If I get asked one question more often than any other, it's the one that starts with the phrase, "What's your favorite ...?" Already, I've been asked that about the restaurants along W.W. White more than a dozen times. It's a hard one to answer when you look at the wealth of edible riches along the street, because that answer depends on what I'm in the mood to eat. But I also have to say that I've been to El Bucanero, or Mariscos El Bucanero, three or four times in recent months, so it definitely has a hold on me. I first discovered how good their food could be last fall, when the restaurant took part in the New World Wine & Food Festival's Taste of Mexico and served a fresh ceviche to the throngs. It took a invitation from friends a couple of months ago, though, to get me to the restaurant. There I discovered the joys of some of the best shrimp tacos I have ever tasted. The fried shrimp are as sweet and firm as you could want, wrapped in a warm, handmade corn tortilla. A creamy, tangy tartar sauce plus a sliver of perfectly ripe avocado on top pushed it over the top. The pickled carrots on the side made a nice accompaniment. The fish tacos are just as good, with firm strips of fish in a corn meal batter tucked into the tortillas. If I prefer the shrimp version, it's merely because I haven't tasted shrimp quite that good in some time. Other dishes that coaxed contented smiles included fried fish with garlic, shrimp with a smoky chipotle sauce and several styles of ceviche with pristine flavors bursting through the citrus marinade. The folks at El Bucanero know how to make great guacamole. You might think that's a commonplace in a town known for its Mexican food, but too few restaurants go beyond mashing avocado with fork and charging extra for it. Not here. El Bucanero's recipe includes cilantro and plenty of pico de gallo incorporated to great effect. Spread on one of the house crescent moon tostada chips, the guac was gone quickly, as we battled over who got the last bite. Service has been as attentive as you might expect for a homey, family place that's often overrun with people. When a friend ordered beef on a Friday night during Lent, it took quite a while for the plate to appear. In fact, the plate didn't arrive until after the rest of us had finished. The waitress was so embarrassed by the delay that she took it off the bill. No matter how many foodies hear about El Bucanero, the praises of which have been sung in such publications as Texas Monthly and the San Antonio Current, the clientele seems to remain local to the neighborhood. Don't dismiss it lightly. You'll be hard-pressed to find Mexican seafood in the city to equal this. El Bucanero 2818 S. W.W. White Road 210-333-0909 Lunch and dinner daily.
Photos: Nicholas Mistry