PLAYA DOMINICAL, Puntarenas– Like the tides that ebb and flow alongthe Pacific coast, restaurants come and goat Playa Dominical, on the southernPacific coast. Drawn by the surfingaction and the laid-back beach townatmosphere, would-be restauranteursopen a café for a season or two, beforepacking up and heading back to the realworld. But there are three newcomers –one brand new, two tried and true – thatseem to have settled in long-term.HAMMERHEAD’S: The newestkid on the block, this casual, alfresco barand restaurant in the garden of the PlazaPacífica commercial complex looks asthough it has legs. It already seems tohave a loyal local following to keep itgoing when tourists are scarce. OwnersDan and Diana Dore hail from Golden,Colo. where they ran a restaurant for sixyears. Dan can usually be found cookingup a storm in the open kitchen whileDiana keeps customers happy out front.The photocopied menu is sassy andfull of terrible puns. The prices are in U.S.dollars, so it’s no surprise that the menu isvery North American, along the lines ofdiner comfort food, but with some innovativetwists. Hamburgers come “naked”(plain, $2) or “wild” (with sautéed onions,mushrooms and cheese, $3.25). There arespicy chicken wings, hearty hot sandwicheson homemade buns and meal-size salads.The Philly Cheese Steak is made withjulienned strips of steak marinated inherbs and smothered with sautéed mushrooms,onions and peppers and cheese. Itcomes with fries (frozen McCains fromCanada, the only frozen food on the menu)or Fried Squash, chunky zucchinienveloped in a hearty beer batter ($3.25).There are also similarly battered OnionRings.On the healthier side, there’s a heart smartred snapper sandwich ($3). Saladsare big, tasty and fresh, from traditionalCaesar, with optional chicken or fish($3.25) to the restaurant’s most popular, aCobb Salad laden with chicken, bluecheese, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, hardboiledeggs and baby greens ($3.50).The not-too-sweet fruit smoothies areexcellent and there’s a full bar. Saveroom for homemade dessert specials,especially the Brownie Ice CreamSundae made with a dense, fudgy brownie,topped with dulce de leche ice cream,hot fudge, walnuts, whipped cream and acherry on top.The restaurant is at the Plaza Pacíficacenter, on the Costanera Highway, abovetown and is open Wednesday-Sunday, 11a.m.-8 p.m. Call 787-0125 for info.COCONUT SPICE: For the last twoyears, this savory corner of SoutheastAsia has sat atop the Plaza Pacífica, justupstairs from Hammerhead’s. With twinklingfairy lights, exotic wall murals,batik hangings and bamboo details, youforget you are in a shopping center. Themost popular tables are on the romanticbalcony, at eye level with a row of statelypalm trees. Owner Paul Millard, a formerteacher in England, parlayed his eastern travel experiences and love ofAsian food into this elegant, eclecticrestaurant.The menu lists 32 Thai, six vegetarianand 12 Indian dishes. Pappadums make acrispy, spicy complement to a cool beerwhile you peruse the long menu of curries– green, red and yellow (¢4,000-4,500,$9.25-10.40), satays (¢3,900-4,500, $9-10.40), exotic soups (3,700, $8.54), tangysalads (¢3,000-3,800, $6.95-8.75) andspicy noodle or rice dishes (¢3,800-4,000,$8.75-9.35).The hot and sour Tom Yan Goong soupwas as advertised, tart with lemon grass andlime juice enlivened with chilies (¢3,650,$8.45). The revelation was the crunchy,jumbo shrimps swimming in the bowl, aharbinger of the quality of the shrimp thatarrived in a generous plate of prawns inspicy coconut sauce (about ¢5,200, dependingon market price and size of shrimp).Buttery, sweet and spicy all at once, thisdish was the hit of two dinners here.Dishes are beautifully presented withelegant cucumber and carrot garnishes.And, rare for an oriental restaurant, there isa tart, homemade lemon cake for dessert,with or without ice cream.The restaurant is at the Plaza Pacíficacenter, on the highway above town. OpenTuesday-Sunday, 4:30-9:30 p.m. Call 829-8397 for info.FISH LIPS: While other fish restaurantsmay be short on freshness or variety,this one is definitely a keeper on bothcounts. Owner and local fisherman SteveSandusky makes sure there’s plenty offresh mahi-mahi, tuna, snapper and snookon hand to grill, blacken, sauté and smotherin a teryaki or garlic butter sauce.Look on main street for the orangestuccoterrace restaurant with a sign in theshape of a curvaceous, cartoon fish withluscious lips large enough to rivalAngelina Jolie’s. The fish lips theme carriesthrough to the painted restaurant windowand the varnished, sea-green tables,each of which features a painting of a different,sexy, fish waitress. The atmospherehere is always jovial and the servicefriendly, with Steve usually on hand in theevening to welcome you.The blackboard menu lists the catch ofthe day (¢3,800, $8.75), generous filletsprepared in all the above ways, accompaniedby mounds of mashed potatoes or riceand a great blend of fresh vegetables,sautéed in a mild curry sauce. Shrimp are agood bet here too, fried, breaded, grilled orserved with Steve’s special Buffalo-stylehot sauce (¢1,800-5,500, $4.15-12.70). Forsmaller appetites, try the Fried shrimpballs (¢1,200, $2.75) or New Englandchowder (¢1,500, $3.45).The wine list here has a few surprisesfrom South Africa and France, including acrisp Blanc de Blanc that goes well withfish (¢6,000, $13.85). Traditional homemadedesserts have tempting local twists,such as cheesecake topped with a blackberrysauce or vanilla cake covered with acoconut rum topping (¢1,000, $2.31).The restaurant is on the main street,across from the soccer field. Open daily 11a.m.-9:30 p.m. in high season, closedWednesdays. Hours vary during the lowseason. Call 787-0091 for info.