We’re hurtling down a highway on the outskirts of Villahermosa, in reverse, to get to a restaurant that has come highly recommended. Our guide informs us that the next u-turn isn’t for a number of miles, so he prefers to take this one – some distance yet from the place – turn around and drive on the shoulder looking out the rear windshield for oncoming traffic until he reaches the entrance. Or, rather, the exit. With great risk comes great reward.
The thatched-roof open-air marisquería Doña Lulu is actually quite large for a roadside establishment, with terraces looking out over the surrounding wetlands. We seat ourselves at one of the plastic tables strewn about the space as the good Doctor who has brought us disappears into the bowels of the restaurant apparently to pick out the best fish to meet his tastes and speak with the cook. He has told us that whenever he visits Villahermosa he stays nearby specifically for the extremely fresh and delicately prepared fish that he feels he can’t even get in Mexico City. Out first comes a simple plate of sliced tomatoes and red onions with a number of limes and a bowl of thin salsa – mostly lime juice – with a bit of olive oil, salt, chopped onions and amashito peppers. Apparently these only grow in this region of Tabasco, and the Doctor assures us they can’t be found in the States. But I will look. Oh, how I will look. The slow-building but intense heat was sublime, without affecting your stomach the way other peppers like habanero or even serrano can.
I’m still not sure of the type of fish that was prepared. Though robalo was featured prominently on the menu, the Doctor said it was more like huachinango, or red snapper, but that was still not quite right. In any event, prepared under a salt dome in a wood burning oven, the impossibly tender fish pulled easily from the tiny bones once the skin had been peeled back. Excellent by itself or on one of the handmade corn tortillas or chips with some of those tomatoes and onions – and of course a healthy dose of that amashito sauce. One might at first think an entire fish of this size – maybe 2.5 pounds – would be too much for a single person, but we each devoured our dishes voraciously, not least because we were on Mexican time – by now a late lunch by American standards.
It was a quick business trip to Villahermosa, mostly confined to the hotel and office buildings, so I was delighted to have been introduced to this little slice of local flavor. We might have lingered a spell longer with our cool, refreshing jamaica, or hibiscus tea, on a day that was already 95° without humidity pushing it to feel more like 110. But with languid ceiling fans only reluctantly moving the air, we decided to head on down the road.
This time, facing forward.
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