birria? 12223 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 398-6106. Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $11­$23. Full bar. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, Disc., MC, V.

Ostioneria Colima

Colima is a perfect spot to kill a hot Saturday afternoon, slurping fresh oysters -- only $11 a dozen -- and drinking cold cans of Tecate from the supermarket next door. Chase your beer with tostadas de ceviche, thick, fried corn tortillas spread with a chopped salad of marinated raw fish, onion and shredded carrot, sharp with the tang of vinegar, mellow with toasted corn, sweetly fishy in an extremely pleasant way, dusted with fresh cilantro -- it goes with Tecate the way Roquefort goes with Sauternes. Then order camarones rancheros, the best entrée, and you'll get a dozen meaty shrimp sautéed with crisp green peppers, swimming in a light, buttery tomato sauce touched with garlic -- the minimalist kind of thing Angeli's Evan Kleiman might scour fishing villages for if she specialized in Mexico instead of Italy. 1465 W. Third St.; (213) 482-4152. Open seven days, 11:30 a.m.­9 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $6­$20. Lot parking. No alcohol. Cash only.

Rincon Hondureño

Near the edge of the West Adams district, Rincon Hondureño is a serene restaurant, washed in sea blue, with high ceilings and sleepy natural light. Bottles of ultrahot habañero sauce dot each table. The most popular Honduran snack is the baleada, a thick flour tortilla as big around as a phonograph record and griddle-baked to order, then painted with puréed black beans, Honduran sour cream and cheese, and folded into something like an oversize taco. And nowhere else will you find sopa de caracol as good, or curry-tinged arroz con pollo, or coconut-enhanced fish soup that revolves around a whole, fresh red snapper as highly peppered as pastrami. Green plantains microtomed lengthwise into thin slices, then fried until they resemble phallic potato chips with a subtly sweet aftertaste -- tajadas, they're called -- are served with nearly everything. This is the sort of place you'd be glad to find in a Honduran beach village. 1654 W. Adams Blvd.; (323) 734-9530. Open daily 7:30 a.m.­9 p.m. Lunch for two, food only $3­$24. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only.

Señor Fish

Here are spicy fried-fish tacos like the ones they serve on the Ensenada waterfront, burritos filled with fat scallops, and plates of sautéed shrimp al mojo de ajo so powerfully seasoned that you can almost feel the garlic vibrate in your teeth. The famous seafood quesadilla, widely copied, is exemplary, a large flour tortilla filled with stretchy cheese and a garlicky panful of sautéed fish, shrimp and scallops, griddled to a browned crispness and brushed with a smoky chile salsa, the sort of trashy, irresistible mess you might throw together for an impromptu dinner at a rented beach house, knowing everybody will ask for seconds. 4803 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 257-7167 (also 618 S. Mission Ave., South Pasadena, 626-403-0145; and 422 E. First St., downtown, 213-625-0566, lunch only). Open for lunch and dinner Fri.­Sat., 11 a.m.­10 p.m., Sun.­Thurs., 11 a.m.­9 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9­$10. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only.

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