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Food & Dining in Costa Rica
 
 
 

In broad terms, Costa Rican cuisine is easily disparaged and dismissed. Rice and beans are served at nearly every meal, the selection of other dishes is minimal, and Ticos generally don't go for spicy food -- or so the criticism goes. In recent years, though, some contemporary and creative chefs have been trying to educate and enlighten the Costa Rican palate, particularly in San José, and the early results are promising. Still, most visitors to the capital city quickly tire of Tico fare, even in its more chichi incarnations, and start seeking out the many local restaurants serving international cuisines. They are richly rewarded.

San José has a rather amazing variety of restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world, and you'll never pay much even at the best restaurants. In fact, you really have to work at it to spend more than US$ 40 per person for even the most extravagant meal (not including liquor). Most restaurants fall into the moderate price range. Service can be indifferent at many restaurants because the gratuity is already tacked on to the check, and tipping is not common among locals.

Finding a good restaurant is not a problem. In the gastronomic arena, San Jose puts on airs of a big city and savoir faire, rubbing shoulders and rivalling with more cosmopolitan towns. With the development of a solid and always growing tourism industry, restaurants specializing in dishes from all over the world are common including fast food chains, small cozy restaurants, and five fork rooms. Since our coastlines are so close together, seafood is known for its freshness, as they are brought in daily refrigerated, but not frozen. Corvina and shrimp from the Pacific, and lobster from the Caribbean, are served in almost every quality restaurant, although the marisquerías offer the widest variety, the freshest product and the best prices.

San Jose is an important business and commerce district, with lots of hungry employees at lunchtime. To fulfill this need, besides the fast food chains and the picturesque Chinese restaurants, economical refreshment room outlets and sodas are found all over. They offer their patrons from the traditional gallo pinto, which is a dish made out of mixed refried rice and beans with onion, bell pepper, and coriander deliciously seasoned with sour cream or eggs on the side. This is mainly our traditional breakfast, but it is generally served at any hour on these outlets. Another option is the casado which is a very well balanced and complete dish that includes salad, some picadillo or vegetable, plantain, and a selection of meats (chicken, fish, pork, or beef). Every establishment makes it differently but there is no doubt they carry the home made seal. If you are on a tight budget or otherwise want to try something really local, they are a great option.

Places to Dine

San Pedro/Los Yoses

Local and visiting vegetarians swear by the little Restaurante El Vegetariano San Pedro (tel. 224-1163), located 125m (1 1/4 blocks) north of the San Pedro Church. You might also want to check out Sabor y Sueños (tel. 258-2762), an elegant yet bohemian little restaurant in an artistically decorated old mansion tucked away in a quiet residential section of Barrio Escalante. Despite the massive size and popularity of the nearby Il Pomodoro, some prefer Pane E Vino (tel. 280-2869), an excellent pasta-and-pizza joint on the eastern edge of San Pedro.

Finally, if you continue a little farther east to Curridabat, you'll find Matsuri (tel. 280-5522), a simple little restaurant in a somewhat desultory strip mall that just might be the best sushi joint in the city.

Escazu & Santa Ana

These two suburbs on the western side of town have the most vibrant restaurant scene in San José. Although there's high turnover and sudden closings, this remains a good area to check out for a variety of dining experiences. Il Panino (tel. 228-3126) is an upscale sandwich shop and cafe, located in the Centro Comercial El Paco, and Taj Mahal (tel. 228-0980) serves respectable Indian fare about 1km (1/2 mile) farther west on the old road to Santa Ana. Santa Ana Tex Mex (tel. 282-6342) is one of the most popular places on this side of town. Located a half-block north of the main church in Santa Ana, it serves up Tex-Mex cuisine in a lively atmosphere.


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