Sizzling Mexican seafood

The first time I heard of El Sazon, visions of old Hollywood movies with swashbuckling heroes like El Cid or a genie shouting, “alakazaam shazaam!” flashed through my mind. The El Sazon Mexican Restaurant on South Virginia is tamer than those images, even though there’s currently a skeleton to greet you when you walk in the door.

As far as Mexican restaurants go, the place is pretty good. The cuisine is south Mexican with an emphasis on seafood dishes. But if you’re not into seafood, there is a wide variety of beef, pork and chicken dishes to choose from, as well as several vegetarian offerings. El Sazon also has a wide variety of tequilas to choose from.

Since I like trying different cuisines, I started with the cactus salad ($2.50). Truth be told, there were no thorns. The cactus was sliced into small, green pieces and served with tomatoes and cilantro. It tasted like extra sour pickles and was great as a dip for chips.

Speaking of chips: While we waited for the main dishes, the waiter was wonderful about making sure the chips and salsa were plentiful. Our bowls were never empty. The salsa was a little too spicy; I like to taste my food, rather than need to douse my tongue with a fire extinguisher.

The service was great. The waiter was attentive and friendly, and the food arrived quickly after we ordered our dishes. I’ve also been to the El Sazon in Sparks, where the service wasn’t quite as good; the waiter in Sparks was not as attentive as the server at the Reno restaurant.

My friend ordered a combination plate of carne asada ($8.25), while I ordered grilled halibut ($10.25). Each dish came with rice, beans and a salad with pink, pickled onions. The beans were too watery, but everything else was superb.

My fish was cooked to perfection and served with a cilantro, onion and tomatillo sauce that I just couldn’t get enough of. This is a wonderful dish that’s reminiscent of California nouveau cuisine. My friend’s carne asada was served with an Aztec sauce that reminded me of mole. If you love seafood, I think El Sazon is one of the best places in Reno; the same can be said for the El Sazon in Sparks.

I ordered flan ($3) to top off the wonderful meal. It came decorated with whipped cream and looked like a sunflower. Personally, I like flan with caramel sauce, but my friend loved the whipped cream.

As for the decor, the South Virginia location is also an improvement over the Oddie Boulevard location.

I gave El Sazon four stars because of the fish. It was incredible.

Cancun Mexican Restaurant used to occupy this spot before it closed, and I hope El Sazon doesn’t meet the same fate; it’s hard to get seafood this sizzlin’ good in Reno.