Veracruz Cafe's Sopa de Atlahua is an Ocean of Awesomeness. Go Get Some.

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Don't be fooled by the gratis basket of chips or the enchiladas or the plastic bowls of salsa (which is quite good, loaded with tomato, fresh cilantro and garlic and enriched with oil). Veracruz Cafe is not a Tex-Mex restaurant. Not even close.

As evidence, I submit this hearty bowl of stew, distantly reminiscent of the French bouillabaisse and loaded with seafood. The kitchen fashions each bowl from a soup base they make from shrimp shells, onions, tomatoes and herbs. The solids are strained, the stock reduced, and the resultant liquid stored till a customer orders a bowl of Sopa de Atlahua.

That's when the kitchen fires up a pan filled with the base, diluted with a little water to tone the flavor down a touch. They add carrots, Mexican squash and zucchini. They add scallops, tilapia and shrimp. And then they fold in fresh epazote, a bitter herb that looks a bit like dandelion greens and tastes of anise and coriander.

The resultant stew is fresh-tasting and clean, with a subtle burn that wakes up your face but doesn't even think about overwhelming the delicate seafood flavors. The seafood is cooked nearly perfectly from its short bath in the simmering broth. Get to know your bowl a little, sipping the broth and sampling the seafood and tender vegetables, before dumping the rice that's served along side. It will give you a little something more to chew on. (Ignore the inferior baguette).

Hopefully you don't indulge too many tortilla chips in an effort to consume that delicious salsa. For $13.50, the small Oak Cliff cafe gives you a lot of soup.

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