Day 101: Costa Rica
All right, everyone. Excuse me if I start to get a little wistful, but this meal may very well be the final restaurant I’m going to that’s around Los Angeles. Things are wrapping up here at Man Bites World, and even though my brain has essentially turned to mush after 101 consecutive days of diverse eating, writing and often drinking, I’m still relatively aware of how strange it’s going to be when it all officially comes to an end. Today’s meal has been on the list for a long time, and has even been pushed back on the schedule for various reasons over the last few weeks. But tonight, I’m finally going. In a fitting conclusion to his efforts on the project, Mr. Joshua is joining for what basically amounts to just his second and final inclusion. He was with me for the famed Ghana Day (which I still look back on as perhaps the most fulfilling adventure of the entire project), and now comes along as my sole companion to one more place that I really don’t know much about. Costa Rica Restaurant in Anaheim. There are only a couple of comments about it online, and the only other thing I know is that they’re open exclusively for dinner and close around 1:30 in the morning.
Mr. Joshua and I sit in strangely heavy Saturday night traffic, twiddling our thumbs on the 5 freeway while beginning to wonder what exactly we’re getting ourselves into. “Is this going to be some crazy Costa Rican nightclub?” I ask. “Are we going to get robbed?” Josh laughs, then adds “But wouldn’t that be awesome? It’d be the perfect end. And I only have like twenty five bucks on me.”
“I only have fifteen!”
“Getting robbed when you’re poor is awesome.”
“Unless they steal the camera.”
“Yeah, but then it’d be an extra funny post. You could tell them you got robbed and that’s why you don’t have any pictures.”
“Maybe the robber will get all into the website, then he’ll feel bad and post the pictures.”
So for the record, we’re hoping to get robbed tonight in the Costa Rican night club equivalent to the one Al Pacino was running in Carlito’s Way. Eventually, we arrive in Anaheim and pull into a strip mall with a big section on the marquee that says “Costa Rica Restaurant”. Our destination is tucked away in the corner, surrounded by palm trees and with a neon sign at the end of the awning. We’re very excited.
Mr. Joshua opens the door and, while it’s immediately clear that we aren’t going to be robbed by a Costa Rican gang, we fall in love with the tropical decor anyway. It’s only 6:30, so the party obviously hasn’t started yet, but there’s a dance floor, a bar and a stage with tons of musical instruments set up. The nice woman working the house shows us to a small booth in the back, where we lean back and ask if they have any Costa Rican beers. “Yes, of course. Imperial.” Mr. Joshua holds up two fingers and says “Dos, please.” We glance at the menu, then order food when she comes back with our drinks. First of all, these beers look really awesome. It’s a red and yellow label with a big, black, phoenix-looking bird right in the middle. Secondly, I’m immediately twenty five percent cooler just because I’m drinking one of these, and thirdly, it’s awesomely refreshing and I’d like to be on a beach in Costa Rica immediately.
Then, our comidas tipicas plate arrives. I’ve ordered a lot of these at various Central and South American restaurants, and they’re usually a great gauge of what the country and the restaurant specialize in. So when the wood board arrives filled with tasty looking Costa Rican items, I’m feeling pretty good. In the middle are some amazingly flaky, crispy and fresh-out-of-the-fryer hot yucca fries, tossed together with some beautiful red, fried up pork sausages. They’re garnished with lime wedges, so we squeeze happily, then toss them around on our tongue while we blow out steam, chew and swallow. These things, I have to say, are delicious. The sausages taste like perhaps the best hot dog you’ve ever had in your life— and I mean that in an absolutely positive way. Also on our platter is a tasty black bean sauce, pickled carrots and jalapeños— and some wonderfully sweet and crunchy pickled onions and bell peppers.
There are also three mysterious little ramekins of assorted goods. The first is what amounts to basically a Central American version of amazing diner home fries— potatoes, peppers and tomatoes, fried together until delicious. The other two are a little more mysterious. A slightly sweet vegetable sauce which looks almost like a pea soup that hasn’t been cooked for very long. “This stuff is magical,” Mr. Joshua says of it. The other is a soft and meaty little starch-laden stew. We don’t know exactly what’s customary, but we start taking our small tortillas and creating delicious combinations. Sausage, fried yucca, some pickled goods and a little Costa Rican hot sauce? Amazing. “Dude,” says Mr. Joshua, “you’ve got to put the vegetable stew thing with the meat stew thing, put some sausage in there and the green hot sauce. It’s insane when they’re all together.” Soon, our “Costa Rica style steak” arrives— thin, browned and topped with grilled onions. It’s good, but I’m not so sure what makes it Costa Rican as opposed to Puerto Rican or really, from anywhere else in Central America. Soon, the steak is absorbed into our taco-building world as Mr. Joshua tosses it on a tortilla with sausage and hot sauce. “When I get home,” he says, “I’m doing a Google search for Costa Rican hot sauce.”
We had ordered a hearts of palm salad, but they’re unfortunately out of it. “What about chicarron con yucca instead?” the waitress asks. I tried to be a tiny bit healthy tonight by getting something that grew out of the earth and wasn’t fried. But oh well. Fried pork and yucca it is. A few minutes later, a plate of more yucca fries, now with fried pork morsels, is set on the table. The first piece of pork I eat is about sixty percent fat, which is a good thing, I think, since the less fatty pieces are pretty dry. We drink a second round of our amazing beer, then look down at all the fried food we ate and realize that we couldn’t possibly have any more. So we lean back against the wall next to the booth, sip beers and order the check.
For a dinner drive in traffic down to Anaheim, I’d say this day went very smoothly. While this restaurant (like most) doesn’t do everything well, the things they do are really, really good. If you throw in some people dancing, live music and a few more Imperials, I think this could be one hell of a destination. Once again, all it takes is another good meal to energize me and get me ready to keep the journey going. But with no money and very few countries left, it seems like it’s time to take a deep breath and realize that it’s just about over. In fact, I’m not even sure what I’m going to eat tomorrow. With a few potential meals remaining, but none guaranteed, I really don’t know how much longer it will go. Tomorrow could in fact be the last day. Will it? I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Costa Rica Restaurant
2500 W Lincoln Ave # 5
Anaheim, CA 92801
Food Breakdown: 2 alcoholic beverages, 3 dishes
Distance From My House: 32 miles