Eating local in La Fortuna
Sodas are the family-owned restaurants at the heart of every Costa Rican city and town. Similar to American diners from the 50s, Sodas are small local restaurants that serve up traditional Costa Rican food like marinated beef, fried chicken, and caramelized plantains served with a healthy portion of rice and beans. The name 'soda' is actually deceptively simple and comes from the soft drinks that the restaurants serve with meals.
Soda Hormiga is a classic example. A lunch counter wraps around the kitchen of the open air restaurant, surrounded by tables, covered with linen and decorated with all the accoutrements for Costa Rican fare; Salsa Lizano, hot sauce, salt and pepper.
Serving traditional food for a good price, Hormiga's just around the corner from La Fortuna bus station. From locals pulling up a stool at the lunch counter to hungry backpackers looking for a place to stretch their legs and taste the local cuisine, the restaurant brings in all types.
The place is ordinarily packed at lunchtime and it's easy to understand why. Soda Hormiga charges just $4 dollars for a plate of casado -- Costa Rica's hearty and ubiquitous fare.
Notes on Casado
Casado, meaning 'married' in Spanish, is named for the combination sides served together. Starting with a choice of meat (beef, pork, chicken or fish), casado comes with rice, beans and a small shredded cabbage salad dressed with lemandarin fruit (a hybrid between lemon and mandarin). It also comes with an extra side that can be anything from a picadillo (ground beef mixed with diced squash/vegetables, and chopped onions, red bell pepper), to mashed potatoes, french fries or broccoli.
Tips on Ordering
The way to order food in Costa Rica is to say 'Regalame' which literally means to 'give me for free' but is the accepted term. Afterwards state the dish you want; for example "Regalame Casado con pollo," and don't forget to add a polite 'por favor' at the end.