Las Islitas gives a taste of Nayarit's seafood specialties
My wife had been sure to request her camarones al mojo de ajo with the shrimp in their shells. This familiar dish of shrimp in garlic butter benefited from the flavor boost provided by cooking whole shrimp with their heads, tails, legs and all. And, of course, once you get past the idea of your food looking back at you, shrimp heads and shells are perfectly edible and full of briny goodness. The garlicky critters came sided with a ramekin of bright lime- and chile-tinged salsa and a dollop of what proved to be standard, store-bought mayonnaise.
My sizzling platter of bacon-wrapped shrimp captured the wow factor so popular a couple of decades ago when the fajitas craze was in full steam, but with the homey familiarity that bacon always provides. With a pile of crackling bacon and shrimp smothered in molten white cheese and tangled with grilled peppers and onions before me, I left behind my desire to unearth authentic regional treasures and simply enjoyed it for the hot mess it was, washing it down with a well-made michelada -- or chelada, if you prefer. I have yet to figure out what combination of lime, tomato juice, hot sauce and Worcestershire I will get when I order one or the other. I suspect it's actually a running joke among Mexican bartenders.
Las Islitas provides a great balance of new and challenging dishes -- at least to those of us unfamiliar with the regional specialties of Nayarit -- and comforting, familiar presentations and flavors. And with the help of the friendly waitstaff, I was able to learn something new (the difference between a Campechana cocktail and vuelve a la vida, according to Las Islitas, is primarily the addition of oysters) while still satisfying my ever-present urge for salty pork fat. There may be one less place in Denver to eat pupusas, but Las Islitas joins Torres to make this section of Federal a virtual Riviera of seafood bordering an ocean of green chile.
For more from our trip up Federal, visit our "A Federal Case" archives.