Dining Out in Costa Rica
With its fresh seafood from both coasts and a variety of tropical produce, Costa Rica is home to a good number of excellent restaurants.
The country’s local cuisine is simple, balanced and nutritious, with most dishes using rice and beans as staples. Costa Rica’s national dish is gallo pinto, which translates to “spotted rooster.” It consists of rice and beans mixed with onion, garlic, red pepper and tangy Lizano sauce. It is most often served for breakfast alongside eggs, cheese, sour cream, sausage, and tortillas. You can find gallo pinto at your local soda (mom-and-pop restaurant) or at most hotels or resorts.
The most popular lunch is a casado, often made of rice, beans, meat or fish, salad, and picadillo (vegetable stew). Other popular dishes include arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), olla de carne (an aromatic beef stew with vegetables), and chifrijo (fried pork mixed with beans). The Caribbean coast offers a cuisine distinct from the rest of the country, featuring dishes such as rice and beans stewed in coconut milk with thyme and Panamanian chiles, patacones (deep fried plantains), and rondón (seafood stew cooked in coconut cream).
Costa Rica is also home to a large expat population and many international restaurants, particularly in the Central Valley and popular tourist destinations. This country can satisfy your cravings, whether you are looking for some fresh sushi on the beach, authentic Cantonese food in San José’s Chinatown, or Middle Eastern cuisine on the outskirts of San José.
What follows is a list of some of our favorite restaurants.
La Pecora Nera
Situated in Playa Cocles on the Carribean coast is the Italian restaurant, Pecora Nera. Specializing in Abruzzese cuisine, the open-air restaurant’s romantic atmosphere is the perfect way to wind down after a day at a beach. La Pecora Nera offers a variety of wood-fired pizzas, pastas and main dishes. You might want to try their fresh-caught snapper paired with an Italian red wine.
Grano de Oro
The converted tropical Victorian mansion of Grano de Oro is downtown San José’s premier boutique hotel. Its restaurant offers one of the best fine-dining experiences in the country, with an exceptional wine list that has received international recognition. The lunch and dinner menu features a good selection of pastas and main courses, often with a tropical twist, such as the roasted pork tenderloin in tamarind sauce.
La Esquina de Buenos Aires
Located in downtown San José, La Esquina de Buenos Aires is one of many great Argentinian restaurants in the Central Valley. Famous for its imported steaks, fresh pastas, homemade empanadas, and extensive Malbec selection, the restaurant’s bustling atmosphere will make you feel as if you were in Argentina’s capital. La Esquina gets busy so make sure to reserve your table a day in advance.
The Mediterranean fusion restaurant Seasons is one of the most popular in the bustling surf town of Tamarindo in northern Costa Rica. The menu features a variety of fresh seafood dishes, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. The seared yellow-fin tuna and risotto with basil, leeks, mushrooms and parmesan are popular choices.
This Asian-inspired tapas restaurant is on the main road of Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. Owned and operated by French-trained chef Anne Hegne, this open-air restaurant is tucked into the tropical dry forest canopy, providing the perfect environment for an exquisite meal after a day at the beach. Ginger uses locally-sourced ingredients fused with Southeast Asian and Indian flavors. Some of our favorite tapas are the tuna poke salad, Asian-Cajun seafood boil, and lettuce wraps with mango-tamarind pork.
Located on Jacó’s main strip is the Green Room, an artisan restaurant that specializes in fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. This pet-friendly restaurant is a two-minute walk from the beach and offers a wide selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. The laid-back vibes of this popular hub make it a great place to get a bit of work done while sipping on a handcrafted cocktail or local brew. Try their casados with fresh-caught tuna or mahi mahi accompanied with a frozen ginger lemonade.
Across the street from the Green Room is Caliche’s Wishbone. A favorite among surfers, this open-air restaurant offers an impressive selection of fresh seafood and wood-fired pizzas. We like the fresh tuna poke bowl with Caliche’s famous secret sauce paired with a passion fruit margarita.
Tucked into a shopping center in the canton of Moravia in San José is the Lebanese restaurant Phoenicia. Its executive lunch menu, offered every Tuesday through Friday, is one of the best deals in the Central Valley. For less than $10, you can get a main dish, soup, drink and dessert. The restaurant also features belly dancing every Friday. We enjoy the grape leaves, falafel, and lamb shawarma.
The Falafel Bar in Manuel Antonio offers some of the tastiest Middle Eastern. The restaurant features shawarma, falafel, schnitzel, and kebab sandwiches and platters that you can top with a fresh salad bar. Their refreshing mango and ginger smoothies are a refreshing conclusion to a day at the national park. Don’t forget to grab a bottle of homemade tahini before you leave.
Bread and Chocolate
This outdoor spot in downtown Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is popular for its breakfasts, lunches, and fresh baked goods. The menu features a mix of U.S-style dishes with a Caribbean twist. You might try the crispy sautéed potatoes with homemade jerk BBQ sauce along with some orange carrot beet juice. On your way out, take home a few chocolate goodies that are locally sourced from the restaurant’s farm about 20 miles south of town.
Panpaneira Pizza Garden & Café
Located in the Sabanilla neighborhood of San José is the little known pizza joint of Panpaneira. The restaurant uses quality ingredients and artisanal sourdough for some of the best pizzas in the country. Try the Rachelle pizza with arugula, capicola, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh herbs with a side of the restaurant’s signature spicy honey.
Across the street from Arenas Skate Park in downtown San José is Coconut, which features authentic Cantonese dishes. The restaurant was ranked as one of the five best Chinese restaurants restaurants in San José by La Nación newspaper. And for good reason. A good bet is the roasted pork and jasmine rice wrapped in a lettuce leaf.