Maxi’s Caribbean Restaurant In Santa Ana

Maxi's MenuYes, Maxi’s is now in Santa Ana, in an old converted home that had previously housed the Italian restaurant Casa 97. This is the real deal, folks. Ricky Barthley and his wife, who opened the original Maxi’s some 20 years ago, have moved to the city and brought their famous Caribbean cuisine with them.

On a recent weeknight visit, the place was pretty crowded and festive, with heavy wood furniture, painted in the bright colors of the Jamaican flag, filling several rooms and covered outdoor patio spaces. The menu was Maxi’s traditional menu, with classic Rice ‘n Beans coming served with your choice of chicken, fish, shrimp, steak, pork or lobster, alongside a whole host of other options.

Plantain AppetizerThere’s always Ron Don on the menu, as well as seafood pasta and shrimp in coconut sauce over pasta. The mixed seafood platter, or mariscada is also a longstanding favorite.

I’ll admit it, right off the bat, I have a soft spot for Maxi’s. I first ate at Maxi’s over 17 years ago, when Manzanillo was a forgotten little village at the far end of a rugged dirt road.  And I’ve eaten there regularly over the years. This isn’t fine dining, but it is authentic Costa Rican Caribbean cooking.

Red Snapper Rice 'n BeansWe were served a complimentary appetizer of little bite-sized bowls made of plantain filled with a few different fillings—including guacamole, garbanzos, chorizo and refried beans. All were quite good.

My whole red snapper was on the small size (it’s all they had available, and was priced by weight), but wonderful. Maria Jose’s chicken in peanut sauce was a bit bland, and the sauce itself too thick and lacking in finesse. Fabrizio’s fried chicken did the trick, and the patacones were large, thin and crisp, just the way we like them.

RickyAnother plus, while Maxi’s down in Manzanillo had become a bit of a victim of its own success—too crowded, too loud, sometimes lax service—Ricky and crew are working hard to make a name for themselves in a new spot and are very on top of things.

They don’t have a liquor license yet, but you can bring your own, with no corkage fee.

Longtime fans of Maxi’s in Manzanillo will notice the lack of Barcelona futbol memorabilia, although I was assured it was on its way. I was also assured that the original restaurant was going strong under the care of some relatives.

Maxi’s is located about 350 meters south of Broadway Beauty, which itself is just a few hundred meters outside of downtown Santa Ana on the Old Road to Escazu.

Rave #1: La Pecora Nera

Sunset BargeIn more than 20 years of traveling and eating my way around Costa Rica, no restaurant has so consistently knocked my socks off as La Pecora Nera in Playa Cocles. If I had just one meal left in Costa Rica, I’d haul ass to the Caribbean coast as fast as I could. Ilario Gionnoni is a whirlwind in and out of the kitchen. I almost never order off the menu, opting instead to ask Ilario what he recommends. There are always nightly specials, most built around ingredients from his little garden, chicken coops and the fresh local catch. The breads are fresh-baked and delicious. The gnocchi achieves a combination of texture and flavor that mesmerizes. He’ll take pork fat from a pig he himself has slaughtered and then press it between cedar planks leaving it to cure for three days. I once had a plate of fresh ravioli in a ragu de gallina, with Ilario explaining how after stewing long enough, the wattles and comb dissolve, adding texture, depth and distinction to the sauce. One night, a fairly standard shrimp cocktail appetizer came with large steamed shrimp arranged around the edge of a martini glass, only the slightly spicy dipping sauce was made out of beets. Another night, between oohs and ahhs of delight, I started up a conversation with the table next to me, and it turns out one of the guys there was a sous-chef for Jean-George Vongerichten. He’d eaten at La Pecora Nera five nights in a row. “This guys a genius,” he says.