The last time I dined at Mariscos F. Magiy, a bulldog wandered out of the back room and growled at me while I was eating. "It's OK," the waiter assured me, yelling angrily in Spanish at the dog to get back in the kitchen. As soon as the guy left, the dog came right back, at my table, growling at me louder than before.
Last year, F. Magiy changed owners, but it was a turnkey sale—the unassuming blue-and-white building looks exactly the same. Still leery, it took me eight months to give it another try. I'm pleased to report that under the new name, La Jaiba, it's changed for the better.
At La Jaiba, flower vases on each table are filled with sprigs of cilantro, for diners to nip off as a condiment. Service is quick and friendly. And the fillette à la diabla ($13) is a dish to be reckoned with, comprised of two whole fish, filleted, fried and smothered in a rich, heavy sauce. Though not as punishing as other diablo sauces in town (I'm looking at you, Las Palmas), it packs a unique punch and arrives with cucumber slices to calm the fire. Beans, rice, lettuce and avocado fill the plate, while six heated corn tortillas are more than plentiful. The rest of the menu skews cheaper, with tacos, burritos, seafood cocktail and soup in the $2–$10 range; seafood is the specialty.
While I ate, a nearby party finished dinner and unpacked their accordion, bass and guitar, and started spontaneously rehearsing songs in the corner of the restaurant. It probably goes without saying, but I'll take that kind of ambiance over a growling bulldog any day.
La Jaiba, 1099 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. 707.595.1462.