Explore Nayarit-style seafood at Alegria's on Bethel

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Red Snapper at Alegria's

The inside of Alegria's Seafood looks like a kitschy Key West restaurant exploded in it. Underwater seascapes in bright blues, greens and purples are carved and painted onto every tabletop and high-backed chair. It's a little cartoony, sure, Melissa Ramirez admits. "But it makes you smile, right?" she says, explaining she wanted the second iteration of the Mexican-style seafood restaurant she owns with her husband and cook, Juan, to be a place where guests feel at ease-a place fitting of the name that translates to "a joyful experience."

Earlier this year, the couple relocated Alegria's to the Carriage Place Shopping Center on Bethel Road. The move from its original 2,500-square-foot home in Avery Square was motivated by Juan's desire to return to his culinary roots, focusing on seafood in the style of Nayarit-a Pacific Coast state in Mexico known for its spicy-sweet seasoning and whole fish preparations.

In Dublin, Alegria's had a split personality, he explains, attracting area residents for tacos and burritos and seafood-loving customers (sometimes commuting from 30 minutes or more away) for whole red snapper and stew loaded with more than seven kinds of seafood. Now, it's the latter that shines.

"The beautiful thing about Nayarit style of cooking is that it goes well on pretty much anything," says Juan, a native of Michoacan, a Pacific region in Mexico near Nayarit. He learned to love this style of food while living in Chicago, where the owners of the restaurant where he was working were looking to pass on their family tradition. So he spent time with the family in Busaria, a Nayarit town just north of Puerta Vallarta.

It's here he became privy to what he says is a secret seasoning blend that's been passed down through generations. "Everything we've incorporated here was passed down through them," Juan says. "It's not something you can buy at the store. It's pretty much our KFC secret recipe, if you will."

Looking to sample this style of cooking? Be ready to use your hands, Juan says with a laugh. "I would say that it's finger food," he says. "If you're coming in with a nice shirt, we do apologize."

Here's what the ownerssuggest ordering:

Love whole fish? Go with the red snapper (Huachinango Frito), fried whole with a choice of sauce. "If you've had whole fried fish before, we point everyone toward the red snapper," Melissa says. "You'll love it."

Want true Nayarit flavor? Order the Langostinos Estilo Nayarit, a huge tray of prawns covered in Nayarit seasoning. "They're a lot of work to eat, but they're fantastic," Juan says. "That'll get your taste buds flowing."

Feeling adventurous? Get the Pulpo Enamorado served with mushrooms, shrimp and clams. "It literally means 'in love with octopus,' " Melissa says. "That is a whole octopus cooked with a cream-style sauce. It's good and really fun to eat."