Aguachile is part of beach cuisine that’s far less common than ubiquitous fish tacos. Often served in a tulip glass, it incorporates a higher proportion of liquid — usually including lots of lime juice — than other forms of ceviche, and it’s a pleasure to drink the remaining cold soup after eating the shrimp. Sometimes tequila is added to make a tall cocktail.
Eight years ago I had to go to Long Branch on the Jersey Shore to get aguachile, visiting a Mexican restaurant ensconced in a former department store called La Valentina. Available in green or red versions — and quite spicy — it was made with raw shrimp, cubed avocado, and fresh jalapenos. It came in a beer schooner with traditional accompaniments of chile-salted cucumbers and plastic-wrapped saltines.
Then in September 2016, Los Tacos No. 1 spinoff Los Mariscos, channeling a beachside shack, started serving shrimp aguachile in a lava-stone metate ringed with sliced cucumbers, and from that point the floodgates were opened. Claro in Gowanus had a shrimp version late the next year, though lately they make it with scallops and blood orange. Later in 2018, Greenpoint’s Oxomoco was experimenting with hamachi and rhubarb. By 2020, we had a restaurant with immigrants from Sinaloa serving it — Taqueria Sinaloense — and soon thereafter, El Submarino appeared in Jackson Heights, producing an arresting aguachile negro, inky with soy sauce. These all came in below $20, and some closer to $10.
In the past year, there’s been an uptick of new businesses touting the dish. Mariscos el Submarino expanded with its more upscale Mitica (now called Mystica), and this week, Bad Hombre centered on Mexican seafood from Ruben Rodriguez, opened in the East Village.
With all these openings, it was inevitable that the dish would go upscale, and the selection of seafood would go beyond traditional shrimp. Casa Bond is leading the way. This Noho restaurant, at 334 Bowery, near Bond Street, is a successor to a Seaport restaurant called Casa Tulum, which has been closed due to frequent flooding, according to our server. The menus are similar, though Casa Tulum concentrated on food from Yucatan, while Casa Bond adds dishes from Baja and Sinaloa.
Chef Rodrigo Abrajan — born in Puebla and founder of East Harlem’s El Paso Taqueria — has created a distinctive aguachile through his selection of seafood, which includes octopus, razor clams, shrimp both cooked and raw (a brilliant move as far as texture goes), and seven kinds of dried and fresh chiles. The result is a fiery and complex aguachile presented in an oblong bowl rather than a mug or metate, with a razor clam shell poised above like a bridge to deliciousness.
Yes, the appetizer is expensive at $31, but this aguachile is memorable in every way.