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Los Equipales: Coastal breezes
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Photos by Wes Naman
Former bank instills sense of ‘Old Mexico’ and offers a haven for seafood lovers

By Cristina Olds
Los Equipales evokes coastal Mexico. You can almost hear the waves lapping the beach where the shrimpers just landed their fresh catch. This isn’t the Mexico of drug wars and border patrols. Rather, this is fine seafood dining and complex salsas served with a cold beer and lime.

The chords of tranquil acoustic guitar and the smell of salty, freshly fried tortilla chips floated through the air on a recent Friday night as my companions and I visited Los Equipales. This building (formerly a Sunwest Bank, of all things) transports diners to old Mexico, despite the incongruous drive-thru construction outside.

Inside, red dew-drop lamps shed warm light on the lavender and pink walls adorned with old photos and paintings of Latinas. Los Equipales is named for the comfortable handmade chairs from the Mexican state of Jalisco, a design that dates to the time of the Aztecs. The creaky furniture is the preferred outdoor setting of old Mexico.

Did I mention it was a Friday? We sampled beer, wine and margaritas at this “working” dinner. When in Mexico, drink margaritas. Heck, eat tequila on shrimp if that’s on the menu, which it is at Los Equipales. The tall Los Cabos Agave Especiál Margarita ($7), actually made with agave wine, had me humming about that lost shaker of salt in short order.

ImageThe restaurant boasts a nice wine list, and one companion shared a sip of her glass of Martín Códax Albariño ($8/glass, $30/bottle), which paired perfectly with the seafood bounty we were about to enjoy.

And that’s what we were there for: seafood. One of my dining companions shared that this was her first experience eating fish since dining on her mom’s frozen fish sticks, and I do believe she was a convert to the pescado by the end of the meal. The first dish that helped convince her was a perfectly pickled ceviche appetizer ($7). Filled with meaty chunks of mahi mahi, the tangy citrus seafood salad featured a medley of avocado, tomato, onion and cilantro presented in a saguaro cactus margarita glass.

We next dug into a slow-death-by-cheese, of sorts, queso fundido ($8), with red chorizo sausage, served with delicious homemade, warm corn tortillas. The tomatillo sauce presented a light spice, but the appy was otherwise somewhat bland.

Following our round of appetizers, my fish-sticks fan ordered Camarones al Tequila ($18). Playfully presented in a circle on a large multicolored plate, the plump shrimp was delicately grilled with lime and served in a mild tequila cream sauce. The entrée was flavorful without tasting heavy, and the tomatillo sauce added nice complexity but without much kick.

Having frequented Los Equipales for years, I have found it difficult to not order the Shrimp Enchiladas ($15) — too difficult for this visit as well. The rolled corn tortillas stuffed with sauteed shrimp and pico de gallo salsa are blanketed with a mild red chile sauce. This choice never disappoints.

ImageAll the main dishes are served with authentic arroz y frijoles (rice and beans). The whole table agreed the green rice was the burro that carried each plate, with the side of veggies tucked in the saddlebags. The waitress explained the rice is colored by a mild poblano chile sauce. Poblano chile (literally, “village chile”), a popular pepper from Puebla, Mexico, is similar (albeit much milder) to the almighty green chile we know and love in New Mexico.

Somehow, in our cocktail and seafood-induced glow, we tried a few of the delightful desserts at Los Equipales, including the pastel de tres leches (three milk cake, $5) which was a giant piece of moist white cake with a thin layer of sweet, light cream chilling at the bottom.

My fish sticks friend dared to call flan the ugly step sister of creme brulée, but there was nada feo in this juicy, carmelized wedge of flan del chef ($5). From a recipe passed down from the owners’ bis-abuela (great-grandma), the flan was smooth sweetness to the palate.

From the moment diners enter this peaceful, south of the border seafood haven, Old Mexico fills the senses. Though coastal aromas can’t be imported, you’ll be hankering to dip your toes in the sand as you sip margaritas and relax in the comfy equipales at Los Equipales.

Request fish dishes as GF — most dishes are dusted with wheat flour, but can be made GF.

Nachos, tostadas and salad. Many seafood options for fish-aterians.

Ensalada de ceviche de camaron (shrimp ceviche salad) and Tostadas de Jaiba (crab ceviche tostadas).

Los Equipales
Hours: 11a-8p, Tue.-Thu. & Sat.; 11a-9:30p, Fri.; Noon-8p, Sun.
4500 Silver SE, 505.265.1300

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