Recently driving by a bright sign for one of the Mambo Seafood locations, I was reminded how much I enjoy leaving in a city with such diverse dining options, and one near the coast such that quality seafood is abundantly found. Mambo Seafood might only bi-cultural in makeup and the patrons largely Hispanic, but savvy diners of all backgrounds have found these long ago. This includes a friend of mine originally from south Louisiana and his family who enjoy the value-laden seafood preparations (possibly including the seldom-seen-on-menus alligator gar).
This is adapted from the current edition of Houston Dining on the Cheap and Houston Dining 2011:
A mambo might not be Mexican, nor are the owners for that matter – who are of Chinese heritage – but the food here is Mexican, by way of the Gulf. Mambo Seafood provides satisfying, unpretentious, mostly Mexican-style seafood in several locations. With table service, a prominent display of fresh seafood that offers a view of what the kitchen is working with, and reliably well prepared food for a more-than-fair price, there is no wonder these places are usually always bustling. These are slickly run operations: service is prompt, the orders are quickly turned around, the menu is broad, and décor is inviting and appropriate. Minimal Spanish language ability might be helpful when ordering from the waitstaff, though.
Indicative of the quality and value of Mambo Seafood is the fact that it is often crowded, both during lunchtime and in the evenings, with Hispanic couples, families and workers enjoying various Mexican preparations of fresh seafood often with a michelada that the restaurant pushes. The restaurant even sells its own mix for it.
Surveying the tables, you’ll notice that a popular way to start a meal here is with one of the appealing, raw seafood cocktails. There are tomato-based Mexican seafood cocktails with fish, shrimp, octopus, oyster, a combination, and the supposedly restorative Vuelve a la Vida with all four. A small order of their excellent ceviche (without the tomatoes) can work well as a starter for three or four people. The soups can be either a starter or a meal. These are the locally requisite Seafood Gumbo, which is, unfortunately, rather inconsistent, and the Seafood Soup made with fish and shrimp. The former, though laden with seafood, has a slightly different taste from the local Louisiana-accented restaurants, and is not as consistently balanced nor flavorful as it should be.
Beyond the cocktails and soups, cooking methods for the fish and shellfish are more than just frying, which is often just about the only way served in many other inexpensive Mexican seafood restaurants. Mambo also sautés with butter (described as scampi, ora la mantaquilla), grills, boils, steams and stews in a light tomato sauce (a la ranchera). Jumbo shrimp, squid and octopus are offered sautéed in butter. Grilled platters feature either jumbo shrimp or a fish fillet (probably tilapia). Many more items make their way into the deep fryer: jumbo shrimp, tilapiafillets, red snapper fillets, stuffed blue crabs, oysters, scallops, and combinations. There is also a steamed fillet with garlic, and fish fillets, shrimp and the Vuelve a la Vida cocktail combinationprepared a la ranchera. Even if these are not very large, the fried shrimp are especially flavorful; butter-flied before being breaded then deep-fried.
If one of the standard dishes does not satisfy a particular craving, you can also order many of the shellfish and fish by the pound or half-pound and specify the cooking method. The range of choices is shrimp in different sizes, scallops, squid, octopus, oysters, lobster and fish that could be red snapper, catfish, tilapia, flounder or redfish.
Just about all of the entrées are served with a choice between fries and the Mambo Rice. With some influence from Chinese restaurants, this is a satisfying dish of fried rice with small shrimp and small pieces of pork and chicken. Different versions of this fried rice are also available as an entrée. Working well for lunch, there are about ten reasonably priced combinationdishes featuring fried seafood.
6697 Hillcroft (north of Bellaire), 77081, (713) 541-3666
6101 Airline (between Tidwell and Parker), 77076, (713) 691-9700
10810 I-45 N. (south of the Beltway), 77037, (281) 820-3300
13485 Northwest Freeway (near Tidwell), 77040, (713) 462-0777
10002 Long Point (between Blalock and Gessner), 77055, (713) 465-5009
12333 1-10 E. (between Holland and Federal), 77015, (713) 637-0553
10402 I-45 S. (at Edgebrook), 77034, (713) 946-0000