Photo: Joshua Lurie

Stellar Mexican seafood at Downtown’s Mercado La Paloma

By Joshua Lurie

No matter what alt-food people might have you believe, great seafood doesn’t always have to be served right by the water. Just look at Holbox, a new Mercado La Paloma seafood bar inspired by chef Gilberto Cetina, Jr.’s family vacations to the island of the same name, off the Yucatan Peninsula.

Cetina was studying computer science when his father opened Chichen Itza at the USC-adjacent food hall back in 2001. He jumped into the fray and now runs the original restaurant, plus this more modern, oceanic concept, under the same roof.

Pristine seafood is at the heart of a menu that features both classic and creative preparations. For his six-course BlackboardEats dinner, Cetina is offering a selection of three cold seafood preparations followed by three hot plates.

Begin on the cool side, with a Baja two-step that arrives on a bed of ice. Briny Kumiai oysters come with piquant sauce crafted with chile costeño, chile guajillo, red wine vinegar, and lime. Pata de Mula are crunchy “blood clams” from the Sea of Cortez that bleed red juices and come dressed with salsa morita, onion, cilantro, and lime.

The surf clam cocktail stars shucked and sliced bivalves served on shells with onion, tomato, micro cilantro, and sauce of house-made ketchup, fresh-squeezed orange juice, chile costeño and chile guajillo. Spoon on crackers and repeat.
To warm things up, a heaping tostada of sweet Gulf shrimp, tender octopus, yellowtail and Half Moon scallop arrives on creamy avocado puree, drizzled with smoky chile de arbol salsa.

The chiles rellenos features two mild blonde chiles güeros filled with minced opah, sautéed onion and garlic, lime juice, and chives. Crispy, panko coats pair well with the plate’s decorative dots of house mayo and morita salsa. Meanwhile, the octopus taco dazzles with house-made corn tortilla, crispy fried tentacle, cherry tomato, and jet-black sofrito that incorporates octopus stock, diced octopus, squid ink, tamarind, and a hint of habanero heat.

Finally, a seared Maine diver scallop taco co-stars crunchy shaved fennel, cherry tomatoes, and pureed sofrito crafted with chile güero and chile morita. No, the menu doesn’t include dessert, but with scallops this sweet, why bother?

BBE exclusive 6-course prix fixe dinner ($40 per person)*

“Pata de Mula” Mexican blood clams
Ostiones (oysters)
Almeja Preparada
Chiles rellenos de pescado
Taco de pulpo en su tinta
Tacos de scallop

*Reservations required; menu items are seasonal and subject to change


Tue–Sun 11:30 AM–8 PM
Closed Monday

price range

$7 (small ceviche tostada) to $15 (large coctel mixto)