San Antonio’s Mexican seafood restaurants El Bucanero, El Golfo de Mexico and El Siete Mares battle it out in Mike Sutter’s Lenten showdown


For believers, the season of Lent which begins on Wednesday marks a time of reflection, prayer and sacrifice. It also signals peak season for Fish Fridays, which turn San Antonio seafood restaurants into places of worship where diners praise the glory of all things flaky and fried.

The good news is that the city’s Mexican seafood spots—the marisco shops that turn the catch of the day into an explosion of color, flavor, and flair—feel less like a sacrifice and more like a party.

For years, San Anton residents have turned to the venerable trinity of El Bucanero, El Golfo de Mexico, and seafood restaurant El Siete Mares, not just during Lent, but whenever the occasion calls for fish, shrimp, oysters, ceviches, seafood cocktails and the show. beer’s answer to the Bloody Mary: the michelada.

But which is the best? Today we throw El Bucanero, El Golfo de Mexico and El Siete Mares into the net to see who will rule the blue ocean.

El Bucanero is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Blanco Road.

Mike Sutter / Staff

The Bucanero

From churro trucks in parking lots to traveling mariachis and molcajetes piled up like Roman fiestas, El Bucanero is a carnival that takes place year-round in three locations around the city. At El Bucanero I learned that a love song is $20, sometimes you really want a whole shrimp cocktail sitting on your can of beer, and the proper salute for a shot of tequila is “arriba, abajo , al centro, pa’ dentro.

The food: They call it Molcajete El Bucanero, but I call it a decadent hot stone cauldron filled with half the menu: Fried Fish, Grilled Fish, Octopus, Crab Legs and a Forrest Gumpload of Fried Shrimp, Grilled Shrimp and Wrapped Shrimp of bacon. It’s almost $50, but it’s enough to feed the whole table, and it’s a simple way to dive into a 10-page menu of tiny print that doesn’t care about descriptions.

Molcajete El Bucanero includes fried fish, grilled fish, octopus, crab legs, fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, bacon-wrapped shrimp and more at El Bucanero, a Mexican seafood restaurant on Blanco Road.

Molcajete El Bucanero includes fried fish, grilled fish, octopus, crab legs, fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, bacon-wrapped shrimp and more at El Bucanero, a Mexican seafood restaurant on Blanco Road.

Mike Sutter / Staff

I needed no description for a fried red snapper, a medium sized whole fish lightly breaded from head to tail and scored on the sides for easy access to the silky white meat on both sides of the fish.

On the fresh side, a molca campechana showcased El Bucanero’s talent with the ceviche, blending tender white fish, prawns and octopus in a bright citrus marinade with pico de gallo, all surrounded by sprinkled cucumber slices of chilli.

On the even cooler side, if you can’t decide between a michelada and a prawn cocktail, the Michelada Bucanera, served in a schooner filled with a spiced tomato medley and dazzled with boiled, peeled prawns with a bottle Mexican beer cold upside down in the middle, got you covered.

El Bucanero is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Blanco Road.

El Bucanero is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Blanco Road.

Mike Sutter / Staff

The atmosphere: There’s never a dull moment at El Bucanero, and never a quiet moment. The Blanco Road parking lot is always full, there’s always a wait, and you’re never more than a few minutes away from the balloon animal guy, the guy taking a selfie, or the whole mariachi band.

The intangibles: El Bucanero is like the Chick-fil-A of the sea: fast, friendly, lively and full of families.

Where to find them: 16505 Blanco Road, 210-408-9297; 13802 Embassy Road, 210-333-0909; 8300 Marbach Road, 210-645-7337; el-bucanero.com

El Golfo de Mexico is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Basse Road.

El Golfo de Mexico is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Basse Road.

Mike Sutter / Staff

El Golfo de Mexico

The Basse Road location of this small local chain looks like a modest mom-and-top taquería from the outside. And it is — with seafood. But inside, on a Sunday afternoon, a DJ did his karaoke thing to conjunto and Tejano videos, filling the stripped-down dining room with sound and dance. ‘an energy that contrasted sharply with the understated plates that emphasized flavor rather than flash.

The food: Crispy corn tostadas make a great platform for fresh seafood, and El Golfo’s seafood tostadas feature citrus-marinated fresh fish and chopped shrimp in every bite, honed with pico de gallo on a plate with buttered white rice and a simple salad.

The menu includes mixed seafood tostadas at El Golfo de Mexico, a Mexican seafood restaurant on Basse Road.

The menu includes mixed seafood tostadas at El Golfo de Mexico, a Mexican seafood restaurant on Basse Road.

Mike Sutter / Staff

Rice and salad accompanied each plate, a simple and sensible presentation that let the food do the talking. And the conversation was good, especially a fried whole red snapper with a light, flaky crunch on the outside and white meat underneath. A sharp-tongued dish called A la Diabla Shrimp featured perfectly rolled shrimp with slivers of coral in a smoky chipotle broth.

El Golfo de Mexico is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Basse Road.

El Golfo de Mexico is a Mexican seafood restaurant on Basse Road.

Mike Sutter / Staff

The atmosphere: What the venue lacked in atmosphere it made up for in friendly service, good food and an Oktoberfest stein-sized michelada.

The intangibles: If cold was a menu item, everyone ordered it. I felt relaxed and at home the second I walked in.

Where to find them: 2034 Lower Road, 210-736-0539; 5539 Enrique M. Barrera Drive, 210-670-8080; no web presence. There is a third location in San Marcos. Basse Road staff said the Golfo de Mexico, of the same name, located at 603 Bandera Road, is run by another branch of the family.

El Siete Mares is a Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street.

El Siete Mares is a Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street.

Mike Sutter / Staff

Seafood Restaurant El Siete Mares

When I visited El Siete Mares for 365 Days of Tacos in 2017, I felt like I had stumbled upon El Bucanero’s less flashy cousin, a quieter version of the full-press mariscos experience without all the the sound and the fury. That’s still true, but by then my fondness for the food itself had degraded to fit the more modest surroundings.

The food: What I really loved at El Siete Mares in 2017 were the fried fish tacos, and they’re always crispy and fresh, even though they’re not as heavily topped with cabbage and carrots. But I didn’t like all the fried snapper, tough and overcooked and hard to pull off the bones.

Scallop aguachile verde is on the menu at El Siete Mares, a Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street.

Scallop aguachile verde is on the menu at El Siete Mares, a Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street.

Paul Stephen/Staff File Photo

I also didn’t like the Caldo El 7 Mares, a seafood soup mixed with fish, oysters, smelt, octopus and imitation crab that gave off sour and sandy notes like a long day at the beach. And the basic fish ceviche was just that – basic, soaked too long in an acidic citrus marinade that left the fish tough and flaky.

But I agree with my colleague Paul Stephen, who last year described El Siete Mares’ scallop aguachile verde as having “perfect chewiness and a salty backbeat that largely tastes of the sea. “. I agree, and it was the best thing on the menu.

El Siete Mares is a Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street.

El Siete Mares is a Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street.

Mike Sutter / Staff

The atmosphere: In business since 1994, El Siete Mares looks and feels its age, with dark woodwork and mounted fish that might have been trophies, but not for the top spot.

The intangibles: Somewhere between the flash of El Bucanero and the down-to-earth simplicity of Mexico City’s El Golfo, El Siete Mares didn’t feel right in the middle.

Where to find it: 3831 Commerce Street West, 210-436-6056, Facebook: @ElSieteMaresSA

The winner

There’s a cute little cartoon crab everywhere in El Bucanero, on the menus, on the walls, on the signs. He is holding a poster with a saying that means nothing to a non-Spanish speaker.

But if you know, you know, and now I know this chubby-mouthed crustacean basically says, “All seafood, none of the BS.” He is right.

For the freshness, for the flavor, for the sheer spectacle of it all, El Bucanero wins.

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