Prices for dining out in Costa Rica
You'll find food for every price in Costa Rica. There's the family-owned corner restaurant that sells hot, fresh empanadas stuffed with chicken, beef, cheese or pork rind for just $.75, then there's the fresh-caught lobster, whole-fried red snapper, grass-fed tenderloin and succulent slices of tuna sashimi among Costa Rica's fresh and delicious fare, but either way you've got to pay. Here's a look at the dent in your wallet you'll have from eating out in Costa Rica.
For the real thing, the authentic salt of the earth Costa Rican food, you've got to visit the sodas. These are the little family-owned restaurants and diners that dot the countryside and city alike. They are the vestibules of Costa Rican culture that persist in a country that has embraced Subway, Taco Bell and McDonalds. Not only is the food delicious at sodas, it's the most affordable food you'll find in the country. The prices tend to fall between $4 and $7 for dishes like casado (a choice of meat, rice, beans, salad and fried plantains) and arroz con pollo (chicken fried rice). There is a correlation between how close you are to a tourist destination and how much the food costs, so if you're in the heart of Manuel Antonio it's going to cost more than at a little soda in downtown San Jose.
Casual dining $6-$15
Casual dining restaurants include everything from Italian to Asian, tex-mex to seafood and most of Costa Rica's restaurants fall into this category; no matter where you are in the country. You'll find that the appetizers vary from place to place but in general cost between $4 and $7. The average price for an entree in the country is probably $12 while dessert is usually about $4.
Formal dining $12-$60
Every city has its formal dining restaurants; you'll know them for their white tables, imported USDA steaks and fresh-caught lobster. It's always worth it to splurge on at least one of these while you're on vacation, but make sure to do your research. There are many fantastic restaurants in the country, but not all of them are worth their reputation. Checking out a few reviews online is the first line of defense, but for the best advice, ask the locals. They'll point you in the right direction.
In general, hotels tend to serve over-priced meals relative to nearby restaurants and the food they do serve tends to be of a lesser quality. Most hotel menus tend to include a little bit of everything, but don't specialize in anything, so you're likely to find chicken, fish, pork and beef entrees, pastas, soups, salads and the pervasive casado (though considerably more expensive and bland than you'd find at a soda). Our recommendation is to check the menu at your hotel then scout out restaurants in the area before deciding where to dine in.
Again, the closer you get to a tourism destination the more the drinks cost. Take for instance Costa Rica's most popular alcoholic beverage, beer, if you're in a local suburb or away from the tourist center an Imperial or a Pilsen will cost $1, but if you're at hotel or a bar popular with tourists you're more likely to pay $3 to $4 for the same drink. On average, you'll find cocktails for $6 and most bars in the country offer the same happy hour special, two-for-one cocktails. If you are at a nightclub in Escazu, San Jose or another upscale location, you can expect to pay $10 to $12 for a cocktail.