On The Table: La Cevicheria

Manuel Ortega grew up in the coastal state of Nayarit along the western edge of Mexico. The area is also known as the “Riviera Nayarit” for the beaches surrounding San Blas. With tidal mangrove forests, offshore islands and a series of coastal lagoons, you can imagine the abundance of fish and shellfish. “My whole family is dedicated to food and cooking seafood,” says Manuel. “My mom had a taco cart in Mexico. And since my sisters and I were little, we used to help her. She used to make the sauces for the tacos, and we would watch. She would have us help her sell the tacos in the cart; she used to wake us up at six in the morning. I have a taste for cooking because of tradition and because it’s in my blood. I credit my mother, who was a great cook and taught us.” 

Manuel Ortega

A Family Legacy

Manuel went to college and got his degree in Mexico. Still, with the entire family dedicated to the industry, literally, all his uncles and cousins—he found himself gravitating to his original love of food. Encouraged by his uncle and mentor, David, he came to the United States to work for the family restaurant in Las Vegas, Mariscos Las Islitas (Little Islands Seafood). Manuel cut his restaurant chops as the family business grew into over 30 nationwide locations before he opened his restaurant here in Salt Lake City, named Mariscos Las Islitas de Las Vegas, in tribute to his uncle. 

Manuel started thinking about creating something new a couple of years ago. “I came up with the idea for a ceviche restaurant because it is fresher and more modern. I wanted to create a fusion of the traditional and the new,” he says. He spent time finding the perfect urban location and opened La Cevicheria earlier this year in Downtown Salt Lake City, in the space formerly occupied by the small chain Cancun Cafe. He made major renovations and now the building is impossible to miss, with giant blue octopus tentacles splayed on its exterior. The inside is a festive mix of Mexican playa vacation meets an insta-worthy Malibu Barbie home with fish scales. You’ll want to pull out your phone and take a vacay pic (without leaving town).  

Photo Adam Finkle

Off-The-Scale Ceviche

When asked why Ceviche specifically, Manuel explains, “In Mexico, we have a lot of coast. And so we have a lot of fresh fish. And in fact, also within Mexico, we have different styles of ceviche and seafood around the country. I think ceviche is a food that belongs to everyone and can adapt to any style.” And there are a lot of stylish adaptations to the ceviche at La Cevicheria—11 unique varieties to be exact (with seasonal flavors weaving in and out). You’ll find ceviche made with shrimp, tuna, whitefish, salmon and octopus. There is even a vegetarian ceviche made with marinated cauliflower. One of the unique flavor combinations is the Tropical Shrimp Ceviche, which combines traditional ingredients with mango, pineapple and strawberries. “We are mixing seafood, shrimp with fruit, which is something that you’re starting to see as a trend in Mexico,” says Manual. “The sweetness of the fruit and the sweetness of the shrimp go together. And people really like it.” Another one is the House Ceviche made with salmon, tuna and a secret vinaigrette. Each portion is generous—enough to share, and is served with hot-from-the-fryer tostaditas. You’ll also find traditional aguachile, another version of marinated seafood, along with a self-proclaimed “hangover cure” with shrimp, lime juice, and Maggi seasoning mixed with a chiltepin sauce. 

A Culinary Tour of Nayarit

Beyond the fusion-y ceviche, Manuel has created a menu to show off more dishes from his home state. “We make a dish called Chicharrón de Pescado (a crispy fish), a traditional dish from Nayarit, Mexico, from a lagoon called Santa María del Oro,” he says. “This dish has a tradition dating back more than 50 years. People from all over the world go there just to try this dish. We brought it to Utah States so that people could taste it. We use the Red Snapper, or as we call it in Spanish, Guachinango. We remove the fillets and coat them in something like breading. We also bread the skeleton of the fish. We put a dressing on it and fry it so that it becomes chicharrón. Then, the fish is very crispy, and the presentation is incredible.” You eat the fish and the extra crispy bits around the bones.

You’ll also find a marisco (seafood) pate. “This is also a traditional dish from an island called Mescaltital Island, in Nayarit, where this dish was born,” says Manuel. “It is a tiny island, with only around 1000 inhabitants. All the people there are dedicated to fishing. But because the island is not in the sea, it is in a river, the fish they catch there are cooked right there, and you eat it right there. We wanted to bring it here for others to try.” Look for either Pate de Cameron (shrimp) or Pate de Atun (tuna) as a shared appetizer. 

Another blend of traditional and Manuel’s updated take is the Pulpo Zarandeado. A 500-year-old method for grilling fish, zarandeado-style is usually a method of splitting the fish down the center, removing the spine, and marinating in chilies and lemon before grilling over hot coals. La Cevicheria uses traditional techniques and marinades and Pulpo (octopus) instead of fish for what is a guest favorite. 

“When it comes to the dishes, the tostadas, the chips, the beans, the rice, everything is cooked right here,” adds Manuel as a point of pride. “Everything is homemade; nothing is already prepared. We make our margarita mix, the mojito and the piña colada; we even make our coconut cream for cocktails. Nothing is artificial.” They even make house-made churros and flavored cotton candy. Don’t miss out on the margaritas. 

Manuel’s background in feeding others and hospitality shone through as we wrapped up our conversation. “I want to create a way for people to come, taste our dishes, and taste what we are doing, something different and also something traditional from our country and our state,” he says. “My greatest satisfaction is to see customers are happy in the moment they taste our food. Seeing that people are happy when they leave is my most satisfying experience as a restaurant owner.” 


La Cevicheria, 123 E. 200 South, SLC, 801-906-0016, Instagram: @lacevicheriautah

Ever wondered the difference between Ceviche and Aguachile? We have answers!

See more stories like this and all of our food and drink coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah. 

Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinezhttp://www.saltlakemgazine.com
Lydia Martinez is a freelance food, travel, and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake Magazine, Suitcase Foodist, and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee. Do you have food news? Send tips to lydia@saltlakemagazine.com

Similar Articles

Most Popular