Any food enthusiast will tell you that if you're looking for a taste of the Yucatán in Los Angeles, the best place to find it is at Chichen Itzá the Mercado La Paloma in Historic South Central. The stall captures the culturally diverse cuisine of that area of Mexico better than anywhere around, and its cochinita pibil is the stuff of legend. Now, owner Gilberto Cetina Jr. is branching out with a new venture, also at the Mercado. Holbox, a new stall in the market, will celebrate another side of Yucatán cooking, with a menu dedicated to seafood.
"Yucatán is better known for its pork and turkey dishes than its seafood but has a lot to offer," Cetina says. "The use of species of seafood not found on the Pacific side, like cazon [dogfish], caracol blanco [white conch], cherna [wreckfish] and mero [grouper], combined with the classic Yucatán ingredients like banana leaf, sour orange, habanero peppers and achiote, make Yucatán-style seafood unique in Mexico."
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Holbox will be toward the front of the Mercado, and will serve a rotating menu of eight to 10 dishes from a pool of 30 or so recipes. Those recipes will be both traditional Yucatán dishes as well as dishes Cetina labels "Yucatán-inspired." Dishes such as live conch ceviche tostadas and chiles x'catic relleno — breaded and fried spicy yellow chilies, stuffed with the belly of the featured fish of the day — give you some idea of the flavors Cetina is planning. He's also preparing a variety of salsas made with fresh, dry and fermented chilies.
As for the space, "It's more of a seafood stand than a restaurant," Cetina says. There will be counter seating with a view of the cold preparation area, and hot food will be made in back.
"Our focus will be on super fresh product, with a distinctive Yucatán approach," Cetina says. "There are a lot of similarities in all of Mexico's regional seafood dishes. Things like pescado frito and cocteles are found in all parts of the country. We'll be focusing more on the unique offerings of Yucatán seafood, and original recipes inspired by Yucatán classics or the region's ingredients."
Holbox is slated to open in February.