Mexico is a peninsula - a V-shaped land mass that lies smack dab between two oceans. That means heavy access to a lot of fresh fish. In fact, seafood, colorfully prepared as is the national custom, is a highly prevalent ingredient on authentic Mexican menus.
But you'd hardly know that from local joints. No, a quick read through their cuisines would lead you to believe that brown-tinted, earthbound grub like beef and beans nearly comprised the whole Mexican diet.
Sure, a few predictable shrimp dishes that almost all taste the same do crop up around town. But the dearth of actual fin-fish recipes remains a mystery to me, especially when a few easily made ones are absolute staples all around Mexico.
I had become a little encouraged with a recent surge of local fish tacos. And I've become fond of the ones served at Cuco's - clean-tasting, deep-fried clumps of tilapia festively dressed with pico de gallo (here, chopped cilantro, onion and tomato), cabbage for crunch and an orange mayo-based sauce for richness. Squeeze 'em with a little lime and they're a very fine snack.
But in truth, fish tacos served like that - with a kind of slaw - are much more of a California surfer-dude thing. That's why a recent visit to Cuco's prompted this article. Because finally a Columbus restaurant is offering a dish famous in Mexico, one that's as common there as fish and chips is here in America.
Cuco's calls it Pescado Veracruz ($12 - Veracruz is an old port city known for its seafood) and makes it with tilapia, but in Mexico it's usually made with red snapper and called Huachinango a la Veracruzana. No matter, Cuco's version is close enough for me.
On a whopping platter I got two nicely pan-fried tilapia filets (though the menu says they're grilled) excitingly slathered with a vibrant and piquant Mexican red sauce. The latter is a slew of stewed tomatoes long-cooked with sauteed garlic and onions and then double-teamed with the salty green duo of capers and olives.
Though by no means fancy (and missing a bit of chili heat), the sauce is really good and tastes great on the fish even if it just threatens to overwhelm it.
The plate also comes with creamy guacamole (eat that in true Mexican style, with the provided warm corn tortillas), good whole black beans with a touch of cheese and above-average Mexican rice. When you try it and like it, you'll wonder why the heck every Mexican place in town doesn't offer it.