The Budget Epicureans Review: La Costa Mexican Restaurant

Jeremy Smyczek | Staff Writer

Each week, the Budget Epicureans visit a local restaurant or take-out, searching for quality and value. Bonus points are awarded for healthy eating options.

In a perfect world, La Costa Mexican Restaurant would trade places with South College Road’s El Cerro Grande. That way La Costa, which is delicious, would be within walking distance to UNCW, and El Cerro Grande would be exiled to the urban sprawl of Market Street.

But there are benefits to the imperfect world. La Costa’s obscurity compared to its party-zone competition allows one to get a relaxed meal with attentive service, instead of people blocking the aisles who are there to see karaoke, like at El Cerro Grande.

La Costa’s menu features the usual Mexican standards such as tacos, fajitas and enchiladas, usually driven by some sort of meat or seafood, although egg and vegetarian options are available. The bottomless freshly cooked chips and pico de gallo salsa see to it that no one leaves hungry.

What set La Costa apart though, are little dashes of authenticity not available elsewhere in town. A delicious horchata, a sweet rice milk drink, or frosty can of Tecate beer substitute for the usual soda. Coctel del camaron, plump shrimp served cold in a cilantro-spiced cocktail sauce, replaces the chicken wings and mozzarella sticks that have come to occupy less interesting Mexican menus.

Among the soups, the smoky sopa de tortilla with chicken and freshly melted mozzarella in a dark, rich chicken broth, is a star. It is rather heavy, so ask for an extra spoon and share with a friend.

The entrées allow a good deal of flexibility, including an a la carte option that lets customers build their own plates. The seafood enchiladas with shrimp, scallops and fish, were balanced, fork-tender and nice, if smothered in a bit too much cheese. Spinach enchiladas with mushroom and onion in a tomatillo sauce and a chicken with sweet and spicy poblano mole were all satisfying.

Ultimately, the main difference between La Costa and its local rivals is a commitment to fresh food. Nothing tastes obviously canned, microwaved or rehydrated. The emphasis is less on the novelty of Mexican food than simply giving people a good dining experience.

And that shows, right down to the complementary sweet cinnamon crisps brought out with the bill. It’s characteristic of the service at La Costa, which is briskly paced and friendly, with servers who can both help narrow the many menu choices and who will patiently humor gringos using the staff to practice their Spanish skills.

La Costa has additional locations on Oleander and in the Porters Neck area of Market Street.

Cuisine: Mexican

Price range: $8-$16

Address: 3617 Market St.

Wilmington, NC 28403

Contact: (910) 772-9000 or

Store hours:

Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.