If you can't make it down to Mexico or South America for spring break, just head a few miles North, to Pura Vida. After a couple of hours in the sunny dining room, with its orange and yellow sponge-painted walls, potted plants, turquoise-tinted glass block windows and Spanish music playing in the background, it takes a minute to snap back to reality when the winter air greets you on your way out the door.

This little oasis is a four-month-old BYOB owned by Guatemala native Charles Alvarez. His cuisine can be described as pan-Latin, featuring Guatemalan specialties, traditional Mexican fare, Cuban sandwiches and some dishes with Caribbean accents. There are many diverse choices represented on the list of aperitivos. We decided to forgo the traditional chips and salsa or guacamole, and sampled the pupusitas ($5) instead. The little chewy corn triangles are topped with cheese and surrounded a generous bowl of curtido, sweet pickled cabbage the deep purple color of beets. It's tasty spooned on top of the pupusitas, and forked up on its own when they are long gone. The ginger chicken soup ($5) is a snappy riff on soothing chicken soup with rice. The portion of chicken was generous, and even the grains of rice left at the bottom of the bowl were infused with the aromatic flavors of ginger and cilantro.

You could take your meal in many different directions for the next course, and choices are difficult. Tacos, quesadillas and burritos seem to offer every filling imaginable -- vegetarian, chicken, steak, Mexican sausage, roast pork, shredded beef, shrimp, or fish. The indecisive will enjoy the mixed tacos -- you only have to narrow your choices down to three. Any of the above choices can also be served as a platter, with rice, beans, salad and tortillas. My dining companion opted for the shredded beef ($9.50), which she likened to a Latin version of "Mama Halpern's brisket."

The Savor Caribe entree ($12) is ideal for lovers of seafood. Two crispy grilled tilapia filets and a generous helping of tequila shrimp are presented on a huge wooden platter, along with more of that irresistible curtido, shredded green cabbage, grilled vegetables and a small cup filled with spicy mango. All this food is actually meant for one person, not a family of four. The mango married perfectly with the fresh fish, and the shrimp were extremely flavorful with a smoky hint of the grill, but we still ended up taking half the platter home.

If there's any room left, end this little vacation with the fried bananas and ice cream. As the words Pura Vida flash in tiny neon lights on one wall, it's hard to leave this mantra behind and return to real Vida.


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