With a giant wagon (think Oregon Trail) and a few barrels parked on an outdoor patio, Cocula Restaurant is hard to miss. This Mexican family restaurant combines delicious platters, cheap prices and a fun setting.
Come with a group and dine in the front room with a panoramic view of a bustling Pulaski Avenue. Here, you'll sit on hide-covered wicker chairs with cacti, spurs and guitars etched on the seats. The chairs network with rusty-brown floors and squash-colored brick arches. Seagulls soar through swirling clouds in a replicated sky painted on the ceiling. You'll share this front-room space with a number of parties: a Greek family of ten that visits Cocula five times a year from the suburbs, a 13th-birthday celebration and the six mariachi band members who dine before bursting into song throughout the restaurant. Everyone sticks around laughing and storytelling as their meals settle.
Bring a date and dine in a booth away from the raucous crowd. Surprise your sweetheart with a rose you've purchased from a peddler who interrupts your meal with a sales pitch. Smaller parties also may opt for dining in a booth; televisions positioned throughout the room ensure they won't miss a minute of the soccer match.
Friendly service goes hand-in-hand with colorful dishes. Try the carne oaxaquena ($12.95): sliced skirt steak, bacon, melted Mexican cheese, bell peppers, tomato and onions served with rice, beans and salad. The restaurant also features an extensive seafood selection. Dive into a plate of raw oysters in shell ($8.95-$12.75) or a fried red snapper smothered in veracruzana sauce. No Mexican feast is complete without a drink; beers start at $3.50, cocktails average out at $5.50 and $18.95 gets you a pitcher of strawberry margaritas.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez