At Mariscos Ensenada in west Phoenix, try the pasta | Phoenix New Times

Best Bites: At this west Phoenix mariscos restaurant, spaghetti is the star

Pasta may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of mariscos restaurants, but at this west Valley spot, the spaghetti is a winner.
Pasta is an unexpected but welcome addition to the menu at Mariscos Ensenada.
Pasta is an unexpected but welcome addition to the menu at Mariscos Ensenada. Tirion Boan
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Welcome to Best Bites, a series where we celebrate not a whole restaurant or menu, but one specific and amazing dish. These bites have something to say and we are listening. Keep reading for dishes that are seriously worth the trek across metro Phoenix to find. Dig in!

When you think of the menu at a mariscos restaurant, you may picture plates of bright aguachile topped with avocado slices and lime, ceviches served in glass goblets, piles of shrimp and maybe some seafood tucked into tortillas and rolled into burritos or enchiladas. But one thing that probably won't come to mind is pasta.

In west Phoenix, however, there's a mariscos joint that serves big steaming bowls of spaghetti topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and coupled with toasted garlic bread.

Mariscos Ensenada opened in the mid-'90s and at one point had four eateries spread throughout Phoenix. Now, only one location — Mariscos Ensenada #3 — remains. The seafood restaurant sits on the northeast corner of Van Buren Street and 33rd Avenue next to a small shopping center with a barbershop, a smoke shop and a store that sells custom truck accessories.

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The mango margarita at Mariscos Ensenada is sweet and refreshing, punctuated by salty and savory hints of chamoy from the rim.
Tirion Boan
Inside, the vibe shifts. The clean, bright space has undergone an obvious renovation and showcases modern decorative tiles and plush booths. A long granite countertop with bar seating bisects the restaurant and creates two dining areas. Television screens blast mariachi music on one side of the room and telenovelas on the other. In one corner, beneath framed soccer jerseys, a small altar glows with candles and fairy lights.  

Grab a seat, and start perusing the long and intricate menu. Ordering will put your Spanish language skills to the test, but pictures on the menu help.

The menu is filled with chilled fish and shrimp appetizers and lists of burritos, tacos, tostadas and fish plates with rice and beans for sides. But there's also an unusual suspect: pasta. And not just a single dish of red sauce spaghetti to please the kids. There are eight different pasta options here. Some are Italian-inspired combinations such pasta with shrimp and mushrooms in a cream sauce or spaghetti with shrimp, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and wine. But others take on a decidedly more Mexican flavor.

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The Spaghetti con Camarones a la Azteca has a chipotle cream sauce with a heat that builds with every bite.
Tirion Boan
One standout is the Spaghetti con Camarones a la Azteca, described on the menu as pasta "prepared with shrimp and chipotle cream sauce."

The massive portion of spaghetti is bathed in a rich orange sauce that looks like vodka sauce but has a taste that's all its own. One bite, and you're reminded that this is a squarely Mexican dish. The rich, earthy flavor of the chipotle sings with a kiss of salty Parmesan cheese. A slow burn builds with each bite of the perfectly cooked pasta, with fresh pops of plump shrimp breaking up the spicy goodness.

The dish is simple: pasta, sauce, shrimp. It is both comforting and familiar even if you've never had it before, and its rich flavors linger on your tastebuds — and in your brain. Maybe that's because of the smoky, rich, warming flavor — or maybe it's simply because you never expected to eat pasta at a west side mariscos joint. Either way, this spaghetti will have you making plans for the next time you can visit for another hearty helping.

Mariscos Ensenada

3242 W. Van Buren St.
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