Photo by Katherine Harris
Las Sirenas, Spanish for the mermaids, is a sea nymph–themed cantina on the edge of downtown St. Paul. In addition to a boisterous ambiance featuring disco lighting and sporadic karaoke and mariachi outbreaks, it offers one of the most extensive menus of Mexican fare to be found in these parts.
By and large, the food is perceptibly fresh and flavorful. A couple of items were exemplars of their genres, including the table-mashed molcajete of guacamole and the selection of superlative golden-tinged empanadas filled with beef, shrimp, or cheese and sided with a tongue-tingling lime dipping sauce.
Such notables aside, this newcomer is unabashedly attempting to stake its reputation as the foremost purveyor of south-of-the-border seafood dishes. The choices include a lengthy assortment of ceviches, more than a dozen shrimp options, and a variety of fish preparations that deserve to be a central part of any visit. Definitely consider the raw bar combo—a large serving platter colorfully arranged with small bowls of fish, octopus, and shrimp ceviches, four raw oysters on the half shell, and a scattering of bite-size pink steamed shrimp. All marinated seafood selections, particularly the outstanding octopus garden, delivered a pleasantly firm texture and just the right balance of lime tartness, toothsome tomato, and piquant green chilies. We didn’t leave a bit—though, the slightly mushy oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp proved bit players. Equally impeccable was a whole red snapper that had been marinated and grilled over mesquite. It was everything a good fish dish should be—fresh tasting, moist, and seasoned to complement rather than overwhelm the flavor of the seafood.
For the record, there are also some well-above-average desserts, including a unique chocolate chili fondant, and an assortment of beer cocktails known as micheladas.
While online forums have rants about the bland food, horrible service, and dirty premises—and it’s true a bit of scrubbing and tidying wouldn’t hurt, and our service started off at a definite languid pace—these proved to be relatively minor detractions in the overall scheme of things. Las Sirenas has some unique charms, and if you focus on those, you’ll have a well worthwhile time here.
199 Plato Blvd., St. Paul, 651-888-2233, lassirenas.net