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Mojarra Frita at Cocina de Colima

Colima is a small state in western Mexico, bordering on the Pacific Ocean. You don't hear a lot about cuisine from Colima, but apparently it's well-known in Mexico and best known for its seafood, mainly grilled and fried fish, and its ceviche. In a testament to the diversity of regional cuisines in Houston, we have a restaurant called Cocina de Colima (3356 Fountain View) that specializes in food from this Mexican state.

I visited Cocina de Colima as part of a recent taco truck crawl organized by the Houston Chowhounds. Taco-wise, this joint is known for tacos al pastor and from-scratch tortillas. The restaurant itself is in a faceless strip center, with a tiny but clean dining room. The walls are covered with pictures of dishes from the menu, Mexican flags and soccer jerseys. The words "quirky" and "hole-in-the-wall" come to mind when describing Cocina de Colima.

My group ordered the obligatory tacos, but we also ordered two seafood dishes: ceviche Colima and the mojarra frita, or fried tilapia. "Mojarra" is a misnomer -- technically it's a name for a species of fish that does not include tilapia. But apparently the Spanish bastardized the name, so that the fish is informally known as "mojarra tilapia."

All of the food we sampled at Cocina de Colima was tasty. The ceviche was fresh, with a dominating citrus flavor, arguably to the point of overwhelming the fish. The impressive-looking mojarra frita, basically a whole tilapia that is cleaned, scored, deep-fried and flavored with citrus, drew mixed reviews. Admittedly, the exterior skin was crispy and dry, and you had to dig deep to get at any moist pieces. But isn't that what you would expect when you fry the hell out of a piece of fish? The sides of rice and fries were average.

I definitely plan on visiting Cocina de Colima again, if just to re-sample the mojarra frita. I've not had enough experience with mojarra frita to say if this is typical quality, so I'll also plan on trips to seafood restaurants like Tampico and Connie's.

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