On the Southern end of the town of Jaco, Costa Rica, where Regina and I spent a lovely week relaxing, exploring, sunning, and eating, we came across a restaurant called Marea Alta (high tide), a place that serves the relatively simple and hearty fare that everyday Costa Ricans eat, their comida tipico — “typical food”. Slightly more adventurous travellers might wander down here to the dwindling end of town, away from most of the over-priced and dubious tourist-and-expat-geared joints that clog the main drag, but the mainly-locals Marea Alta caters to the Ticos, the ethnic nomenclature that Costa Ricans affectionately dub themselves.
Costa Rican food, at least far from the capital of San Jose, is pretty simple really. Most plates center around rice and beans and usually feature a little cabbage and carrot salad as well as picadillo, a simple dish of stewed squash or other vegetables. Almost every plate also gets a wedge of limon, which refers to both a green-skinned and green-fleshed lime variety and another type of sour citrus which features a bright orange flesh (I suspect it’s a hybrid variety of lime and mandarin orange.) and a tart and fragrant juice.
Marea Alta has a pleasant, sunny, open dining room right on the sidewalk that seats about twenty-five people. Motorcycles puttered by, taxis careened around the corner, untethered dogs wandered the pavement, and locals chattered in the mellow tones of the unhurried. Regina ordered an absolutely dynamite passion fruit juice and I slugged an ice-cold Mexican Coca-Cola, my very first soda of the year (I rarely drink sugared bevvies.).
We shared a ceviche mixto to start. The lime-marinated seabass, conch, and shrimp came virtually bare. Unlike some complicated Mexican and Peruvian ceviches I’ve had, this one was pretty much just a pile of exceedingly fresh seafood with a bit of minced onion and cilantro. No jalapenos or fruits or much of anything else. And only a pack of saltines to much with it. I drizzled a bit of Lizano-brand Tabasco sauce over the top for a little heat, I squeezed over it some more of that orange limon and it came alive and tasted delicious. Shockingly fresh, perfectly textured, the mixed mariscos were cool, refreshing, yummy.
Our platos arrived with the requisite beans and a huge pile of rice. The picadillo of chayote squash was tender and flavorful and sweet. The compulsory salad was basically unadorned and fresh, needing a of citrus to wake it up.My grilled mahi-mahi was incredible. Super-fresh, a little charred, and very lightly seasoned, the fish was flavorful, clean, and tasted amazing. Regina ordered liver and onions, which she craves on occasion. While liver and onions isn’t normally what I’d think of when I think of Central America food, when Regina sees it on a menu, she has a hard time refusing it. Although I’m not quite as fixated as she, I still love liver, and, well, I’m OMNIVOROUS. It was a hunk of crisp-sauteed beef liver, thinly cut and topped with some sweetly delicious onions, barely softened. Frankly the liver was pretty tough compared to what we get here in America, which is hardly surprising since their cows are all free-range, with a diet that is essentially unregulated compared to their American cousins. But although it was chewier than we’d normally like, both Regina and I found her dish just delicious — the liver was slightly charred and crisp at the edges. The flavor was robust and rich, not overly minerally, and without the granular texture you get sometimes with poorly cooked liver. Lunch was excellent. And it was under twenty bucks. We felt triumphant, full, happy. And it proved once again that great food, especially when you’re traveling far from home, can often be found off the drag, down an alley, on the fringes. Follow the locals. Marea Alta Av Pastor Diaz in front of Platinum Gym
Jaco Beach, Costa Rica http://www.jacobeachinsider.com/business/Restaurants/Costa-Rican/Marea-Alta