Can you say chingalingas?

Photo by David Robert

Growing up in the far northern part of Wisconsin had advantages. On Fridays, entire communities would pack into local supper clubs to consume untold quantities of beer-battered fish. And cheese was never in short supply. Nor were malt beverages.

But you didn’t really get seafood in my hometown. And as a kid, I thought Mexican food was something you made using boxes and cans labeled Ortega.

I discovered Mexican food—and crustaceans in the context of drawn butter and cocktail sauce—during a trip west when I was about 10. I loved both. But it was years before I experienced seafood as the fundamental element in a burrito or an enchilada. Now, if I see Mexican seafood on a restaurant’s menu, I try it. This leads to some disastrous dining experiences. And some great ones.

Enter the Cantina Los Tres Hombres Sparks’ seafood burrito.

This is not your average seafood burrito, with shrimp and crab drowning in a creamy cheese sauce. The Cantina’s burrito is stuffed with mesquite-broiled scallops, jumbo shrimp and fresh fish, which happened to be salmon when I visited. The burrito is doused with tangy suissa salsa and melted Jack that works with the tender meat and makes no attempts at staging a coup de flavor.

It’s great having a decent restaurant in those once-empty buildings near the Silver Club in downtown Sparks. My husband, Dave, and I have been there twice. And we’ve both found several things to love.

The seafood burrito ($12.59) was a big find during my most recent visit. It came with a choice of soup (like albondigas) or salad (try the homemade creamy avocado dressing)—and some rice and beans that were a bit on the dull side.

Dave wasn’t thrilled with his burrito con legumbres ($8.95), a flour tortilla wrapped around a veggie medley of zucchini, yellow squash and cauliflower. But he did find a new comfort food. Dave liked the chingalingas.

I wanted chingalingas because I liked the way the word sounded after trying the specialty margaritas ($3.50). The chingalingas are an appetizer, featuring a “special blend of chicken and spices tightly rolled in pastry, then deep fried to a flaky golden brown.” It was once featured in Bon Appetit, boasts the menu.

On our last visit here, we ordered the chingalingas ($5.50). But we let the waiter talk us into a seafood chingalinga upgrade ($9.95). The seafood chingalinga (note the singular use) is an entrée served with rice and beans. The waiter plopped the plate, one huge chingalinga stuffed with succulent scallops, crab and shrimp, in the middle of the table. It was yum. But sharing a wet, slightly sloppy entrée from one centrally located plate seemed weird.

That’s why I tried again—chicken chingalingas or bust. Dave expressed deep satisfaction with these morsels, sliced and served with a scoop of fresh guacamole. He said taste they like a chicken pastry I used to make before I became too busy to cook.

As the Cantina Sparks builds on its south Reno location’s reputation for pulling in talented local bands, the Cantina’s going to be great for downtown Sparks. I’ll be back for margaritas and to try the many other seafood dishes on the menu. Dave will be back for chingalingas, because I don’t plan on whipping up a batch any time soon.