As you enter the backdoor entrance of Durant's restaurant in Phoenix, you cannot help but notice the hardworking cooks trying to hide their sweat and fatigue while giving you a friendly smile and muffled hello in broken English.
The Valley's kitchens are full of these men and women in white shirts and chefs' coats.
Many don't know much English, yet they understand elaborate recipes and culinary terms such as "mise en place" and "on the fly." Many work to build a humble house back in their native land. Others work while dreaming of owning their own little restaurant where they can cook the foods of their homeland. Thousands of miles away from home, cooking foods foreign to their culture and palate, they work quietly, dreaming a dream.
A dream come true for the Rubio family is Mariscos Ensenada on 16th Street. This is authentic Baja California-style seafood served fresh and delicious by a family from the state of Michoacan, Mexico. The brothers Rubio have worked in a number of Chicago, Colorado and Phoenix restaurants, including the Phoenician, with brother Oscar having briefly trained and specialized in pastas at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.
The brothers' 25 years of experience, coupled with their knowledge of their native cuisine, make for an almost perfect representation of Mexican seafood.
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Fresh crab-filled corn tortillas are topped with a flavorful red enchilada sauce, although the rice needs some help. The cocktel de camaron has my vote for the best shrimp cocktail in town, although you need to adjust the salt, lime and chile to suit your taste buds. The cheese-stuffed shrimp is encased in overcooked bacon -- but still quite flavorful.
The restaurant has been open for six years and has three locations, with a fourth opening soon. The Rubios just premièred a new and improved menu featuring a higher-end style of Mexican food. The success of their efforts is evident in how the new menu is presented in both a standard and a pictorial version.
Not owned by a chain or large corporation, the independently owned Mariscos Ensenada is the real thing, not perfect but very good. Just a few brothers in white shirts and chefs' coats fulfilling a dream.
Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.