Buckle up—we're headed to Siesta Key to check out CeviChela, the tiny, way-chill eatery opened by chef Darwin Santa Maria earlier this year after the closure of Darwin's on 4th in the Rosemary District. The restaurant is situated in a throwback strip mall in Siesta Key Village, with a handful of high-top tables inside and out and a scrawled-on-the-wall menu heavy on globally styled, brightly flavored seafood. That means tacos, of course, but also build-your-own ceviche bowls, stir frys and poke, a sharply seasoned Hawaiian specialty.
The pulpo poke ($16.95) looks prettier than a floral arrangement, with a thick wedge of avocado and a pair of lime slices laid atop a tangle of purple octopus and fresh salsa criolla and a sprout of crispy plantain chips standing tall. The octopus flesh is superb—dense and chewy but tender, too. The dish hits high on the acid register, with a sharp, fresh profile that accentuates the flavor of the mollusk. Santa Maria's well-regarded ceviche has always shown he has a way with acid; the poke showcases that in a new way.
Ditto for the shrimp served in CeviChela's tacos ($3.50 for one, $9.95 for three). The crustacean has been cooked till just done and comes topped with sugary, pickled red onions, crumbles of queso fresco and radish rounds. The skirt steak taco is dressed in a similar outfit, and the meat offers an assertive bite. Thin tortillas striped with grill marks provide an effective wrapper. The tacos also come with a small basket of corn chips and a ramekin filled with a no-kidding-really-spicy mayonnaise. The chimichurri served alongside a dish of crispy tostones ($3.75) makes for a delightful dunk.
Throw in a tidy selection of craft beers, reggae and rap on the radio and a breeze trickling down the shaded walkway that leads to the front door, and you've got the makings of a primo, fuss-free meal.
CeviChela is located at 5110 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, Sarasota, and is open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Call (941) 349-0818 or click here for more info.