La Vero’s Mexican Seafood and Bar
231 W. Fifth St.

Wandering aimlessly in any commercial district can yield surprising results. On a Wednesday afternoon, my companion and I turned off the 101 and drove down Oxnard Boulevard with no real destination in mind other than curtailing our hunger pains. As we came into the downtown district and through Heritage Square, my friend reminisced about his times at the Oxnard Press-Courier, whose building has been demolished and is now a construction site, conceivably an apartment or condominium complex.

We parked by Tomas Cafe on A Street and drifted south and then north again. The downtown district is quite an anomaly, rich with history, mom-and pop joints, unusual mannequin displays — two of note: a few dummies in karate uniforms providing security for an empty store and another display with deer heads at a retail store — and too many empty storefronts. It has an eerie but curious draw, one that we both enjoyed. My friend commented on the numerous attempts to revive that particular A Street corridor that never seem to stick. And while there were some longstanding favorites that we had reviewed in recent years, we turned onto Fifth Street and found a fairly new place, at least to me, La Vero’s Mexican Seafood and Bar. (This is the second La Vero’s, the original still stands on Saviers Road.) I had an irresistible craving for chips and salsa so this was a good place to land.

The atmosphere had the quintessential taqueria décor: a tile floor, Spanish art, a soccer game playing on the various flat screens and barely closed blinds that let in just enough light to provide a casual, quiet feel. The server was quick to bring us chips and salsa — the salsa served in a plastic single-use ramekin was puréed tomatoes with some visible char and a hint of spice (probably habanero) to perk the taste buds. The chips tasted homemade but they were just shy of being stale.

Vegetarian sope

Perusing the menu and the numerous visibly dark pictures of the dishes, it’s clear that the seafood aspect is not at all underplayed. In fact, anyone in search of seafood-focused Mexican food would be rather happy with choices that include fresh prepared oysters with shrimp and pico de gallo, whole tilapia and the molcajete (stone pot) option. Several dishes also featured octopus, albacore and catfish — as we found out was the standard white fish.

For our lunch, we chose the vegetarian sope, seven mares (English: seas) and the fish tacos. Though the server seemed to be a bit too busy to refill our drinks and keep up with our (my) chips-and-salsa habit, the main dishes came out promptly. The sope was a warm, comforting pocket of masa lightly filled with whole pinto beans and topped with shredded iceberg, tomatoes, sour cream and sprinkled with Monterey jack cheese. At $5 ($1 extra for meat), it was surely enough for a light lunch.

My seven mares came filled to the brim with shrimp, octopus, abalone, clam, catfish, mussels and topped with crab legs. As I dug in, it was one surprise after another with each bite, especially with the pieces of catfish steak, with skin and bones. My first bite of the catfish was a bit fishy but it dissipated the further into the bowl I got. The broth was smooth and rich at the same time, hearty and heartwarming — a combination of acidic tomato and aromatic fish flavors. There were plenty of vegetables as well, carrots, onions, bell peppers and celery. My companion said my eyes were radiating joy as my journey continued into the bowlful of the unexpected spoonfuls, noting that he was not quite that adventurous.

Battered fish tacos

His fish tacos were good enough — catfish, battered and deep fried, though the batter was a bit soggy as he worked through big meal of three tacos with plenty of pintos and Spanish rice on the side. The batter was a bit salty but the fresh avocado and diced red onion and tomatoes topped and drizzled with a white cream sauce balanced the flavors.

Though La Vero’s could work out a few kinks to impress future patrons, I certainly enjoyed myself. Always up for something new and different plus the simple goodness of this relative newbie to downtown Oxnard is worth revisiting.