Miami: Any roadie of pre-interstate highway days knew one certainty: trucks clustered outside an unremarkable eatery meant, if not a waitress with a low threshold, a chicken-fried steak worth stopping for. Were there any space, therefore, big rigs with Peruvian plates would surely jam the strip mall parking lot outside Salmon y Salmon on Calle 7 near Miami International Airport. Ceviche seldom gets better, anywhere.
My pal Peace Sullivan, acting on a tip from a guy who should be sainted, took me to the nondescript restaurant, tucked between Leo's 99-Cent Store and a shopfront bus depot for cheap rides to New Jersey. Eight tables were crowded with happy-looking people speaking various forms of South American Spanish. We grabbed the ninth.
A jolly Colombian named Elizabeth brought two large bowls of ceviche. One was chunks of fresh white fish in lime juice, coriander, red onions, and slices of that large lovable white tuber known as yuca. The other had sweet and succulent little shrimps.
Then we ordered fried pargo, the delicate red snapper so beloved from Mexico south (pictured above). Crisp at the skin, tender to the bone, it was seasoned in herbs and spices about which Elizabeth the jolly waitress offered little guidance. It is not that kind of a place. When I asked where the fish came from, she arched an eyebrow. "From the sea," she said, before hurrying off to a safer table.
She did, however, make sure we ordered tacu tacu, a fried mash of spicy rice and beans that looks like corned beef hash. Those with Jewish mothers might think of latkes gone wild. Even to a guy who had just left bean heaven in Tucson, it was beyond delicious.
With yet more food, we guzzled maracuja juice and finally tossed down thick, sweet Cuban coffee. Having just paid $20 for one thumb-sized piece of tuna sushi in South Beach, the $79 tab was a happy surprise.
Salmon y Salmon's logo sports a leaping fish, but the Salmons in question are people, a Peruvian family that opened the place in 1980. Faithful crowds soon made it flourish. I asked to meet Jose Luis, the current owner, but he was on holiday with his wife in China.
Just as well. Poking into kitchens and peppering questions keeps a whole genre of food writers in business. But when you find a pearl in a strip mall parking lot, it's best to simply pipe down and enjoy it.
Salmon Y Salmon, 2907 NW 7th Street, Miami; 305-649-5924
Mort Rosenblum is a former Associated Press reporter now based in Paris and Provence. He is the author of several books including A Goose in Toulouse, Chocolate, and the recent Escaping Plato's Cave, as well as a frequent contributor to Bon Appétit. Here, he shares memorable meals from his recent travels around the globe.
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