La Costa evokes spirit of Mexican coastline

When my fearless editor said “the Business Report is going to publish a section on Cheyenne” and told me to go scout a restaurant up north of the

state line, I came to a screeching halt.

My visits to the city of Cheyenne can be counted on one hand with the assistance of perhaps a couple of toes. I know that the birthplace and current

headquarters of Taco John’s (makers of the best fast food on the planet) are in Cheyenne, and that’s about it.

So, one sunny Saturday afternoon, armed only with a roadmap, a moderately full wallet and empty stomachs, my fiancee and I made the roughly

hour-long drive north to the land of the indefatigable wind.

It was actually quite an enjoyable drive, highlighted by the spotting of some pronghorn antelope along the way.

Arriving in Cheyenne, we stopped to get some gas, and I looked through the yellow pages to see if my eyes would, by some miracle of providence,

be directed to a restaurant that would provide us with some enjoyable sustenance.

As you can probably guess, I saw a few places that served steak. Like about 237 of them. We just were not in the mood for slab o’beef on the first

genuinely hot weekend afternoon of the year, so we searched for other fare.

I asked the station attendant to name some of his favorite dining spots. He was a genuine and friendly high school-aged kid, but he was definitely a

product of his environment. He named about 212 of the previously alluded to steak houses before I interjected that I was interested in something other

than beef. He looked at me as though I was asking for a drink of anti-freeze.

After scratching his head, he mentioned that there was a pretty good Mexican restaurant down the street. “But”, he warned, “they always play that

stupid Spanish music there.”

I wondered if the proprietor was a big fan of Catalan love ballads or something. Well, good enough for us.

We went to La Costa at 317 E. Lincoln Way and found a cheerfully decorated dining room with peppy Mariachi music wafting out of the speakers.

The walls are painted bright purples and greens, and there are corrugated metal room dividers and coastal murals.

Those of you that remember any of your Espa­ol 101 no doubt know that La Costa means “The Coast.” The restaurant is heavy on the Mexican

Riviera look, so I asked one of the owners (Ramon Gonzales) about how the restaurant came to be.

He told me that the recipes came from his mother and grandmother. They both hail from the southern coast of Mexico. When they started La Costa,

they wanted to capture the spirit of the Mexican Pacific. They did a bang-up job, in our opinions.

There are a jungle of phony plants, but for the most part, the interior is unique and warm. One highlight is a wonderful reproduction of the Cholula

hot sauce label. Cholula is God’s own condiment, so a painting featuring the label is not in any way excessive or odd.

The mandatory pre-meal appearance of chips and salsa was nearly cause for dancing in the streets. We were offered two wonderful, fresh sauces (one

hot and one mild), some homemade mashed pinto beans and warm, crisp chips. If you are going to serve chips and salsa, this is the way it should be

done. Call your local congressperson.

The menu is a refreshing break from the frustrating cookie-cutter stuff served by most gringo friendly Mexican places. Yes, you can still get a tostada

or burrito, but there are some exciting dishes that most of the white-bread style restaurants would be terrified to put on their menus.

Seafood, naturally, figures heavily in the meals. We tried a sauteed shrimp and mushroom dish served with warm flour tortillas and a plate of tacos

made with pork carnitas and pico de gallo.

I consider myself an expert in the art of carnitas, and these were exceptional. The plate of shrimp featured roughly a trawler full of large camarones in

a spicy sauce with mushrooms and chiles. It was buttery and delicious.

I know truly hot, really spicy food isn’t for everyone, but those of us who do like it have a terribly hard time finding it. It’s worth remembering where

we find it when we do.

Obviously, not everything is hot here, but the choice is available. Yahoo.

There are two La Costa restaurants. (The other is up north in Casper.) The Casper location opened in September 1994, and the Cheyenne store opened

in August of last year. The restaurants are open seven days a week.

Ramon said the stores are equally busy at lunch and dinner and that he is getting a big crowd of Cheyenne regulars. They may be looking for a change

from steak.

Or maybe they just like the “Spanish music.”