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In 2003, my brother Jose Luis moved from Houston back to Mexico to be a chef at a resort in Playa del Carmen. I visited him shortly after, and we made conch ceviche together. It is a specialty of that area and I needed help perfecting the dish for the menu at Hugoï¿½s. We spent time with our children, fishing, cooking and walking along the beach. The memories from that trip (and others since) are so precious to me that I named this restaurant Caracol, the Spanish word for conch or snail, in honor of that special time together.
My first-ever trip to the beach was at age 9, when my family took a bus from Puebla to Veracruz for a family wedding. From the moment we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the wonders of the ocean and its people, food and culture. I was enamored by my first bite of ceviche, prepared right in front of us by a fisherman with his just-caught snapper. My love of seafood continues to this day, and Caracol is my homage to this amazing, versatile and healthful delicacy.
Sixteen of Mexicoï¿½s states are along the countryï¿½s coastline, and each settlement along the water has developed a cuisine dependent on what is locally available, both from the sea and land. Because it is localized differentiation and ever-changing climates, fishing techniques and general conditions, Mexican coastal cuisine is a source of endless study and enjoyment.
My wife Tracy and I love to travel together to different parts of Mexico. We love seafood, fishing and the ocean, and so many of our trips involve visiting beach towns. There are very few coastal states we havenï¿½t been to on our trips. Besides having fun, Iï¿½ve learned a lot about my country and its coastal dishes. Each area has its own specialtiesï¿½from Ensenada and Rosarito with its mysterious Pata de Mula black ceviche, chocolata clams and Aguachile, to Celestun and Merida and their Tikin Xic, conch, their beachside ceviches and Pan de Cazon, a shark specialtyï¿½ we love it all!
Huatulco has the most pristine beaches Iï¿½ve ever visited, many of them accessible only by boat. There, we were introduced to a new breakfast dish of charales and eggs, stuffed jalapeï¿½o tacos and Pescado a la Talla by a local home cook. It was there that we ate a unique Vuelve a la Vida out of the shells, prepared by a fisherman who dove for them just moments before. He offered just hot sauce and lime and it tasted like the best meal of my life. We spent part of our honeymoon in Zihuatenejo many years ago and have been back recently. Back then, we were hooked on a deeply flavored seafood soup that we ate from beach chairs day after day on that romantic trip. On our recent trip, we found our way to a fishermanï¿½s home who offered us seaweed salad, barnacles, chitons, whelks, langostinos, oysters and more!
My brother, Ruben, and I did a great deal of scouting in Mexico for our book, Hugo Ortega's Street Food of Mexico, in 2011 with photographer Penny de los Santos, and one of the highlights on the trip was Veracruz. The food and the people are so different than other places in Mexico. It felt great to return as an adult and see the people dancing in the streets and taste Huachinango a la Veracruzana and Arroz a la Tumbada which are local specialties. We went to the local seafood market, bought a red snapper and cooked Pescado a las Brazas right on the beach!
Iï¿½m not the best fisherman but I love to fish when I get a chance. What I lack in fishing acumen, I make up for in ceviche-making skills, which come in handy on our Mexico travels. On a recent stop to fish in the shallow clear waters of Holbox off the coast of Cozumel, I didnï¿½t catch a fish but I prepared the freshest ceviche with our boatmate's catch and redeemed myself!
Here at Caracol, we source the best ingredients from the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean for our authentic regional and historic dishes of Mexico. We want the restaurant to be a ï¿½beach getawayï¿½ at any time during the week. We hope the menu, dï¿½cor and even our waitstaff uniforms transport our guests to their favorite places in Mexico even if for an hour or 2. Join us at Caracol for a culinary tour along the Mexican coasts. ï¿½Vamonos!