The restaurant, located on the top floor of an office building, doesn’t look pretty on the approach. But when you hit that top step, the room opens, and as the beautiful blue Pacific waters and beaches of Manuel Antonio spread out before you,accompanied by a side of tropical breeze, you understand why the restaurant is called Café Agua Azul.
The menu features an eclectic mix of high-end beachside food at reasonable prices. Dishes range from the famous “big ass burger” (¢4,750/$8.60) to calamari (¢4,500/$8.20) and the “tuna margarita” (¢4,200/$7.60), a beautiful seared-tuna cocktail served in a margarita glass. Exotic original delicacies such as Asian skewers (¢6,550/$12) and coconut-crusted mahimahi (¢8,500/$15) fill out the menu.
“We’ve got world cuisine,” said Robert Summers, Agua Azul owner and chef. “I’ve got a little flair … We’ve got Mexican, American, Thai. I’ve done all the three- and four-star stuff. This is five-star food with a laid-back, pura vida attitude.”
Summers finds the single biggest benefit in Manuel Antonio is the freshness of the ingredients. He said he was getting the same local fish, several days later, from an international company that worked out of nearby port town of Quepos. Now, he has cut out the middleman and lots of transport time.
“I use the little man, keep the family guy in business,” Summers said. “It’s all fresh. It’s all good. You can’t go wrong.”
To keep things interesting, Summers prepares different specials on a daily basis and really lets his culinary creativity flow through these dishes.
“We do specials every night,” Summers said. “They’re a little higher up (in price and quality). I’ve been cooking since I was 15. Like 20 years.”
Originally from the U.S. city of Elizabethton, Tennessee, Summers studied the cooking arts in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
He’s a little bit of a wild man, balanced out by his wife and restaurant co-owner, Paige Evans, from Lamar, South Carolina.
Summers and Evans came to Costa Rica on their honeymoon in 2004. By all accounts, they had a blast. Six months later, Summers was approached by a friend about a property overlooking the beach in Manuel Antonio.
He was on the next flight.
“We got together, came here,” Summers said. “Came back six months later and bought this place. We gutted it all out. They had a George Foreman grill. I was like, ‘I’m going to put a real kitchen in here.’ We actually got it before my wife even saw it.”
“When we came on our honeymoon, we weren’t even looking,” Evans said. “It was a huge leap of faith. We didn’t know Spanish. We didn’t know the culture. But we thought, ‘Why not?’ It’s been an extended honeymoon, pretty much.”
In addition to the delicious food, the restaurant has become a local hangout and nighttime hot spot. The giant margaritas would put a walrus to sleep, and the owners create a fun and loose atmosphere from the top down.
“A lot of people come here and hang out,” Summers said. “You can find locals here at any time of the day. It’s a hub. Crazy people attract crazy people. There are a lot of them down here. Over the last few years, it’s just gotten busier and busier.”
While Agua Azul may be a stomping ground for U.S. expats, tourists and Ticos also frequent the bar’s friendly confines.
“We meet wonderful people from all over the world,” Evans said. “A lot of the people who live here come here all the time. People make friends here, too. It’s nice.”
In addition to your bar buddies, feel free to arrive with your furry friends in tow.
“As long as your dog is friendly, we’re dog-friendly,” Summers deadpanned.
So Rover is welcome, but leave the monkey at home. Three years ago, when the restaurant was in its baby phase, local monkey troops came crashing in and wreaked havoc.
It took a creative approach to tame the screeching hordes, but now the restaurant is happily monkey-free and settled in.
The culture shock is over, and Café Agua Azul has become a contributing member to the Manuel Antonio culture and nightlife.
Café Agua Azul is near the top of the hill on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It’s open every day except Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For information, call 2777-5280.