Monumental. Photo by Tenaya Hills
Monumental. Photo by Tenaya Hills

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Costa Azul is Orange County's latest Argentine joint, a small building on the outskirts of Old Towne Orange decorated with its mother country's flag and a couple of albiceleste soccer jerseys. But Mexican food dominates the menu—best-of-the-beaner dishes including chicken enchiladas smeared with a scorching red salsa and a great mixed-seafood soup.

They're remnants of the restaurant's former life as a Mexican seafood shop. The smaller Argentine selection is delicious as well— offering various pastas, breaded meats and crispy, cheesy empanadas that make a great lunchtime snack.

But everything at Costa Azul—including the sweet, chocolate-dipped alfajor shortbread cookies—is secondary to its terrifying, glistening asado. Americans have the 96-ounce steak, Brazilians feast on all-you-can-eat barbecues, and Vietnamese like to eat from boxes filled with one pound of pork covered in honey. No one-person dish is as bulky as Argentina's asado: a spread of unadulterated, glorious cow parts bountiful enough to feed USC's offensive line but constituting just a snack for the Argentine stomach. Costa Azul offers the following five beef cuts together for a ridiculous $11.50:

MORCILLA: Blood sausage, a dish that provokes grimaces of disgust from almost everyone to whom I mention it; almost everyone is a fool. Morcilla is one of the world's great sausages, and Costa Azul's take will surprise your senses with its lush, rich flavor and velvety texture. Eating it is a bit weird—slice through the sausage casing, then squeeze out a gentle mush speckled with potato and pine nuts. But get over it, cabrón.

MOLLEJA: Sweetbreads, another unappreciated meat cut in the United States, perhaps because they're from the thymus or pancreas. But they've got a reputation for sweetness that grants them an esteemed place in high-dining kitchens. Costa Azul doesn't need to spruce up its sweetbreads, trusting that the knobby, pale chunks that taste like crisped butter will satisfy eaters enough. They do.

COSTILLA: Ribs. Costa Azul offers one long, fatty chunk: grilled and sweet, medium-rare on the inside but with a lightly charred top.

STEAK: Steak. Good steak. Big steak.

ITALIAN SAUSAGE: Not available the night I visited Costa Azul. Damn.

No extra spices, sauces or sides adorn any of these cuts in Costa Azul's asado—just pure, monumental beef. Yes, eating the asado will play havoc with your digestive tract, and it's probably better to share some of the meat with your eating buddies. But live a little: one bite of the morcilla, molleja, costilla or steak will inspire you to weather the best bellyache since your co-worker brought in his mom's Christmas tamales.

COSTA AZUL, 121 N. LEMON ST., ORANGE, (714) 628-0633.


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