In our ongoing quest for local cheap eats, Regina and I keep our eyes peeled for places with a line out the door. Walking the streets of Jaco, Costa Rica last week we stopped at innumerable restaurants on the main drag to check out menus; it was a mixed bag, for sure. Mostly tourist traps with surprisingly high prices or bizarre mish-mashed menus featuring a combination of Costa Rican fare with, let’s say, Greek salad or anchovy pizza. And yeah, sure, I like Greek salad and anchovy pizza, but paying $40 for it while we’re in a foreign land seems a little strange. Also, given that most of the touristy places seemed near-empty on a Friday evening wasn’t heartening. Strolling half a block off the main drag we found the very-packed and lively Isaga, which had at least fifteen people waiting in line out front. They were all locals, by the look of the them. Suddenly our spirits lifted!
This little "langostica" was fresh, cheap, and delish.
That night we ate simply. Isaga means “fish bone” and we decided to follow that theme and stick with seafood. The fish and shrimp in Costa Rica are exceptionally fresh.
We ordered a special of the day — a langostica, a small spiny lobster split and cooked on the griddle and served with assorted veggies. The langostica was very fresh and very tasty. It was probably a little over-cooked, but that didn’t detract from the sweet and briny flavor. All the veggies (cauliflower, chayote, broccoli, carrot) were yummy and cooked still a little firm. Naturally the dish came with wedge of the indigenous orange-fleshed and green-skinned limon.
We also ordered an appetizer order of creamy camarones. It was a small bowl of a chowder-like soup loaded with tender, sweet shrimp in an absolutely killer broth with wine, cream, minced cilantro, some garlic. It was garnished with a few little slices of melba toast. It was a lovely little meal — a little different, very flavorful, and cheap-as-all-hell at $12.
Creamy seafood "chowder" is packed full of mariscos!
The next day we returned for an excellent lunch with a couple of newly-acquired friends who we met zip-lining in the forest canopy just 30 minutes east of Jaco. Cindy tried the langostica and ordered the creamy shrimp dish we had the previous night. Due to some small mis-communication created by the language barrier (No one at Isaga has a firm grasp of English, as far as we could tell.) she got a main-course portion of the creamy shrimp and it also contained tender green-lipped mussels, conch, squid, bits of langostino, and fish on top of the superb shrimp. Once again, very tasty.
Adam ordered the Casado Isaga, the “plate of the house” which changes according to the whim of the house and what’s seasonal. His massive plate contained a pork chop, a slab of steak, rice, beans, squash picadillo, salad, a few tortilla chips, and a fried plantain. Adam scarfed the plate. At under five bucks, his plate was a frickin’ steal! The only glitch in his meal was that it took over 30 minutes to come to the table. Organization and efficiency are not this restaurant’s strong suit. The mentality is definitely “laid-back”.
A little squid ink gives this seafood rice a dusky appearance.
Regina’s arroz con mariscos was dynamite. Essentially fried rice, this arroz was packed with clams, squid, fish, conch, little blue crabs, and shrimp. A little squid ink imbued the dish with duskiness and a bit of extra briny flavor. The rice was very good, with green onions and chunks of celery adding depth and textural interest. Complete with fries and salad, the plate was a winner. Regina loved it but could barely finish it all.
My pescado alla diabla came out as a perfectly tender and sweet piece of corvina (Pacific bass) topped with chunky warm tomato sauce. It barely qualified as spicy, even with the pickled jalapeno on top. Costa Ricans, unlike other Central Americans (like the Mexicans), don’t really dig very spicy foods as a general rule. My dish was delish and legit.
If you find yourself in Jaco I urge you to seek out Isaga. It’s a lovely local place. And worth every dollar.
Very fresh corvina topped with a tasty diabla sauce.
Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
This massive plate of Casado Isaga was less than five bucks!