Adjacent to the People’s Art Gallery and across from the Mission Tobacco Lounge and Lake Alice sits La Cascada, a minor gem of a Mexican seafood restaurant in the heart of downtown Riverside, where it’s possible to escape the Easy-Bake Oven that is the typical IE summer day, and feel a cool ocean breeze—if only for a nanosecond.
And it’s not for the vibe of the place, although it can get busy during the dinner hour. Nor is it for the sparkling décor, although the giant fake marlin and hammerhead shark on the wall do hint to patrons that yes, this is a seafood joint. What makes La Cascada something of an oasis, if not a waterfall, is the fresh, inspired seafood, which stands out in the deluge of red-sauce-and-nacho shacks in the area.
On a hot IE day, one of the greatest sources of relief that’s not chlorine or film-based is to sit one’s ass down in La Cascada and experience one of their seafood cocktails, be it the straight shrimp or the Campechana variety. With the Campechana, you get the “fruits of the sea” mélange—a spectacle of shrimp, clams, oysters and pulpo (octopus) in a cocktail glass that resembles a mug of suds, except this particular libation is filled to the lip with fish and cocktail sauce. The shrimp—massively belying their moniker—are expertly infused with salt and garlic . . . simple, but wow.
The clams are tiny and mix nicely with the sauce, while the oysters imbue the cocktail with the essence of brine, sea and salt. Pulpo normally gets a bad rap, mostly whenever it’s cooked badly, turning it into a nasty sort of fish-flavored bubble gum. But not at La Cascada. The pulpo here reminds me of the wonderful varieties I’ve eaten in Spain—slightly rubbery, sure, but with an enticing texture and taste that adds to the rest of the cocktail.
Of course, any good seafood cocktail rests as importantly on the juice as much as the fish. La Cascada combines the best of a Bloody Mary, minus the vodka, and a fine gazpacho—the perfect collision of spice and subtlety. Into this sublime creation, La Cascada drops thin slices of cucumber, which add to the paradoxical coolness of the somewhat peppery cocktail. There are petite sprigs of cilantro in here, too, as well as tiny chunks of tomato and onion, but the topper is the slices of tasty avocado that push the cocktail towards the heavenly. Lemons, hot sauce and saltines are offered up as condiments, but their seafood cocktails can truly stand on their own.
As can several other items on the menu. Fish dishes are excellent and change daily, so check the signs in front of the cash register. Their shrimp burritos also rock—done wet, they’re a meal, a hunk of garlic shrimp, Mexican rice and refried beans that actually have taste. Even their chips and salsa are better than your standard Mexican joint. Done up with a beer or three, La Cascada is a far better way to burn off an afternoon.
La Cascada Seafood, 3635 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-8614. Open 7 days, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m.