At Chilangos Seafood, raw oysters hit the table on a beer tray lined with ice cubes and scattered with sliced lemons, all per the local norm. But they are garnished with freshly chopped pico de gallo and small cubes of avocado. Slurped down in the familiar manner, these ostiones a la Veracruz, as they're called, were salty, cold, tart, a little creamy and a worthwhile reward all on their own for the trek out to Williams Boulevard, that always-reliable source for interesting international foods.
There would be a lot more to follow, like bracing, juicy Mexican shrimp cocktail served in a heavy beer schooner; a meal-sized soup with a greater variety of seafood than a Frenchmen's bouillabaisse; and an octopus dish cooked in ink that temporarily stained my lips but left an indelible mark on my flavor memory. Chilangos Seafood proprietor David Montes is a native of Mexico City — "Chilangos" is what residents of that city call themselves. He came to New Orleans in a taco truck after Hurricane Katrina and set himself up outside an abandoned gas station in Metairie. By the time Jefferson Parish officials outlawed taco trucks in 2007, Montes had decided to stay in the area, and he opened the restaurant Taqueria Chilangos (2723 Roosevelt Blvd., Kenner, 469-5599).
Chilangos Seafood is a new spinoff, and it's an exciting find for those with a taste for tropical seafood preparations. Compared to the average Williams Boulevard eatery, it's a nice enough looking place. Compared to the average taqueria around here, though, it's like the Taj Mahal, or at least a Disney set. A colorful seafood motif is worked into every corner, from dangling seashell curtains to coral reef scenes molded into the tables and barstools.
The bar glows with neon, and the women behind it mix up the signature Chilangarita, a frozen margarita with an open beer bottle upended in its slush. As you drink the margarita more beer joins the mix. This essentially enables double-fisting while keeping one hand free, presumably to steady oneself.
Chilangos Seafood serves fish tacos, of course, but with flavorless fried tilapia and too much shredded lettuce they aren't a strong suit. Diners are better off picking more elaborate dishes.
For the aforementioned octopus, for instance, tentacles are cut into gnocchi-sized chunks and cooked with salty, pitch-black ink, which suffuses it all with an earthiness that somehow only comes from the sea. And the kitchen prepares a righteous version of vuelva a la vida ("return to life"), which mixes shrimp, oysters and more octopus in the powerful tang of Mexican cocktail sauce, all awash in garlic and citrus.
That dish is a purported hangover cure, which might come in handy since Chilangos Seafood knows how to party. Wednesday's salsa dance night doesn't start until 10 p.m., and even at lunch on Saturdays there's karaoke for anyone inclined to belt out Mexican pop ballads between rounds of oysters and Chilangaritas.