A trip to the coast

Seafood is the star at new Mexican restaurant

<i>Mojarra Frita </i>(whole, fried tilapia) with rice, beans and fried potato wedges.

Mojarra Frita (whole, fried tilapia) with rice, beans and fried potato wedges.

PHOTO by jason cassidy

Mariscos La Costa Mexican Seafood Grill
1141 Forest Ave., suite 30
Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

“There it is,” Colette said pointing out the window as we drove down Forest Avenue the other evening. “Mariscos La Costa. That’s the new Mexican place we’ve been hearing about.”

We were on our way home from running a few errands—shopping for onion goggles and a new cocktail shaker at the Galley and picking up some anti-inflammatory at the vet for Miss Marilyn (poor girl!). “You hungry?” she asked.

“Does the Tin Man have a heart?”

“Is that the best you can do?”

“On an empty stomach? Oui.”

“Oh, stop it!”

She turned around and pulled into a space in the little parking lot right in front—under the blue swordfish over the door.

Mariscos La Costa—which opened just before Christmas—is Chico’s newest Mexican restaurant, and its menu features an exhaustive if not overwhelming array fresh seafood.

Locally owned and family-run, La Costa offers dishes ranging from fish and shrimp tacos, fajitas and caldos (soups) to several variations on both langosta (lobster) and pulpa (octopus). Most entrees run $9-$14, though the lobster dishes are $19.99, and the lobster with shrimp, halibut, crab and scallops is $79.99 (serves 2-4). The mixed-fish platter, with scallops, octopus, white fish, imitation crab and five types of shrimp is $59.99 (also for 2-4).

They also serve several chicken, beef and pork dishes, including carne asada tampiquena (flank steak cooked with hot peppers) with a cheese enchilada on the side ($13.99), and chicken fajitas ($11.99).

Lunch specials are served weekdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and include chiles rellenos, tostadas, chile verde and fish tacos—$5.99-$8.99.

As of last week, the little restaurant—six tables seating four to six plus four small booths—was still awaiting a beer-and-wine license.

Authentic? Mexican music from tiny corner speakers. Check. Horchata. Check. Mostly Spanish spoken by customers and staff. Check. Menudo on Sunday. Check, check.

We started with the mixed ceviche ($12.55), which came in a large porcelain clam shell and included scallops, shrimp, octopus, abalone, tilapia and imitation crab, with red onions, bell peppers and avocado over lettuce and with hard corn tortillas on the side for dipping. Delicious, and in fact so much food I almost wished I hadn’t ordered the molcajete de mariscos.

Named for the stone mortar bowl in which it’s traditionally served, molcajete is a stew in a rich fish broth. This one ($17.55) included shrimp, scallops, abalone, imitation crab, zucchini, carrots, sweet and poblano peppers and tomatoes. It was good, too, although the imitation crab, which had blended in well in the ceviche, was the main ingredient in the stew and didn’t work, three string-cheese-size pieces hanging over the sides of the bowl.

Colette, on the other hand, had ordered the fish tacos (three for $10.99), breaded tilapia served in double corn tortillas with cabbage, onions and sour cream. “The best tacos I’ve had in a long time,” she said.

We went back several days later for lunch, and despite the tempting specials ordered off the main menu. I had the shrimp fajitas ($12.50), with grilled shrimp, potatoes, zucchini, celery, tomatoes and red and white onions—very good. Colette had the caldo misto (mixed seafood soup—$12.95), which includes your choice of two types of fish; she went with the abalone and shrimp. She loved it, although again it proved to be a bit much, and in fact she joked that she could barely see me over the top of the bowl, “although that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” she added, dipping a flour tortilla into the broth. (Henri’s editor reports that he was very “stoked” with the large portions, and also raved about the ceviche as well as the whole, fried tilapia—$9.95—he ordered.)

In addition to the food, we were impressed by the service, the owners’ kids waiting tables and working the cash register; quick, attentive and with big smiles, clearly proud of the family enterprise.

We wish them success—and Godspeed the beer-and-wine license.