coast, Delgado spent years as a lumberjack in Oregon before the pair came to Suffolk three years ago with the idea of starting a restaurant devoted to the food of their home region. Somehow, Delgado also runs a contracting business on the side. But from four or five in the morning until late in the evening, the two are at the restaurant, preparing every dish from scratch.
So the agua frescas are fresh and impossibly flavorful, whether pulped from pineapple or a sweet and pungent southwestMexican berry called a nanche that looks like a yellow cherry but tastes like no other thing. The salsas include a potent milk-based white salsa. The refried beans are cooked down daily from actual beans, and the strips of carne asada are tender and cut from grilled steak. The corn tortillas — a bit softer and grainier than most — are also made daily in-house.
The restaurant’s selection of four ceviches are prepared fresh to order the way the Peruvians do it — and so they are bright and citric. Aguachile ($14.99), a shrimp ceviche native to Nayarit, is a vividly green dish of searing jalapeno heat leavened by fatty avocado and a healthy profusion of cucumbers, along with tender curls of shrimp cooked by citrus only to the edge of softness. The dish is a bracing alarm call to the senses — and though at least one other restaurant in Tidewater serves the dish, no ceviche I’ve tried nearby approaches the vibrancy of the aguachile at El Korita.
The “molcajetes” section of the menu describes the great stone mortar in which the food is served, the meat still cooking against the heat of the stone — these dishes, a cousin of the sizzling fajita platter, are showy $30 affairs meant to be shared as a meal by two.
But among the molcajetes, the Pina Nayeri ($17.99) is an equally flashy pineapple bowl filled with mixed fajita ingredients: shrimp, chicken, grilled steak, onions and green peppers in a sauce made using the pulp of the pineapple shell they’re served in. Each pineapple used for the dish is a little underripe to keep the dish from being too sweet. The dish is instead an intoxicatingly aromatic stew of earthy spice and pineapple flavor, with a hint of grill char.
Another highlight is a caldo mixto seafood stew, a cloudy seafood-andvegetable broth of disarming purity, spiked with snow crab legs and whole prawns and brimming with a near-hilarious profusion of clam and octopus and tiny scallop — as if it were a mythical Japanese painting, with sea life so abundant the ocean can hardly contain it.
A Sayulita Fajita plate ($19.99), meanwhile, is luxuriant resort food of the sort Lady Gaga or
Matt Damon might have when they take their Nayarit vacations: scallop and shrimp and octopus roiling together with pepper and onion and Huichol spice.
Whole fried tilapia ($15.99) is prepared simply — crisp skin, tender meat, light pepper — and even sides like corn-cobbed elotes are prepped with care, rich mayo and white cheese globbing into heartening little curds.
It is perhaps an endorsement that on multiple expansive visits to El Korita, I have yet to eat a simple street taco ($3) or burrito, though they exist in abundance — from cabeza to carne asada to grilled fish to a weekend goat stew prepared with the characteristic earthy spice of Nayarit. There is simply too much to try, from an entire menu of shrimp preparations to the myriad ways to cook a whole fish.
But there is reason to return, again and again. So far, no dish at El Korita has disappointed.
Even after less than a year the regulars are so regular that the owners’ daughter, Linda, takes note in early January when she hasn’t seen one of their loyal police officer customers since before the holidays. Consider it a jalapeno-spiced Penny Lane at the edge of downtown Suffolk, where the firemen rush in from the pouring rain to eat glorious shrimp ceviche. Matthew Korfhage, 757-446-2318, [email protected] pilotonline.com
Owner/chef Rudy Delgado and his wife, Midian Pena, came to Suffolk three years ago with the idea of starting a restaurant devoted to the food of their home region.