For Rubén Granados, seafood has always been celebration food.
He grew up in Huejutla de Reyes, Mexico, cooking at his mom’s restaurant. Holiday trips to Tampico, three hours away on the Atlantic Ocean, meant celebrating with shrimp and other ocean treats. Later, as a teen, he discovered Pacific seafood on vacations in Los Angeles.
“I began to dream, ‘Could I have my own restaurant?’ ” he recalls.
He worked as a waiter, learning the business. On weekends, he sold tamales at apartment complexes, walking because he could not afford a car.
Rumors of opportunity pulled him to Charlotte in 2003. On a whim, he auditioned for La Raza 106.1 FM, where his nine-year career as an impish character called “La Puchis” on the Latino radio station made Granados a much-liked public figure – and connected him with restaurant investors.
Granados’s La Riviera Marisqueria eatery on Albemarle Road boasts “Un Bocado del Pacifico!” – a bite of the Pacific. There are two menus: One has standard Mexican restaurant fare, but ask for the other, which is splashed with big photos of elaborate seafood entreés.
I am intrigued by the full page of ceviches, cold dishes featuring shrimp in lime juice. Variations add peppers, onions, tomatoes, fresh fruit and more. Names honor Pacific locales including Nayarit, Sinaloa and Mazatlan.
“Every small town has its own style of food,” Granados explains.
The Mazatlan is my favorite. Creamy avocado slices and sweet bits of mango play nicely with tart shrimp and tangy onions.
Granados’ own favorite is a huge platter called the Riviera, which reminds him of Tampico family celebrations. A whole fried fish nestles alongside french fries, salad, rice and a pico de gallo of fresh tomatoes. Plus, there’s a ramekin of shrimp criolla, with a mild tomato broth that carries flavors of Granados’ youth.
La Riviera really gets hopping on weekends with eaters celebrating the end of the workweek. A mariachi band strolls from table to table Fridays from 8-11 p.m. Karaoke starts at 10 p.m. on Saturdays. A norteño trio often drops in on Sunday in the late afternoon or evening.
La Riviera Marisqueria
Hours: 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.
Location: 6023 Albemarle Road.
Details: 704-566-6101; www.marisquerialariviera.com.