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Oct 30, 2006 03:26 AM

Las Islitas Mariscos - Watsonville

In a recent post, Nathan recommended Las Islitas Mariscos in Watsonville for their shrimp empanadas. I looked up his original report here:

and decided to put it on the list of places to try if I was in the area. Which turned out to be today.

Showing up at 3:00 PM, I was surprised to find it almost full and hopping. As Nathan mentions, it's a good-sized place (maybe 30 booths and tables) and it was quite loud. There was a musical group playing when I arrived (not the typical mariachi band, but string bass, guitar, snare drum, accordion and saxophone) and when they finished they were replaced by (loud) recorded music. Definitely not the place for a quiet conversation.

My waitress spoke no english, but the printed menus have english descriptions, so ordering was pretty straight-forward. There was no doubt that I was trying the empanadas and although I was alone, decided to try a "plate" as well, choosing the Camarones a la Cucaracha ($9.50) described as a house specialty and "HOT!"

As soon as I'd ordered, I was brought a basket with some fried whole tortillas (basically, as far as I could tell, tostada shells), a cup of tasty (and pretty darned spicy) fresh green chile salsa, some lime halves and a bunch of saltine crackers.

The empanadas showed up first and they were exactly as Nathan described them. Not super crispy, but intensely flavorful with nice hunks of shrimp inside. They came with another cup of the green salsa which complemented them well.

The Camarones a la Cucaracha showed up shortly thereafter (although the place was crowded, service was quick and attentive). The medium sized shrimp were cooked just a tad more than I would have preferred, but certainly not as much as one often finds at Tepa Sahuayo. The red sauce was extremely tasty, but mildly spicy at best - certainly not "HOT!" It was accompanied by a small salad of lettuce, cucumber, onion and tomato (although if there was any dressing on it, I didn't notice it), some disappointingly lackluster refried beans, rice with bits of vegetables (also none too exciting), and some corn tortillas. Overall, the shrimp were delicious and the tortillas great for sopping up any excess sauce, but the rest of the sides were pretty much a waste.

I'd ordered knowing it would probably be more food that I could finish and, sure enough, fullness hit with some shrimp and one of the empanadas remaining. This resulted in the only language problem of the visit, in that I had some difficulty communicating to my waitress that I wanted to take the leftover shrimp home.

While eating my meal, I watched a lot of other interesting dishes being delivered to nearby tables. So, between the empanadas (which I think would be a must-order on any visit) and a desire to try some of those other dishes, I'll definitely be back.

A few photos here:

Las Islitas Mariscos
1230 Main St
Watsonville, CA 95076

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  1. Glad you liked the empandas. They are not as crunchy as the ones at Tepa but I love the simple pure and very juicy shrimp inside- plus I quite like the jalapeno/cilanto puree which is pretty unique in my experience.

    The sides are fairly boring- the beans are actualy a newer addition as the mains only came with rice and salad when I started going there. I've had the La Cucaraha shrimp and agree they were not hot enough to warn people about. I prefer the Diabla prep which I think is a bit spicier.

    Does anyone know if there is a specific name for the bottle of beer with shrimp stuck in the neck that I see ordered?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nathan P

      Nathan, it's usually cerveza preparada, but you should ask if includes camaron, because it can be other things.

    2. Thanks Pablo,

      Soooo... What other interesting things might I find in my beer if I order a cerveza preperada?

      5 Replies
      1. re: Nathan P

        Chavela style - tomato, clam juice, hot sauce, and sometimes with carrot and celery

        Michelada - tomato and clam juice using dark beer with maggi, and or worchestershire sauce and some hot sauce.

        Melanie Wong posted a recent report on Chavelas:

        1. re: Pablo

          Here's one with a photo of chavela preparada with the shrimps hung all round.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Nice Pic- Not sure I want one but I suppose I'll try anything once. Las Islitas serves a much simpler drink- it appears to be just a bottle of corona with 2 shrimp jammed in the neck. I'm not sure there is a real value in it but when in Rome...

            1. re: Nathan P

              Two shrimp with a chaser . . . if the price is right, why not? (g)

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              You know, for some reason the idea of a chavela preparada sounds really appealing. Anyone know if any places in Watsonville offer it?

        2. Thanks for the report and photos, ahclem. I've been there once w/ Nathan and those empanadas are darn good! Nice that you can order just 3 if you're eating solo.

          We were there in the late afternoon on a weekend and it was hopping as well. Most of their Mexican clientele had big goblets of cocteles in front of them, which allowed them to make better use of that tostada and cracker basket than us.

          1. Nice looking. Those empenadas look better than anything I can get in Yuma, and they are very rare here. The versions I've had use ground shrimp, and the shell has a distinct orangish color. Similar looking green salsa with them though.

            The taco stand/restaurant where they are found down here claims to prepare stuff in the style of Nayarit. They are also the only place for pescado zarandeado (sp?) in the area as well.