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TWO Puerto Penasco Dining treasures

TWO Puerto Penasco Dining treasures


2 Puerto Peñasco dining treasures

Selina Schuh Dopp
Special for The Republic
Nov. 9, 2007 12:59 PM

PUERTO PEÑASCO, Sonora – Finding a good restaurant in Rocky Point can be tricky. You either can end up in a tourist trap, eating poor imitations of familiar foods, or you can find a place so authentic that all you can order are brains and innards. What if you want local flavor without deviating too much from the familiar?

Two restaurants near the fish market in Old Town fill the bill. Though many restaurants along the water serve decent fare, the constant pressure to hire mariachis ruins the enjoyment of the meal and the relaxation you might experience from the sound of crashing waves. More tranquil settings are available a stone’s throw away. Leave the bustling main street behind and walk one block up the hill.

El Rincon de Regina

At the bottom of the steep, one-way street that leads out of the center of town is El Rincon de Regina (Regina’s Corner). The two neon signs framing the restaurant are almost as big as the restaurant, which serves approximately 25 people.

The inside is a feast for the senses. The walls are painted warm red and temperate yellow, and decorated with multicolored ceramic and silver crafts, as well as traditional paintings depicting peasant life and religious icons. A marvelous smell wafts through the dining room and a peek at the hand-painted dishes filled with colorful, fresh food has you grabbing for the menu. A drink from the full bar will extend your patience while you wait for your food and take in the rest of the setting.

Four years ago, armed with only a hefty portion of faith, owner Elizabeth Benitez Solano opened this restaurant. She named it after fictional Mexican heroine Regina, whose mythical strength brings the world’s energy back into balance. Mythical strength is apparently what it takes to open a restaurant in Rocky Point. Solano says owners must jump through endless bureaucratic hoops, applying for a host of local and regional permits, each more expensive than the last. And getting the restaurant ready took the help of many people.

“My friends brought the furniture and stove, I brought the dishes and kitchen utensils, my neighbor is my steady helper in the kitchen, and one of my friends is the server,” she said.

Solano said there were many moments in the first few months when the restaurant teetered on the verge of closing because she lacked money for one permit or another. And even though she had a lot of support, she attributes the biggest portion of help to God:

“Every time I didn’t know how to continue, he opened another door,” Solano said.

Solano learned some of the dishes on the menu from her mother while growing up in Sinaloa. Others are local dishes that her cook suggested. Local ingredients, such as fresh fish or cactus, make up most of the dishes.

One dish worth trying is molcajete Victoria, a traditional Sonoran dish. Flesh from the prickly pear cactus, called nopal, is mixed with cheese and beans in a stoneware dish and brought to a boil. The resulting mixture of sour and savory flavors is served bubbling hot, with pieces of shrimp, chicken, beef and green onion leaning against the rim of the dish. Dipped in the sauce, the pieces taste heavenly by themselves or wrapped in tortillas with rice and beans.

Another good introduction to the flavors at El Rincon de Regina is the chicken mole. Long after the chicken is gone, you’ll be using tortillas to dip up the thick brown sauce, tasting of buttery chocolate mixed with chiles.

And no one should leave without having at least one bite of the incredibly rich fried ice cream. The warm granola atop cinnamon ice cream squeezed inside a taco shell encourages eating far past one’s comfort zone.

What is Solano’s recipe for success? Hard work (the restaurant is open 7:30 a.m.- 8 p.m. daily) and cooking with love.

“When love is infused into whatever you do, people will sense it and come back,” she said.

So far, people do come back, to the point that Solano is toying with the idea of opening a second location.

Blue Marlin

The Blue Marlin, just half a block up from the busy fish market, offers less atmosphere than Regina’s (a friend refers to it as “just a step up from a street vendor’s cart”), but the food is so outstanding that the simplicity of the locale doesn’t seem to matter.

One reason for the absence of coziness may be that owner Homero Ortega created the restaurant as an afterthought. An oceanographer, he originally ran a fish store on the same site. Through the years clients pressed him to open a restaurant, because they thought it would be nice to eat the fresh fish right there. The transition happened gradually. First, Ortega served tacos for a couple of years, then in 1996 turned the business into the restaurant it is today.

True to the restaurant’s name, blue marlin prepared in a variety of ways is the specialty. Marlin, however, is a rarity in the region.

“Marlin is not a fish that is easily available in Rocky Point. Sometimes when the fishermen here fish for sharks, marlin gets stuck in the nets. That’s when I can buy it locally. Otherwise, I have to get it from places further south,” Ortega said.

Marlin has a robust flavor, and tastes delightful by itself. But the secret to the restaurant’s top-selling dish is the huge stainless-steel smoker that takes up much of the space behind the cash register. Ortega says he brines marlin with spices, brown sugar and teriyaki sauce for about 10 hours and then smokes it for 12 hours. The smoked fish bursts with flavor and is a great introduction for anyone skeptical of seafood.

Serious seafood lovers should visit the Blue Marlin for dinner. The Neptune platter, a five-course meal for two at the affordable price of $30, includes such offerings as breaded oysters, baby clams in white wine, shrimp in garlic sauce and sea bass with rosemary.

The Blue Marlin is open noon to 10 p.m. daily; closed Wednesdays. Ortega said he plans to open for breakfast at 7 a.m. soon, but has no definite date.