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Mexican seafood dishes at Marisco Costa Azul aren’t your average fare

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a town where it’s easy to find expensive food and mediocre service, Mariscos Costa Azul is a breath of fresh air. Unpretentious, charming and well-priced, this family-owned Mexican restaurant specializes in seafood. From ceviche in huge glasses to simple grilled fish or shrimp with a large variety of sauces, Mariscos offers a good lunch or dinner at family-friendly prices.

The menu features an amazing 41 choices and that’s not including offerings for kids. If it can be made with tilapia or shrimp, you’ll probably find it here. If you don’t eat seafood, Mariscos still will accommodate you with traditional Mexican choices such as carne asada, the classic grilled steak with refried beans, soft corn tortillas, salsas and salad.

Unless you come through the door with a special craving, studying the menu here can take awhile. That’s where the complimentary chips and dips of avocado and pico de gallo come in handy.

Recently, a friend and I stopped in for dinner after a stressful day in Albuquerque. The hostess greeted us with a smile and seated us at a colorful table (they’re all colorful!) in the dining room. The brightly painted and carved chairs – one of ours had a parrot and the other a big sunflower – lifted our spirits.

We nibbled on the chips, read the menu and relaxed.

In the years I’ve been eating here, I have tried the excellent, fresh ceviche, cold seafood cocktails, always fresh. You can get a chico, a small size that’s still big enough to share, or the ballena, a whale of a starter that’s a meal in itself. I’m partial to the classico which combines fish and shrimp, but you can also have octopus or a combo with all of the above plus oysters and scallops. It still amazes me to find fish fresh enough to eat as ceviche this far from the ocean.

If your timing is right, you also can get fresh oysters on the half shell here.

I love the soup at Mariscos, big bowls of fresh, light tomato broth studded with seafood, carrots, celery and onions. The Vuelve a la Vida, a stew with shrimp, octopus, scallops, clams, calamari and even crab in the shell, is a winner and, so I hear, a great hangover cure.

But tonight, I wanted something simple, a solid, basic, no-frills meal. I opted for Pescado a la Plancha, pan fried tilapia with a touch of garlic served with rice, steak fries and slices of tomato and avocado. It arrived still sizzling, so hot I had to let it sit a minute. The rice soaked up some of the buttery garlic sauce and the meal was delicious from first bite to last.

My dining companion had one of the house specials, La Mariscada Caliente. Although the menu calls it a “mixed grill,” this isn’t your average plate of meat. For starters, it’s seafood: fish, shrimp, scallops and octopus, all coarsely chopped and mixed together to be consumed with a wrapper of soft warm corn tortilla and perhaps a bit of the avocado garnish. Tasty and different, the dish was our waitress’s first recommendation. She steered us well.

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