Mano a Shrimpo at La Riviera Maya in Irving Park


[Photographs: Mike Gebert]

One of the secrets of the South Side has been slowly increasing its presence on the North Side. I'm speaking of Mexican seafood, usually identified with the coastal state of Nayarit, which starts just north of Puerto Vallarta. These seafood joints are big business on the South Side, where they offer a macho take on seafood full of crustaceans you have to tear apart and suck the meat out of and ceviche to wet your thirst for a tall cold one.


La Riviera Maya, as the name suggests, identifies itself with a different ocean and part of Mexico entirely, the Yucatan (which some savvy tourist agency long ago rebranded as "the Mayan Riviera"). But let's not get too hung up on that—from the ships-and-nets-on-the-wall decor to the big crustaceans, this spot near Irving Park and Elston offers northsiders a good example of what the genre consists of. I recommend just digging into the most splendidly barbaric thing on the menu, the platter of shrimp sacrifice to the dining gods they call Charola de Langostinos (which just means, platter of shrimp)


This is a mere half order, splayed out Busby Berkeley-style, of monster-sized crustaceans whose dying wish was to be seasoned in Mexican spices and pan-fried. Scoop the thumb-sized hunk of meat out of the shell or chomp down on it whole, suck the head, take a swig, repeat. This is simple, elemental food (so elemental it doesn't come with anything else, so assume you'll be ordering other things or sides or something). You vs. the sea, mano a shrimpo. Enjoy.