Cape Fear Foodie: El Mariscal

Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 10:41 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - If you have stuck around and read Cape Fear Foodie for a while, first, I want to thank you for your continued support and your ability to stomach my writing (no pun intended). Secondly, you probably understand that my taste in food swings wildly from day to day. A friend of mine recently asked if my varied food taste was something that was instilled in me as a child, or something that I developed through the years.

I would have to say it is a mixture of both. My grandmother and my mom would always cook. Every night was something different. No stone was left unturned in the kitchen while I was growing up. Although I enjoy all kinds of foods and culinary influences, I unashamedly admit my favorite food is mashed potatoes. And on the other end of the spectrum, my favorite style of food is Mexican.

So when I heard about a new Mexican restaurant that not only featured more than your typical “with rice and beans,” but also focused on seafood...I fell for it hook, line, and sinker (sorry, I had to!). Thus, a trip to the new El Mariscal Mexican Style Seafood in Wilmington was only a matter of “when,” not “if.”

El Mariscal is located in the Landfall Shopping Center along Military Cutoff Road and the interior is bright and colorful. The walls are tastefully painted with a nautical theme, but nothing tacky. And that’s a good thing because the items on the menu are rather stunning. El Mariscal is part of the El Cerro restaurant family, but it’s anything than your typical Mexican restaurant.

It’s akin to an eatery you would find along Mexico’s Pacific or Caribbean coasts, with the majority of items featuring everything from shrimp, snapper, and octopus, to lobsters and crab legs. Honestly, the menu can be a little intimidating, with the names of dishes in Spanish but the descriptions in English. Yet, it’s refreshing to see a variety of seafood-based soups, whole-fish dishes, ceviche, and molcajetes stuffed with seafood on a Mexican restaurant menu (there are also traditional options like tacos, burritos, and fajitas).

To start things off, our waitress brought my friend and I some rich seafood broth (caldo) to wet our palate. The flavors were delicious and reminded me of the broth left over after a hefty crab boil.

Caldo is Spanish for "broth," and this simple bowl of goodness provided a rich mixture of...
Caldo is Spanish for "broth," and this simple bowl of goodness provided a rich mixture of spices and fish.(WECT)

Next we decided to get some guacamole, salsa, and chips. (Note: you will need to pay for the chips and salsa and any refills you get afterwards). The guacamole had just been prepared and not loaded with sour cream to make it stretch, and the tortilla chips were freshly fried, not pulled from a bin of cold, day-old chips.

Can't decide which margarita you want? Try a flight.
Can't decide which margarita you want? Try a flight.(WECT)

We also decided to try a margarita flight, that featured pineapple, mango, strawberry, and lime. The appetizers and drinks pleasantly foreshadowed what tasty treats were yet to come. I ordered the “Tostada Perla Negra,” a tostada absolutely bursting with a ceviche-like mixture of shrimp, octopus, fish, crab, and fresh ingredients like lime juice, cilantro, onion, tomato, cucumber, and avocado. Each bite was so fresh, with the perfect amount of salinity, citrus, and spice.

This is not your abuela's typical tostada. Piled high with fresh seafood like shrimp, fish,...
This is not your abuela's typical tostada. Piled high with fresh seafood like shrimp, fish, octopus, and crab, this creation is bursting with flavor and a meal in itself.(WECT)

We could have said buenos noches after plowing through that tostada, but there are too many mouth-watering options on the menu to turn down. El Mariscal also includes pictures for almost every item, making the decision-making process even more difficult. After some careful debate, we settled on the “Pulpo Al Ajillo.” It’s a dish of sautéed octopus, that’s cooked in garlic, crushed peppers, and white wine. Then it’s mixed with bell peppers and onions and served with a side of rice and sautéed vegetables. Again, not your typical Mexican right? There was no side of tortillas, no mound of shredded lettuce with a glob of sour cream, and certainly no pool of tell-tale refried beans with a pinch of melted cheese.

When was the last time you saw sauteed octopus on a Mexican restaurant menu? It's a specialty...
When was the last time you saw sauteed octopus on a Mexican restaurant menu? It's a specialty at El Mariscal, and is just one of dozens of dishes that feature all the sea has to offer.(WECT)

What was on the plate was a beautiful blend of flavors and textures, and some perfectly cooked octopus that wasn’t too chewy. The portion size alone was enough for two people, though if you do decide to share, I would ask for another side of rice just to be safe. It reminded me of something you would order at a higher-end Asian restaurant, making for an interesting twist given the inherent cultural influences in the dish.

To be sure, the prices are a bit more than what you may expect from a Mexican restaurant. But keep in mind, most of the dishes include loads of fresh seafood, and with that comes a higher price point (and again, the portions are large). If you’re a fan of seafood and Mexican, I can’t think of a more appropriate place to spend an evening. The menu is huge, and the options are nearly endless. It would take dozens of visits to feel like you have tried everything El Mariscal has to offer. And based on this first venture, it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept.


El Mariscal Mexican Style Seafood is located at 1319 Military Cutoff Rd Unit BB, Wilmington, NC 28405

Do you recommend a restaurant? Or know of a best kept secret that you want the rest of the Cape Fear to know about? Shoot me an email at and I would love to feature your selection. Cheers!