Costa Azul…The Blue Coast…the name evokes images of pristine sandy beaches, translucent blue waters, lush verdant jungles and brightly plumed birds. For Santa Fe diners, the name may also evoke involuntary salivation and pangs of hunger which can be quelled only by the incomparably fresh and delicious mariscos (seafood) at one of the City Different’s best Mexican restaurants, Mariscos Costa Azul.
For years, the word “mariscos” was synonymous with Santa Fe’s two Mariscos La Playa restaurants, about which the New York Times wrote, “Yes, even in landlocked Santa Fe, it’s possible to find incredibly fresh and well-prepared seafood served in big portions.”
The two Mariscos La Playa restaurants–jointly owned by cousins Nora Lopez and Jose Ortega–were perennial reader’s poll winners of the Santa Fe Reporter‘s annual “best seafood” and “best Mexican restaurant” categories. In early 2006, the two cousins parted ways with the Ortega family renaming the south-side restaurant Mariscos Costa Azul.
The restaurant is awash in a veritable spectrum of color, particularly of soothing azure shades the color of Mexico’s Pacific coastal waters. Many of the intricately carved chairs feature a hazel-eyed sun peeking out from behind verdant hills. Others of the tightly woven twine chairs include colorfully painted leafy green foliage, resplendent toucans and parrots and lush ripe fruits. Aquariums are teeming with de-stressing life, including luminous sunfish. Dining room walls are painted fuchsia and orange while the ceilings are Mediterranean blue.
It wasn’t just the color palette that evoked a sense of déjà vu during our inaugural visit to Mariscos Costa Azul. The multi-page menu (shaped like a plump snapper) included several uniquely named entrees we had seen before in only one restaurant. Those included “No Te Rajes” (literally “don’t you crack”), a shrimp and baby octopus cocktail as well as “caldo vuelve a la vida (literally “come back to life”), a seafood soup in a rich broth.
Then there was the creamy avocado-based dip. When Albuquerque’s Mariscos Vallarta closed in late 2005, we thought we would never again enjoy another bowl of that fabulous wasabi-colored, mayonnaise enriched dip. Surely, this had to be the work of Agustin Lopez, the talented chef and proprietor of the defunct Mariscos Vallarta. The proprietor Jose Ortega apprised us that indeed Agustin had plied his talents at Mariscos La Playa before opening his own restaurant. That knowledge in hand, we knew we were in for something special.
The avocado dip is indeed something special. Better than any guacamole we can think of, it melds ripe avocados, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos into a creamy concoction that you might dream about the evening after consuming it. A wonderfully piquant and obviously fresh pico de gallo style salsa accompanies the avocado dip, both of which are served with a basket of crisp corn tortilla chips which also includes saltines (they go surprisingly well with either the salsa or the dip).
The horchata is served in one of the biggest, thickest glass goblet we’ve ever seen. Weighing as much as a small dumbbell, the goblet is a perfect host to the quintessential Mexican beverage, a refreshing and delicious cinnamon-blessed treat.
If the citrus-infused tostadas de ceviche at Mariscos Vallarta left an indelible imprint on your taste buds, all 10,000 of your taste buds will be ensnared by the tangy offering at Mariscos Costa Azul. Available with fish, shrimp or a combination of both, each tostada features finely chopped seafood catalyzed in tangy citrus juices then topped with cucumber, onion and tomatoes. Best of all, you can order these treasures as an appetizer or as an entree (three per order). We’ve never had better
Mariscos Costa Azul’s version of Camarones Maneados (shrimp with Mexican cheese rolled in deep-fried bacon) is the standard by which this dish should be measured. Six shrimp are grilled to tender perfection and are wonderfully complemented by melted white cheese and crisp bacon.
If the incomparable taste of bacon is what you crave, try the Discada Norteña, grilled diced beef with bacon, onions, tomato and white cheese served with corn tortillas, lettuce, tomato and avocado. While all the ingredients go together very well, it’s the bacon that comes across as the prevalent taste–and that’s not at all a bad thing. This entree comes in portions for one or for two and is served in a flat, circular pan (pictured at right) with a can of Sterno to keep it warm.
Most entrees are accompanied by thick Texas sized French Fries and a buttery-tasting white rice. The lightly coated, golden brown fries seem tailor-made for the avocado dip.
Just as Native Americans sell their wares in many New Mexico restaurants, you just might see Mexican children selling homemade queso de chiva (goat cheese) at Mariscos Costa Azul. For a pittance of $13, a thick disk off rich, briny cheese perfect for melting can be had. It’s a bargain at that price.
Because the menu is replete with all our Mariscos Vallarta favorites and other heretofore unsampled seafood delicacies, many return trips are in the mill. There’s many reasons patrons queue up in long lines at Mariscos Costa Azul. The only thing better is actually having fresh sea air on your face and salty blue water lapping at your feet.
Mariscos Costa Azul
2875 Cerillos Road
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 25 November 2006
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Horchata, Quesadillas de Camaron Y Carne, Tostada de Ceviche, Camarones Maneados, Pastel Tres Leches