Drive north on First Avenue just past Glenn Street and you’ll notice a shiny submarine-like restaurant named El Berraco.
What’s a submarine doing in the middle of Tucson? Step through the nautical door to experience some seriously crave-worthy Latin seafood.
“I think Tucson customers want something new,” said Benjamin Galaz, owner of El Berraco. “The different cultures mixing is what we see in the food industry right now.”
Before El Berraco opened a year-and-a-half ago, Galaz interviewed 12 chefs from regions such as Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, and Culiacán before deciding on chef Claudia López Búrquez from Hermosillo.
While Galaz was confident in the skill of all of the chefs interviewed, López has a diverse background with talent in various cuisines. She concocted the menu, which features around 60 items. Returning guests will have new dishes to try on a regular basis.
As you take a moment to soak in the neon ocean vibes and snack on the chips and yellow limey salsa, order a michelada. It’s the same recipe as the beloved michelada from BK Tacos, which Galaz also owns. While the michelada doesn’t have special unique ingredients, Galaz believes it’s outstanding because of the quality of the ingredients.
Just recently, he traveled to Salinas Valley to speak directly with the workers on the field to ensure ethical practices and payment for the workers. Now he’s confident in his strawberry, celery, and lettuce.
“Some of the people have been working on that same farm for 20 years,” Galaz said. With such loyal employees, he’s confident that he’s buying from happy, healthy farms.
With such passion for quality ingredients, it’s easy to confide in El Berraco’s seafood. Since both raw and cooked seafood are on the menu, such confidence is crucial.
Fresh Oysters are on the menu, but do yourself a favor and start with one of the other creative options.
Sea Aguachile features thinly sliced shrimp, scallops, octopus, red onion, serrano, and chiltepin with their special salsas. The fresh, raw seafood is bright with lime and chile. The soy sauce-brown liquid, which might be Maggi Jugo Seasoning Sauce, provides rich umami depth. The avocado and cucumber garnishes will help cool you down in case you bite into an unexpectedly piquant pepper.
El Ceviche Route showcases three ceviches: tropical, Peruvian, and spicy. The trio differ with fruity, limey, and tomato-y flavors.
Guests who don’t do raw should order the Toritos. Yellow Caribe peppers are stuffed with shrimp and swordfish, wrapped in bacon, and served with lime and black salsa.
Another approachable option is the Shrimps al Grill, which features skewers of grilled whole shrimp with chili butter and chuqui salsa
El Berraco’s menu also offers tacos and tostadas — the tacos highlight cooked seafood, while most of the tostadas feature raw seafood.
For a textural explosion, order the Chile Relleno Taco. A jalapeño is stuffed with cheese and fried shrimp and topped with a cabbage salad, smooth guacamole, creamy chipotle sauce, pickled onions, and cilantro.
The La Berraca Tostada bridges the gap between mariscos and sushi with fresh tuna, salmon, scallops, cooked shrimp, cucumber, guacamole. It towers too high to bite like a burger, so you’ll have to eat it in an unorthodox manner such as eating the shrimp and guac on their own first.
You could easily make a meal out of starters at El Berraco, but don’t miss out on the main entrees.
The eye-catching El Octopus is one of the most popular entrees. Octopus is grilled to a light char and tender interior, then served with cilantro rice and salsas. One of the regulars loves it so much that they bring in groups of friends and orders multiple as a starter for the table, Galaz said.
Shish! features kebabs with grilled tuna, shrimp, peppers, pineapple, tomatoes, and onion with mint chimichurri and cilantro rice.
If you somehow made room for dessert, El Berraco offers their take on the brownie, fried bananas, cheesecake, flan, churros, and fruit wontons.
It’s worth noting that each table has a bottle of Maggi Jugo and eight different bottles of hot sauce, but it would be difficult to find an item on the menu that could use more seasoning.
While service is knowledgeable and friendly, the dishes take a fair amount of time to prepare. Thankfully, faster lunch service is in the works.
“We’re still working on finding out what customers like most,” Galaz said. “They like everything though, so we’re working on lunch-paced combos where you can try a few different things at once. They should be launched in about a month.”
Other exciting projects are in the works as well — Galaz’s space at 19th Street and Park Avenue will be a new BK concept ready by mid-2018. Aside from being another BK restaurant, the space will include a drive-through and a mobile app for customers to order delivery carne asada, salsas, and more.
A recent trip to New York inspired Galaz with a new concept, @3. It will be reservation-only from 3 – 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Keep an eye out from us for more details once Galaz makes them public.
Once Galaz refines the details of El Berraco to his liking, he hopes to open a location in Miami. Rest assured, all of his restaurants will keep the happy vibe.
“You have to be happy or it won’t taste good,” Galaz said.
El Berraco is located at 2960 N. 1st Ave. For more information, call (520) 620-9828 or visit el-berraco.com.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...