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Shrimp gone wild 

South-end Mexican seafood satellite offers 'crazy' crustacean array along with other concoctions

What's more alluring? Just the name "The Crazy Shrimp" — El Camarón Loco — or the menu logo featuring two excessively mirthful, sombrero-sporting shrimp, each of whose appendages hold a foamy mug of beer, bowl of caldo de pescado (fish soup) and plates of oysters and whole fish?

Whichever speaks to you most, the good times fortunately continue once you order from the 80-plus-item menu and grab a booth seat inside the clean, southeast-side Mexican seafood spot. The three-year-old eatery is the sixth of a statewide family franchise, which began off Denver's Federal Boulevard some seven years ago.

While taking in the happy crustacean murals and hypnotizing photo menu, you'll discover almost every item incorporates shrimp in some manner. Were it read aloud, the menu would likely sound like a Spanish version of Bubba's lengthy Forrest Gump monologue: ... Camarones al Coco, Camarones Empanizados, Camarones con Crema, Camarones Rellenos, Camarones Norteños ....

If you can't decide, go for the Camarones Fiesta ($12.95), which brings three shrimp styles next to rice and avocado wedges. The first variation is four pieces of Camarones Rellenos, which are heart attack-rich, large, salty shrimp stuffed with ham and mild, gooey cheese, wrapped in bacon and topped with a drizzle of thick cream sauce. The second prep method brings four more butterflied (halved and served open) and spiced shrimp, a simple contrast to the third batch of some half-dozen shrimp soaking in a commendably spicy Diabla hot sauce.

Baby shrimp bits star on the Nacho Loco plate ($8), mixed with ample melted cheese, onions, generous bell peppers, sour cream and avocado slices over tortilla chips. Dump on a roasted jalapeño salsa served on the side to achieve full loco-ness.

Next up on tour-de-shrimp, the Aguachiles goblet ($10.95), essentially a ceviche, floats damn-near raw filter feeders along with avocado, onion and jalapeño slivers in outstanding, peppery, potent lime juice. Dip Saltines or hard corn tortilla shells in the brine after you amass a tail-pile on your plate.

The two side options also come with a giant, molten bowl of Caldo 7 Mares ($16.50), a spicy veggie broth stocked sufficiently with seven seafood offerings, including — you guessed it, shrimp! — clams, octopus, catfish and half of a snow crab, whose four legs jut beautifully from the soup. Squeeze the provided extra limes in for an awesome citrus enhancement and watch for tiny pin bones in the catfish hunks. Otherwise, just try not to shower yourself or dining partner with broth flecks while cracking the crab legs, and dig out the remarkably fresh-tasting flesh.

Having driven a town over to find a soup just like this last year in Mexico, I can say this bountiful concoction, though a little sadistic on a hot summer day, is worth the drive and price here.

Trying to avoid shrimp in at least one dish (baby shrimp bits in the rice thwarted me), I lastly went for the Mojarra a la Diabla ($12.95), a whole (yes, head-intact) fried tilapia basted in hot sauce. Though carefully working each side of the spine took patience, the flavors paid off, the crispy skin a highlight.

The sole flavor we encountered that proved more lazy than crazy was a synthetic-tasting caramel sauce puddled around our otherwise decent flan ($3). That misstep aside, El Camarón Loco should leave you as happy as an anthropomorphic shrimp.

matthew@csindy.com

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