After a summer meal elsewhere in 2016, a hunt for a cold margarita began in New Brunswick, knowing they had plenty of good Mexican restaurants to choose from. With its ample parking and colorful charm, Costa Chica stood out from anything else. Unfortunately, it was quickly discovered that they serve no alcohol, and the search had to continue elsewhere. Before leaving, the Oaxacan bent of the menu was noted and put on the to do list.
Oaxacan food has a good reputation at home and abroad, home to the famous seven moles, Oaxacan cheese, tlayudas, and of course mezcal. It was worth coming back in December to see what kind of kitchen this place had.
While the big mole-filled tamales might be most eaten in Oaxaca, the tamal de elote ($2, below) sounded good on this day with mole already part of the order later. This sweet corn variety is often eaten for dessert. Here at Costa Chica, it stands alone with a small dollop of crema.
There is possibly no dish more Oaxacan than the tlayuda, which sometimes gets called "Mexican pizza" in English. You may find this folded over, but usually the round, crisp tortilla base is smothered in refried black beans and pork lard before being topped with lettuce, tomato, Oaxacan cheese, and the meat of your choice.
The tlayuda de barbacoa ($9.50, above and below) was sufficiently gamey and delicious. Salsas are sometimes added before presentation, but two bowls are brought to the table for you to make your own choices. In reality, neither were really needed.
You are much more likely to see black beans in Oaxacan cooking than other beans. People in the region cook them in soups and many other ways to eat. Besides the goat on this tlayuda, the beans create the second most distinct taste, and are very good.
Possibly the most disappointing dish of the meal, frustratingly so, was the mole oaxaqueño con pollo ($9.95, below), also known as mole negro and one of the most common of the seven moles of Oaxaca. While it certainly was not disliked, and certainly was finished, it just had little punch to it.
The cecina ranchera ($11.50, below) sat on the exclusive specials list of six dishes, which warranted at least one selection. Besides the thinly sliced steak, a large piece of grilled cactus is joined by avocado and Oaxacan cheese, rice and beans, and a nicely fiery sauce called salsa ranchera.
Of the other five in this section, try the plato marimba ($12.50), a plate of many good looking grilled meats.
During this weekday visit the place was not so busy, but it still has good enough vibes to overcome the lack of alcohol. There is plenty of space to bring a big group, and the festive nature of the decor just screams for a big party.