In the surf town of Tamarindo, the unpaved roads are filled with bronzed gringos biking or walking with surfboards. No one is over the age of thirty-five. A wandering group of mid-lifers from Arkansas seem lost and out of place. More unusual in this sleepy, dusty town is Koi Restaurant & Sushi Lounge.
This modern restaurant and discothèque with black marble floors and neon lighting seems more appropriate in Las Vegas than here, where hostels are abundant and shirts and shoes are not.
Invited by the owners while strolling (and incidentally thinking about sushi) on the beach, I was pleased at my good fortune and wondered if I could show up in a bikini and salt-rinsed hair. Hard to say, as this is the most upscale place in town, yet Koi sports the tico attitude—casual, laid-back, friendly.
On the menu are stuffed mushrooms, surf ‘n’ turf, and chicken skewers. Those are for philistines. This is a sushi lounge with a sushi chef hailing from Tokyo, so you have to get the sushi.
Start with a spicy, bold tuna roll ($7) filled with fresh, ruby red ahi tuna that is cooled by crisp cucumbers and creamy avocado.
Don’t like raw fish? Then the Lomito Roll ($10, pictured above) is the perfect gateway roll. Like a Vietnamese rice crepe, juicy slices of cooked tenderloin and carrots are wrapped in soft, paper-thin sheets of rice noodles, topped with aromatic, dark, balsamic pesto.
Like lots of raw fish? Get three kinds with the Crunchy Lite ($10), filled with ahi tuna, salmon, and white tuna, along with buttery avocado and spicy ponzu. Colorful and complex all by itself, it really shines when dipped into the soy sauce-vinegar provided.
The Pura Vida Roll ($10) with tuna poky and avocado is a great concept, but lacked la vida, despite a crown of sweet plantains.
Be sure to visit on Sundays, when Koi offers 2-for-1 sake bottles, and $4 sake bombs. Or take advantage of Mondays and Thursdays when it’s all-you-can-eat. And take your time. In here, it’s tico time.
Koi Restaurant & Sushi Lounge
100 meters north of Hotel Diria
Coniguo a Iguana Surf, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Mary was born and raised in New York City where her family owned restaurants. Instead of eating dirt on the playground, she ate duck blood, beef tripe and pork belly. She cut her teeth at The Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton hotels, working with Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams, Michael Stipe, LeVar Burton, Jane Krakowski and others. Mary founded Girl Meets Food in 2009 as a cover for her debilitating addiction to fried chicken and was named Washington Post’s “Favorite Local Foodie.” After 13 years in hospitality, she started freelance writing for USA Today, The Washington Post, Eater, Washington City Paper, and more. Today, she provides digital marketing for hospitality clients as a content creator who’s contently creating content.