Mariscos 1133 restaurant review: Great seafood — and so much more
Do you miss good service? Mariscos 1133 shows that hospitality is as much a reason people dine away from home as anything whipped up by a chef. You walk in the place, the staff treats you like an investor. Drinks, good ones, show up as if the bartender already knew what you wanted, and little surprises find their way to your table. Unprompted one night, a server brought out a trio of salsas she thought might go well with my entree and cautioned me about the fire in the sauce colored orange from habanero.
The menu reads like one from before masks became musts. It’s epic. We’re talking nearly 20 appetizers alone. Some of his industry peers told Solis he was crazy to offer so many dishes. “Make it easy on yourself,” he says they coached him. “I don’t know,” says the chef, a native of Mexico City. “I start out with five ideas” and keep cooking until twice as many occur. “I like to cook!”
His enthusiasm is all over the plate. Just look at the colorful tuna tostadas, a trio of blue corn tortillas piled with diced marinated tuna, shaved red onion and avocado presented on a plate with squiggles of a creamy citrus emulsion. “Let the party begin!” the appetizer seems to say, and its flavors support. The egg batter on the chile relleno clings like lace (so light!), and what’s not to love about a velvety pepper swollen with wild mushrooms and tangy goat cheese? Then there’s shrimp, threaded on sugar cane skewers and draped with a smoky pineapple relish, a partnership enhanced by a scoop of rice fragrant with fresh coconut. Even the Caesar salad sidesteps the routine, with folds of serrano ham amid the greens and a dressing made with plenty of the expected garlic and anchovy, but also three cheeses. Throw in some grilled bread, as this place does, and the salad becomes a meal.
Mariscos 1133 — the name combines the Spanish word for “seafood” and part of the restaurant’s address — is a window-wrapped corner dining room suited for the times. Most seats are booths, and outside features a sidewalk patio, erasing a few fear factors. Inside, you’re introduced to a few menu features before actually getting the list. See the octopus and fish painted on the wall? Blue bar stools and water glasses subtly underscore the underwater vision. Solis says he enjoys the view from the open kitchen. “You can see the reaction” of guests as they’re eating (or in my case, inhaling).
The pilot behind crowd-pleasers Anafre (formerly Little Havana), El Sol and Mezcalero, Solis originally wanted to call his new place Mariscos and Mas (“more” in Spanish). There’s a lot more than seafood on the menu, after all, and Solis wanted everyone to feel welcome. Plus, “my sister likes meat and chicken.”
So will you. Skirt steak gets marinated in pineapple, garlic and fresh thyme, a step that makes for tender and juicy eating. Still, the churrasco faces competition from the rest of its big plate, decorated with a neat stack of crisp yuca, stinging chimichurri and, at the behest of my server, charro beans swollen with the flavor of their porky broth. The chefs nod to the Caribbean with jerk chicken that might not register precisely Jamaican — there’s a heaping helping of cilantro in the seasoning, and the heat comes from serrano and habanero — but it passes the good-to-the-last-pop-in-the-mouth test. Like a few other entrees, the jerk chicken can be ordered as a sandwich.
Beef braised with a rainbow of chiles and sweetened with cinnamon makes for exemplary birria tacos, presented with the customary hot consommé for sipping or dipping. (Solis coaches diners to eat the tacos with salsa verde first, then chase them back with the broth, fortified with the flavor of beef bones. M’m m’m bueno!)
When I ask Solis what’s behind the spot-on servers here, he simply says, “They like to eat.” It helps that the chef gives them the opportunity to do just that as part of their training. His staff are excited about the food because they’ve sampled the menu, drinks included, and can speak from experience about what to order and how best to enjoy something. At my last dinner, a server practically insisted we try a special of whole fried flounder. I’m glad we paid heed. The scored fish — marinated with garlic, lime juice and onions and dredged in flour seasoned with paprika and other spices — was a marvel of audible crunch followed by meaty fish followed by a permanent spot on the menu.
The large portions can lead to leftovers, which I typically send home with dining companions. The high-quality cooking at Mariscos 1133 had me rethinking that strategy. Parting with, among other dishes, the juicy beef empanadas and their bright green salsa is such sweet sorrow.
No part of the experience is overlooked. Almost two dozen wines are offered by the glass, for an average of $10. You may want to ease in with a cocktail. Scott Clime, a friend of Solis’s since both worked at the late Ceiba, created a roster of drinks that, like the menu, considers the expanse of Latin America. Think pisco sours, caipirinhas and piña coladas. The most interactive of the lot is a small Corona plunged into a frozen margarita. Request the Corona-Rita, and possibly some queso fundido to soak up the potent slush. The gooey appetizer — molten Mexican cheeses swirled with corn, epazote and earthy huitlacoche — comes swaddled in banana leaves in a hot skillet. (To heighten the flavor, Solis bundles the cheese in the leaves a day before serving.)
Several visits, on different days of the week with different servers, gave me ample opportunity to find cracks in the china. But the few flaws I could identify were an order of slow-braised pork with a shake too much salt — an easily corrected issue — and the tendency of one waiter to ask “How do you like it?” of every dish on the table. (My chins got tired from all the nodding.)
Otherwise, Mariscos 1133 is the definition of what it means to be a neighborhood restaurant, a place whose cooking, attention and prices encourage regular drop-ins by locals.
Solis had it right when he was contemplating names for his latest draw. Diners might come for the mariscos, but they return for so much mas.
1133 11th St. NW. 202-836-4107. mariscos1133.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining as well as takeout and delivery 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Appetizers $11.95 to $18.95, main courses $13.95 to $28.95. Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance, but the interior is snug; two tables are designated for wheelchair users, who have access to an ADA-compliant restroom. Pandemic protocol: Staff members are vaccinated and masked.