Location, Location, Location. It matters in the restaurant business. We found Café Aqua Azul because it was walking distance to our rental villa in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. We passed it every day on our walk from our villa atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean down to the beach.
Not only was the location convenient to our villa, but we could peek through the open-air restaurant to see the breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. The place was crowded any time we passed. Another sign that something special was going on inside. Be allured by the name, as it accurately describes the view. Go for the view and stay for the food.
The restaurant is owned by Americans who fell in love with this country just 9 degrees latitude north of the equator and decided to start a new life in this beautiful place. Rob, Paige and Grant embrace the fresh local food, while bringing with them a few favorites from home
Location: 618 Aquirre. Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. At the top of Villas el Parque. On the public bus line between Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
Menu: The Agua Azul menu is extensive for a small cafe. Tropical drinks and appetizers make a perfect evening paired with the gorgeous sunset. Moderately priced casual options like tacos, salads, burritos, fajitas and pasta are perfect for a casual night out. For a full dinner, a higher priced grouping of entrees is available for heartier appetites or a special occasion.
The common theme for all the offerings is fresh, local seafood. Shrimp, Snapper and Mahi Mahi seem to be regular offerings. The mix and match style of the menu means you can choose your seafood of choice, then choose how you want to eat it. On a salad? In a taco or fajita? Or perhaps freshly grilled with a side of local vegetables.
The featured fresh catch during our visit was congrio, a fish similar to a Chilean Sea Bass. The restaurant offers the guest a variety of preparations for any fish offered. Panko crusted, grilled, coconut crusted, cornmeal crusted or blackened are all possibilities at this “have it your way” cafe. The feature was served with fresh vegetables, like a zucchini you would find in the United States, and a sweet potato mash that was lighter in color than a North American sweet potato, and perhaps a bit more flavorful. Two fresh shrimp, heads on, garnished the top of the specially featured dish.
The varieties of fruits and vegetables available in Costa Rica were familiar enough to be able to comfortably order and just different enough to be unique and special regional treats. Growing foods so close to the sun creates a noticeable richness in flavor.
The tuna margarita is a featured appetizer. The fresh tuna over a tequila lime cucumber salad served in a margarita glass is a refreshing combination of some of life’s best flavors.
The plantain tower is also a featured appetizer with layers of patacones, shrimp, avocado and tomato salad in a citrus lime vinaigrette. A local twist to a traditional Caesar salad is the plantain Caesar salad, offered with chicken or shrimp.
Tropical cocktails are a must in this environment. Afterall, your friends are at home only dreaming of being in a place like this. The Aqua Azul Margarita mimics the bright blue color of the Pacific Ocean with a blend of Cuervo gold, Blue Curacao, Guanabana and fresh lime topped with Grand Marnier. Sangria is another refreshing option for wine lovers after a day at the beach. The sangria glass is garnished with a local star fruit.
There are many North Americans who migrate to Costa Rica for an extended winter stay or even apply for permanent resident status. I can’t imagine ever getting tired for the fresh seafood, but I suppose for most Americans raised on burgers and fries, an occasional taste of home would be comforting.
I read about Aqua Azul’s “Big Ass” burgers in the guest book in our villa before we even thought about dining at the restaurant. The previous guest described conquering the two-pound hamburger, which is actually called the “Grande Gringo.” The “Big Ass” is a one-pound burger, and the “Son of the Big Ass” is just ½ pound. Small in comparison, but still a large piece of meat. The burgers are served BYOB (build your own burger) with a variety of toppings, both traditional and tropical. Cut to order fries accompany the burgers, which means they are fresh and hot. I did not see a burger joint anywhere during our stay, so these American owners are smart to capitalize on a little bit of homestyle comfort for those that want it.
Let’s not forget dessert. Bananas Foster is a Costa Rican specialty, since the bananas are picked right off the trees in this tropical rainforest. If you haven’t tasted the flavor of a banana left on the tree until perfect ripeness, this alone is a good enough reason to book a ticket to Costa Rica. Add butter, brown sugar and Costa Rican rum and serve it over vanilla ice cream. It is a refreshing sweet treat after a healthy dinner of seafood and vegetables.
Thoughts: Whether you’re in the mood for the fresh catch or a cheeseburger in paradise, Aqua Azul is the place to find it. The neighborhood atmosphere and variety on the menu make this a place vacationers can go back to for multiple meals during a week-long vacation and have a new experience each time. Parking is limited, but it is walkable from many hotels and villas. The restaurant does not accept reservations.
Price Range: Appetizers $8-$16. Wraps and Sandwiches $8-$12. Salads $6-$12. Burgers $9-$18. Main Course $15-$28. Prices quoted are in U.S. dollars. The restaurant accepts Costa Rican colones and U.S. dollars.
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