Holbox doesn't need a PR team, viral TikToks or, frankly, this restaurant review to stay relevant. It’s got uni-topped tostadas and scallop ceviche to do that job. Since 2017, this Mexican seafood stall in Mercado La Paloma has executed mariscos with razor-sharp perfection, relying exclusively on chiles, citrus, and natural ocean brine to turn seafood into presents. And for years, we've sprinted back to this counter like kids chasing an ice cream truck, ready to hurl our money at what will undoubtedly be the highlight of our day. Every meal at Holbox sets the bar for the next restaurant we visit, and 99% of them can’t live up to it. That’s why it’s a timeless classic.
Anybody who is familiar with mariscos could read Holbox’s menu and know exactly what they’re going to get. But the difference here is that small touches make these Mexican staples feel luxe. A ceviche mixto has its usual components, only it’s prepared with notable finesse. After soaking in lime juice, the soft pulpo, sea bass, and shrimp disintegrate with the pressure of about two chomps. Raw shrimp in Holbox's aguachile sit in a pool of tart serrano marinade, as their fried heads peek up from the surface like synchronized swimmers. Peanut salsa macha gives a taco dorado with queso chihuahua and kanpachi a distinct smokiness. Everything, from the salsas to the raw scallops to the grilled fish, comes together seemingly intuitively. And you get courtside seats to watch it happen.
At Holbox, you want to sit at the counter. That's where you’ll see whole fish charred in grill baskets, and cooks assemble tostadas with tongs while you dab your salsa-covered hands with paper napkins. Over the years, the restaurant has added some seats and expanded the kitchen, but the place remains pretty much unchanged from when it opened. No matter how fancy you feel munching on mesquite-grilled octopus during your lunch break, there’s no hiding the fact that you're inside a noisy mercado. Sounds of vendors tossing pad thai and frying flautas echo against the walls. Chichen Itzá (a stall from the same chef) is next door serving Yucatecan classics. Still, even during the busiest midday rush, no amount of commotion or limón trickling down your chin can distract you from the tostada on your plate.
After every meal at Holbox, the small details stick with us. We remember the orange of Santa Barbara uni and the way blackened salsa macha sends smoke crawling up our nose. We think about the contrast of showing up in a baseball cap and jeans straight from the airport to toss back blood clams glammed up with pico de gallo. When you have good ingredients singing kumbaya on the same plate, there's nothing else to hide behind. Gimmicks, crowds, and fancy lighting are just distractions. Food this exceptional can speak for itself.
You're going to need a few tacos. The classic Baja fish has a crackly fry and tangy mayo. There's also a scallop taco with sweet fennel and xcatic chiles that collapses the moment you bite in. But our favorite is the smoked kanpachi taco that's sharp and salty with queso chihuahua.
Before your brain has time to process this ceviche’s citrus zing, the fish, shrimp, and pulpo will basically have already dissolved in your mouth. There's also some nice, prickly heat from an arbol-guajillo salsa.
Kanpachi And Uni Tostada
By itself, the silky, fatty kanpachi ceviche on top of this tostada is excellent. But eaten in combination with the creamy avocado salsa and sweet uni, it's almost offensively good. If you're getting one dish at Holbox, this is it.
This grilled tentacle would make a marbled steak jealous. It comes with some nice char, is tender enough for a fork to slice right through, and looks extra hot with the pepian sauce (which is nutty and mildly sweet, albeit a tad forgettable).
Hello and welcome to texture central. A zippy lime-chile-cilantro marinade cures and softens raw shrimp, while fried shrimp heads provide some crunch.