RESTAURANT REVIEW: La Playita 

The flaming fish of North Chuck

La Playita
1286 Yeamans Hall Road
Hanahan
529-0080

Ride along Remount Road and you will find yourself at ground zero of a cross-cultural explosion, far removed from big floppy sombreros and the glut of cheesy mariachi bands.. Remount is North Charleston's immigrant village; it gathers authentic taquerias in outstanding numbers, serving tortillas filled with animal proteins that average Americans didn't even know existed. They line the road like little pearls on a string, teeming with a Latin diversity unknown to aficionados of less authentic, Americanized establishments in town where every menu looks the same.

Masses of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, and others from below the border hang out together, chewing a plethora of strange and delectable morsels. Beef tongues, stomach linings, and thymus glands parade as routinely as tank-topped rednecks at the city market. And just when you realize that beef cheeks are stupendously delightful, there is the fish. Not some fancy square of ahi tuna dusted down with crushed porcinis and served over yet another bowl of creamy grits. We are talking south-of-the-border fish, fish with chili peppers hanging out of their ears, fish cooked only in the biting acidity of a juiced lime, shellfish mixed with octopus tentacles and doused with enough capsicum to set you on fire. The beauty of it all could make you cry — and if you have a sensitive enough tongue, you might. We are talking La Playita.

This joint flat out rocks. Sure, you can grab a typical "number two," or a combination dinner special; anyone who frequents the La Haciendas of the world knows this drill, but here something is different. Out from the open kitchen flies a steaming plate, kissed by the flaming heat of the grill, replete with your custom combination of chalupas, enchiladas, flautas, and chimichangas, a heaping pile of rice impregnated with saffron and chilies, and a forest of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and avocados. Pools of sour cream cool your blazing tongue after nibbling at the scores of hot sauces left dangerously within your grasp. Ears ring loudly with the sound of Latin jukebox tunes and the garbled din of rapid-fire foreign tongues. You can practically smell the next dish coming; delicious air wafting over the bar spills the secrets of the kitchen down into your booth. Take notice that this place is not your typical Mexican restaurant. La Playita is as real as they come.

The plates are exquisite. Fresh avocados and crisp lettuces frame heaps of handmade food. The chicken chimichanga ($7.50) alone makes a visit worthwhile — all crackly and crunchy, it explodes at the touch of the knife, steam roiling from the interior reaches like an edible locomotive. The same goes for the flautas ($6.25), which, like chimichangas can come variously appointed and lavishly decorated, piled high with such quality that they deserve much more than a simple numerical system denoting their makeup. These numbered selections make a fine meal (and even the squeamish eaters will find something they can digest), but sticking to the standards would miss the point. La Playita means "little beach" and you can guess what magic they work with today's fresh catch.

One must start with the "Cóctel de Camaron" ($9.50). Careful readers can probably guess that this means "shrimp cocktail," but this ain't no Yankee version. Big, fat, juicy shrimp frolic in a concoction of hot salsa, pico de gallo, and lime juice. They wear swimmies of fresh avocado, lest they go under before you snatch them up and slurp down the remaining sauce — a cool, vibrant tang of tomato, chili, and the salty sea.

Compose yourself, perhaps order another cerveza, move on to the "Botana de Camarones y Pulpo" ($12.50), a delicious snack of sautéed shrimp and octopus, fired with sharp slivers of onion, lobes of ripe tomato, and the piquant flavor of red chilies. It stands like a Mexican sunflower, the petals of tomato ringing the plate alternately with fresh cheese and buttery avocado lumps. The squeeze of limes provides the only sauce needed.

"Arroz con Mariscas" ($9.75) offers equal seafood excellence, shrimp and scallops splashed together over a scorching grill; thunderous heat cracks from the sharp clap of various chilies. They line up across mountains of rice, cheese, and fresh guacamole — soldiers of the invasion, stalwarts of the impending wave. There will be no apologies for delicious authenticity. English? Bring you own, meester. Consiga listo, bebé -- the future will be televised en español.

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