ADDRESS: 3655 S Grand Avenue #C9, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Last month, my friend Michele and I were planning a trip down to the California Science Center one weekend. We didn’t have anything set for lunch, and she suggested that we check out a seafood taco place nearby called Holbox, located inside a marketplace called Mercado La Paloma that housed a number of shops and restaurants. There are quite a few different food options inside this warehouse space, but Holbox was the only one that focused primarily on seafood.
The restaurant counter was front and center pretty much as soon as you walked into the marketplace. As I started getting closer, however, that’s when I saw the symbol for the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand distinction sitting on the wall, noting that they had been named to the list in both 2019 and 2021. (My research later also found they were named to the list in 2022 as well.) Not only that, but the display behind the counter also showed that the place had been named to the 2022 edition of the LA Times’s 101 Best LA Restaurants. Even if it might look unassuming from the initial impression, this place was about to prove why it deserved those accolades.
It seemed like the seafood tacos were definitely the specialty of Holbox, but they also had aguachile, ceviches, and other seafood entrée plates as well. I was having a tough time deciding on which of the taco choices sounded good, so I jokingly made a suggestion that we try all six of them. Michele was open to going for it, so we ended up with their full sampling of their seafood tacos. To supplement the tacos as an initial appetizer, we also decided to give their Smoked Kanpachi Tostada a try (the close-up photo of it on their menu board probably helped influence that decision as well).
Because of the marketplace environment, there wasn’t necessarily specific seating designated for Holbox. We took a number to set down at an open table that we found nearby; that was how the staff knew where to bring out the food to. I’m not sure if it’s because we were one of their first customers of the day, or if it’s because they’re typically really efficient, but it seemed like we weren’t waiting too long at all for our food. A complimentary chips and salsa came out to our table first, followed by the tostada a little after that, and then our full spread of tacos. All in all, that was probably no more than a 10 minute span for all of our food to arrive.
I do have to say, I was certainly impressed with the “taco board” arrangement that our tacos got brought out with. Five of our tacos were placed on a wooden board that was about the width of two dinner plates, with each taco just popping with color. They were individual works of art, each taco corn tortilla acting as a perfect canvas backdrop. It certainly almost made it hard to decide where to start.
Along with the tacos themselves, our tostada was equally as visually stunning. There was definitely a meticulous arrangement of the ingredients on top of the smoked kanpachi. We broke into the tostada first and managed to arrange a bite that included all of the major components. The smoked flavor from the kanpachi was probably the first thing that was very evident, but then you got notes from the scallops and shrimp after that. The peanut sauce drizzle, along with the avocado crema, added some nice flavor notes that complemented all of the seafood really well. The crunch from the tostada also helped provide a nice texture contrast as well.
Then, it was on to the tacos. The thing that stood out to me the most was the fact that for each of the tacos, you could really taste the individual seafood flavor of each of the items. It wasn’t overpowering at all, but yet that also speaks to the balance of the other ingredients to not mask the seafood. Of the six that we tried, the ones that I would for sure get again would be the kanpachi, octopus, and scallops. Those proteins alone, in taco form, were already out of the norm of what you’d expect when you think of seafood tacos. The fact of how well they were executed just elevated them to that next level.
Given that there are quite a few tacos to provide thoughts on, here is a listing of my rankings, in my order of preference:
- Taco de Pulpo en Su Tinta (Octopus) — the octopus itself was braised well, so that it wasn’t super chewy. The frying of it also provided a nice, slightly crispy texture to the outside as well. The calamari ink sofrito helped to add an earthy tone to each bite, while the cherry tomatoes and microgreens helped to provide a bit of freshness to balance things out.
- Taco de Pescado al Carbon (Kanpachi) — I liked the hearty bites from the piece of Hawaiian kanpachi, with the buttery flavor from the fish complementing the heat from the morita sauce along with the acid of the cherry tomatoes. The shredded red cabbage also provided a nice texture contrast as well.
- Scallop Taco — scallops can sometimes be pretty delicate when it comes to their flavor, but these pan-seared scallops struck the right balance with the Xcatic chile sauce, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and marinated shaved fennel. The scallop flavor was what you got initially, with everything else coming in on the back end of your palate.
- Baja Fish Taco — you can’t go wrong with a classic. This featured crispy battered rockfish, served over some red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, crema, mayo, and salsa roja. The ratio of batter to fish was really good, and the size of fish was just right for that singular taco.
- Smoked Kanpachi Taco — this one felt a little more like a mini quesadilla than a taco. There was a really nice smoky flavor from the fish, with melted queso chihuahua mixed into the middle. It was topped with some salsa cruda, avocado, and some microgreens, while the peanut salsa macha helped give a nice, subtle kick to some bites.
- Baja Shrimp Taco — this was pretty similar to the Baja Fish Taco, except just in shrimp form instead of the rockfish. Although I thought that the ingredient combination was still good, out of all of the tacos, this one would probably be the least likely for me to get again, since I didn’t feel like it stood out amongst the others.
I walked in without really any expectations and ended up being absolutely blown away. The quality of the seafood, the freshness of all of the ingredients, and the visual presentation of the food was just outstanding. Even if you had to fight your way through LA traffic to be able to get to this spot, I guarantee you that if you are a seafood taco fan, all of that effort will be absolutely worth it.
Let’s now take a look at the Holbox Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Smoked Kanpachi Tostada **
House smoked kanpachi spread, Baja bay scallops, wild shrimp, arbol-peanut-soy drizzle, avocado puree. Garnished with microgreens.
** Taco de Pulpo en Su Tinta (pictured top left) **
Braised & fried Mexican octopus with calamari ink sofrito, topped with cherry tomatoes and microgreens.
** Baja Shrimp Taco (pictured top middle) **
Crispy battered wild caught Mexican blue shrimp, with mayo, cherry tomatoes, microgreens, along with a drizzle of crema and salsa roja.
** Scallop Taco (pictured top right) **
Pan-seared Maine diver scallops over a Xcatic chile sauce, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, and marinated shaved fennel.
** Baja Fish Taco (pictured bottom left) **
Crispy battered rockfish over shaved red cabbage, mayo, cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of crema and salsa roja.
** Taco de Pescado al Carbon (pictured bottom right) **
Hawaiian kanpachi, mayo, shaved red cabbage, morita sauce, cherry tomatoes, and avocado puree.
** Smoked Kanpachi Taco **
House smoked Hawaiian kanpachi, queso chihuahua, salsa cruda, avocado, and peanut salsa macha, topped with microgreens.
And finally, here are my rankings for Holbox:
Food: 5 / 5
I’m not sure what else there is to rave about the food that I haven’t already conveyed. The various options for the tacos, coupled with the freshness of the ingredients and stunning visual presentation, really sets the bar high for any other seafood tacos that I try moving forward.
Given the fact that this restaurant is in more of that marketplace setting, it would be tough to provide a ranking in this category. Seating might get more sparse during the busy times, but it seems like there was enough turnover at the tables that things opened up in a reasonable amount of time.
Service: 4.5 / 5
For the total quantity of food that we ended up getting, I thought that the staff did a good job at being able to turn around the food pretty quickly.
Price: 5 / 5
The tacos themselves ranged from $5 – $8 each, which can be considered pricey for tacos in general. But given the food quality and presentation, along with satisfaction level, I would absolutely pay that again with no hesitation.
14.5 / 15
Categories: California, Restaurants
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