Costa Rica’s Best Cheap Eats
With local dishes steeped in tradition, fabulous produce, and access to fresh seafood everywhere you go, the food in Costa Rica is downright delicious. Here are my top picks for the best cheap eats in the land of pura vida; I’ve narrowed it to foods commonly found at your local farmers’ market, roadside stand, or mom-and-pop cafe.
Agua de Pipa (Coconut water)
Though technically more of a drink than an eat, this Costa Rican staple is worth trying. Young green coconuts, known locally as pipas, can be bought at roadside stands throughout the country. With two hacks of a machete, vendors will cut the top off, stick a straw through the soft flesh, and serve up one of the country’s most refreshing and healthy drinks – all for less than $1.
Very popular in coastal towns, this light dish is now a common appetizer on menus countrywide. Choose from fish (usually sea bass), shrimp or octopus—complemented by cilantro, red onions and the tang of fresh lime juice. A hearty serving comes with crackers or tortilla chips and costs around $2.50.
The ultimate in bar food, chifrijo is a savory combination of rice, beans, salsa and deep fried pork rinds served with yucca and lime. Not the healthiest of snacks, but combined with a frosty mug of Imperial, the flavor can’t be beat. Chifrijo is a cheap eat at around $3 in most restaurants and bars.
Have a sweet tooth? Try a hot corn pancake fresh off the griddle topped with a dollop of sour cream. Traditionally made with nothing but ground sweet corn, a chorreada is pure comfort food. This corny delight costs around $1 and you’ll find them at farmers’ markets and typical restaurants everywhere.
Dive into deep fried goodness with an empanada, the perfect snack when you’re on the go. Choose from savory or sweet fillings: lightly spiced potatoes, beans, cheese and meat are delicious, while luscious pineapple empanadas make for a tasty dessert. At less than a $1 each, these fried turnovers won’t break the bank.
Sold on Costa Rican streets from dawn until dusk, fresh mangos, avocadoes, pineapples and other seasonal treats can be had for around $1 or less a pound. For a quick bite, try green mango slices with salt and lime – this popular combo is typically sold for $0.50 along the roadside. Visit your local farmers’ market for seasonal varieties (rambutan, peach palm fruit, etc.) and year-round favorites at bargain prices.
You can order Costa Rica’s national dish any time of day. A mixture of white rice, black beans, onion, cilantro, bell peppers and a dash of Lizano sauce, gallo pinto is as filling as it is delicious. Get fueled up on this protein-rich meal for around $2 at any cafe or restaurant. If you’re on the Caribbean coast, note that locals use red beans and rich coconut milk in their version.
Pan de Elote (Sweet cornbread)
Sold in bakeries and small cafes, this slightly sweet cornbread has an agreeably moist and spongy texture. An enormous slice, often fresh out of the oven, costs just $.70.