I wish I had a dollar for every time a New Tampa or Wesley Chapel resident has told me, “I wish something other than another chain restaurant would open here.”
I, of course, have been among the loudest of those voices, always lamenting that every time we get a new place — even if it isn’t a chain — it’s still too similar to too many other eateries we already have here.
Well, one thing I can assure you is that the casual, new El Pescador Mexican Restaurant Taqueria & Seafood in the Publix-anchored New Tampa Center plaza isn’t like any other Mexican place we already have, nor is it like any other fresh seafood place I’ve sampled anywhere. Seriously.
Although it is owned and operated by the same family that owns some of the local Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurants, El Pescador truly specializes in fresh seafood.
The main issue I have with that is that I can’t eat most of the incredible variety of seafood dishes available at El Pescador because of my accursed shellfish allergy. In fact, other than the fresh fish dishes on the menu (and yes, there are a few; see below), the only shellfish dishes I can safely eat are the “Patas de Cangrejo,” or crab leg platter, the “Almejas al Ajo” (clams in garlic sauce) and the grilled octopus and sea scallops, even though I’ve never been a big octopus or scallop lover.
If you’re not allergic to shrimp, lobster, oysters, mussels, crawfish, etc., and you like to sample them in a variety of different sauces, your taste buds may have found a new home.
Let’s Start With Starters…
Before you order anything, El Pescador’s happy servers bring you the most incredibly crispy, oversized tortilla chips, with a Vallarta’s-like fresh, puréed salsa and a spicier salsa, plus a plate with a dollop of a unique tuna salad and fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.
If you enjoy fresh ceviche to start a meal, there are tuna, shrimp and tilapia varieties and the lime juice, onions and peppers combine to make a tasty appetizer. There also “Vuelve ala Vida,”a mix of shrimp, octopus, oyster and tilapia ceviche, as well as peel-and-eat shrimp and crawfish, shrimp and shrimp and octopus cocktails and “Caldo 7 Mares” and other soups.
Oyster fans can enjoy small or large plates on the half shell, fried or served “Rockefeller” style, baked with octopus, crab, shrimp and cheese. There’s also shrimp empanadas, fried calamari, cheese dip and made-to-order guacamole.
As for the fish dinners I can eat, the “Huachinango Zarandeado,” which is one of the priciest items on the menu, is a marinated whole red snapper, fileted and cooked over an open fire that truly seals in the flavor and juices. If you prefer a whole fried snapper that isn’t fileted for you, the “Huachinango al Gusto” is the whole fish with garlic, spicy diablo red sauce or creamy ranchera sauce — for about half of the cost of the Zarandeado.
Fish lovers also can enjoy fried or grilled swai (a freshwater catfish). grilled salmon or whole fried tilapia.
The most expensive item on the menu is the whole, stuffed lobster, which is heavily stuffed with shrimp, crab, scallops and octopus. Shrimp alone are available grilled, fried, spicy sautéed, with pico de gallo or sautéed in garlic sauce.
Jannah and I did sample the “small” snow crab leg dinner ($19.95), which comes with fries and rice (although you can substitute veggies), as do all of El Pescador’s House Specialties. The crab legs are yummy, but extremely messy, as the legs themselves are covered in a creamy “Chef’s secret sauce” of garlic, butter and (I’m guessing) paprika. Also available are a variety of platters, including the Vallarta Grilled Combo (shrimp, tilapia and octopus with grilled onions) and El Pescador Seafood Combo (garlic, shrimp, tilapia and scallops with rice, salad and garlic bread).
For You Landlubbers…
Whether you’re allergic or you just prefer more traditional Mexican fare, El Pescador does also have a tasty carne asada steak, very good fajitas (including the steak, shrimp and chicken Fajitas El Pescador combo pictured on the next page), chicken (including the tasty “Pollo Crema”), two kinds of pork, marinated beef, chorizo sausage, shrimp and fish, all available in mini-tacos, tacos, burritos, or quesadilla, or create your own combo. More adventurous types can try tongue or tripe.
Lunch is a good deal at El Pescador, with steak or chicken fajitas for just $8.50 or create a lunch-size combo of two for just $9.50. Most other lunch items are just $7.95-$9.95.
Items from the kids menu cost just $6.95 each and include your choice of a cheese quesadilla, steak burrito, chicken fingers, a cheeseburger, grilled chicken burger or even grilled chicken. Kids entrées are served with rice and beans or fries.
And, El Pescador Mexican and domestic beers (try the Carta Blanca), as well as merlot, chardonnay and homemade sangria, as well as flan, churros and other tasty desserts.
El Pescador (19062 BBD Blvd.) opens at 11 a.m. and stays opens until 9 p.m. on Sun., 9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thur., and 10 p.m. on Fri.-Sat. For more info, including great coupon specials, call (813) 615-9595 or search “El Pescador Mexican Restaurant” on Facebook. Note-Some photos shown here are from Yelp.