When you think of traditional Costa Rican food, if you automatically think Rice and Beans you wouldn’t be wrong. And while I certainly ate my share of this Costa Rican staple during our 2 week trek through the country (the scale can unfortunately confirm) you can also find so much more! Join me as I reminisce on my Costa Rican foodie adventures, but make sure to bring a napkin as the pictures will be drool worthy.
Our first destination upon arriving in Costa Rica was Puerto Viejo in Limón Province. This cute little town on the Caribbean side offers as you would guess it, Costa Rican food with a Caribbean flair. What does this mean you may ask? Well the main difference is they tend to utilize the coconut at lot more, this can be seen in their stewed meats, as well as rice and beans. And you will find they use a bit more spice than the rest of the country. Much to my dismay, Costa Ricans do not tend to like spicy food, so any time I could find some heat there were no complaints from me!
If you travel to Puerto Viejo you absolutely cannot miss Lidia’s Place. Serving up Caribbean fare since 1996, you can and should enjoy all the vibes in this cute and casual eatery. If you follow my food blog, Hungry Hungry Hoppy on Instagram then you already know my obsession with Stewed Chicken. Though the more you eat it, the more you will find every country has their own take on this simple dish. Regardless of the subtle variations, I seem to always love what I have been served. When I saw that Lidia’s had Pollo en Salsa Caribena de Lidia on the menu I was sold. The dish was served with Salad, Rice and Beans, Patacones, and of course succulent, flavorful Stewed Chicken. The chicken was tender and the sauce was an explosion of flavor. When paired with their homemade hot sauce (not as spicy as I would have liked) I was in heaven. Furthermore, my friend ordered Langosta and they have the tank in clear view allowing you to pick the size of your lobster. They leave absolutely no doubt in your mind regarding the freshness or quality of ingredients. One thing to note; they do not have a full bar but do offer wine, so you still have a limited option if you want an alcoholic beverage with you meal. I also suggest trying out their Con Frutas Naturales (fresh fruit juice) as I had a Soursop and Ginger juice that was fantastic!
Another spot for casual but phenomenal eats was Mopri Restaurante. Though to be clear, the term restaurant is used rather loosely, but I will be damned if this wasn’t a great experience. This is exactly what I imagine dining in the outskirts of Costa Rica would be and I loved every moment of it. There is no front door to this restaurant so people can come and go as they please, but rest assured the establishment is covered though, which not only were we grateful for as it was raining heavily during the 4 hours we were there, but given the amount of rain Costa Rica gets annually it is necessary. Another foodie favorite I have discovered through my Caribbean travels is my love for a whole fried Caribbean Red Snapper. I counted up how many times I have this now and I think it was a number around 15…you can almost consider me something of a connoisseur. Again, when I saw this as an option on the menu I stopped looking at what else they had to offer. Served with Salad and Patacones (you will start to notice a trend) this fish, was quite possibly the freshest whole fish I had my entire trip. I swear they just pulled him from the ocean a few hours earlier. Paired with….many Imperial (light lagers) and the first night in Costa Rica was a tasty one. As I mentioned before it rained quite heavily, but fresh delicious fish, somewhat cold beer, and essentially just enjoying being on vacation time made this one of my favorite meals. I cannot suggest going here enough, not only for ridiculously fresh seafood but for the whole experience of it all.
From here we traveled up to Monteverde, aptly called The Cloud Forest, as the high elevation puts the region in the clouds. The town of Santa Elena is small but beautiful, and though we only spent one day here, it left us longing for more. Here at San Lucas Treetop Dining Experiences, we had one if not THE most memorable and unique dining experiences I think I have had ever in my entire life. A 7 course tasting menu with optional wine pairings, that takes you through an interactive adventure while paying homage to the various aspects of Costa Rican life and culture. Have any dietary restrictions? Not only do they offer vegan and vegetarian options, but they were able to alter the menu for my friend to accommodate her a gluten intolerance as well. I think I forgot to mention the best part, all of this is done in your own private tree top glass cube which offers 360 views of the rainforest and town! If you are looking for a splurge meal during your Costa Rican trip San Lucas IS IT. From start to finish this is a once in a lifetime, personalized experience that you will remembering for years to come. But as space is limited; I think they only have 4 or 5 cubes, make sure to make your reservations well in advance because they will fill up. We did not capitalize on the earlier reservations, and though our experience was still absolutely amazing; we did miss out on getting to view the sunset over the town which would have been stunning! Make your reservations immediately and get the earlier dinner reservation!
One of the greatest attributes to embrace while traveling is the ability to be open and adaptable to new and unexpected experiences as often times they will lead you to some of the best memories. During one of the longest transportation shuttle trips between destinations, our driver suggested stopping for lunch at his favorite Soda he makes sure to go too whenever he is in the area. A Soda, we came to learn, started thanks to the truck drivers that would often stop at peoples houses during their long commutes throughout the country, and offer money in exchange for whatever food the people had on hand. Much like a trucker in the United States would stop at diner or fast food restaurant. It became so popular that people that lived along busy routes would make extra of whatever food they were cooking that day, and offer it to people passing by. Some Soda’s became so popular they turned more into a restaurant and started having a fixed menu, but the traditional way is usually whatever is on hand is the food of the day. Soda West, which was our drivers favorite, had gotten big enough to become a fixture, and I can see why. The food is simple and delicious and an affordable way for people to something tasty along their route. We followed our drivers recommendation and ordered the Stewed Beef, served with Rice and Beans, and again this meal was one of my favorite experiences. The beef is stewed until tender and the sauce it is swimming in was bursting with flavor! Though I can’t even tell you where this Soda is located I can tell you there are thousands more around the country that I would bet have equally as delicious home cooking. So as you travel around take your pick and immerse yourself in an exceptionally authentic Costa Rican experience. It doesn’t have to all be fine dining, or highly rated TripAdvisor reviews to find yourself a worthy meal, so remember to be open to new suggestions as they come!
If you find yourself in the chill little surf town of Santa Teresa then you will want to visit The Bakery which is THE place to get your morning coffee or brunch on. The vibe was so chill and the pastries and coffee were so good that we found ourselves enjoying breakfast their most mornings. Now one thing you will notice about Santa Teresa is that besides the super cute laid back vibe, it could be the Costa Rica destination for Eat Pray Love, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But be prepared to be surrounded by adventurous, free spirited individuals that are just living out their dream of surfing and hanging out in the jungle, maybe I’m a little jealous if we’re being honest. That being said The Bakery is always packed so prepare to possibly have a bit of a wait, use that to embrace the Pure Vida life and do some people watching, read a book, or just bask in the sun on their back patio. Either way you won’t regret starting your mornings at The Bakery Santa Teresa.
I am all about Instagramable spots but at the same time love a good authentic hole in the wall where the locals eat, good thing the capital of San Jose has no shortage of both! One of the best experiences in San Jose was walking around Mercado Central and browsing the local vendors but also drooling over the local eats. There is a lot to choose from so don’t make the mistake we did eating something on the way and make sure to come hungry! We saw people lined up at Soda Tala #1 grabbing these luscious little tortillas with quest wrapped in Banana leaves to go so we decided we had to stop in and slip one to see what all the hype is about. They call it a tortilla, but its definitely not what you would consider a tortilla in America, or Mexico for the matter. This delicious little treat is a thick masa mixed with cheese and then grilled and served in a Banana leaf with Mayo on the side. While we opted to skip the Mayo it was rich and tasty on its own and we were certainly glad we decided to share one as we already arrived to the market full. I can see why people were eating this before heading to work because the combination of carbs and fat are sure to keep them satiated and full of energy throughout the day. As we continued to wander we came across Soda San Cristobal, which was offering a delicious beef and vegetable stew, Olla de Carne, and couldn’t pass up this meat and broth that had been simmering for hours. The broth is served separate from a heaping plate of meat and vegetables, and you add them yourself to your liking. Honestly this meal was massive and we felt terrible because we each ordered our own when we clearly should have shared. The flavors of the broth were so hearty and rich, paired with the tender meat, this is one that will fill you right up, and leave you reaching to unbutton those jeans…Luckily I was wearing a dress. Honestly if I could do it all over again I would make sure to come hungry; starving actually and spend a good half a day just eating my way through the Market, and I recommend you plan to do the same!
And of course on the other end of the spectrum you can go from local, cheap eats to Bougie (by Costa Rican standards) hip brunch spot at Franco. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no shade here I loved every minute of my brunch from the dazzlingly Purple Butterfly Pea Mimosas, to my fully loaded Breakfast sandwich with Avocado. However if you are looking for traditional this isn’t it, and that’s totally ok. You can also get lattes with milk foam art, as well as freshly baked pastries, which of course I could not pass up. The best part while you dine on these dishes is the tree lined courtyard that blocks out that hot Costa Rican sun and gives the perfect atmosphere to get those brunch selfies. The menu will be fairly similar to any trendy brunch spot in any big city, and I have no problem with that; these places are trendy for a reason, but remember if you go to a business liKe Franco, make sure you balance that out by also visiting a local restaurant to ensure you are getting the full experience and immersing yourself fully into the culinary adventure. It is after all about balance in travel, and life itself.
Stay tuned for our next post coming soon, and let us know in the comments what you would like to see more of!
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