Mariscos El Rey is tucked away in a strip mall in Aurora — Google Maps will get you most of the way there, but the outside is so understated that it may still take a bit to find the entrance. However, the interior is as vibrant as the exterior is drab. Thatch covers the bar, kitschy nautical trinkets line the painted walls and buckets of beer and micheladas found on nearly every table further the coastal vibes. El Rey serves Sinaloan seafood, its robust menu covering everything from a plethora of ceviche, sizzling molcajetes, Mexican-style sushi and of course a whole grilled octopus. The mood is vibrant — weekends play host to karaoke, and despite the host doing much of the singing the loud reggaeton provides a solid backdrop for the diverse cooking.
The menu is enormous. The many pages are filled with appetizers, tostadas, oysters, aguichiles and endless plates of seafood done fried, grilled, sauced and rolled. There are a lot of safe bets for the less adventurous eaters — tacos and fajitas are aplenty — but the menu is most exciting when you venture into the more complex and unusual corners. The drink menu consists of beer and wine, with a long list of micheladas. Almost everything on the list has an accompanying picture, so hardly anything a customer orders needs to be a shot in the dark.
The Sinaloan style sushi is a good way to keep things comfortable while still venturing into unfamiliar waters. The dragon roll ($14.99) is shrimp, octopus, cream cheese, sliced avocado, imitation crab, sriracha, spicy mayo and sweet sauce served deep fried and served with pickled carrots and a roasted pepper. Not a single roll has seaweed, most are deep fried and just a few are served without a surplus of sauce and multiple kinds of cheese. The El Rey roll ($12.99) is shrimp, crab, cream cheese, avocado and the piece de resistance, bacon. Some of the rolls have muenster, others chicken and everything is a decidedly decadent departure from the Japanese foundation.
The pulpo a la plancha ($24.99) is a whole grilled octopus served over a steaming skillet of peppers and onions, served with beans, rice, tortillas and greens. The tentacles hang off the plate and if you flip the thing over you’ll find the beast’s head split in two. In terms of being commonplace, the dish is about as far from shelter as the menu gets. The texture is rubbery and the dish gets more and more slimy towards the center. This is not to say the dish is faulty, but it is certainly otherworldly. The eight-limbed attraction is not enormous, but the dish with fixings and all is enough for two.
The dessert options feature many of the usual suspects. Fried ice cream, sopapillas, churros and flan are joined by fried Oreos and cheesecake. The fried Oreos are particularly delightful. When the cookies are deep-fried they basically liquefy, resulting in a hedonistic, melt-in-your-mouth wallop served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. The dish has a distinctly joyous character, reminiscent of street-festivals and carnival rides.
Marisco El Rey is a good sampling of the incredible range of influence involved in Sinaloan cuisine. To call any of it fusion would be doing a disservice to the reality that food cultures are fluid — nothing on the menu ever feels borrowed. The restaurant’s ability to allow customers safely venture into increasingly funky corners of the cuisine may be the location’s strong suit — the place provides an excellent meal whether or not you can handle tentacles at the head of the table.
Mariscos El Rey is located at 820 Dayton Street, Aurora. It has a second location at 10293 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora. It is open Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 a.m., 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.