Costa RicaCosta Rica

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  - Costa Rica

Tour of Foods

Tour of Foods

Costa Rican food is savory and balanced, combining fresh ingredients in mouthwatering dishes you’ll never forget. Traditional foods include rice and beans and tangy marinated meats, while fusion favorites branch out to Peruvian, Argentinean and Japanese-influenced fare. Tropical fruits and vegetables accompany almost every meal. In general, Costa Rican food is not spicy.

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Costa Rican sodas are small, family-run restaurants that offer big portions at tiny prices. For $3-$4, try a casado, which usually combines your choice of meat (chicken, beef, pork or fish) with white rice, beans, fried plantains, a salad, and a natural fruit drink. Restaurants are more expensive and offer a more formal setting, and their prices reflect the upscale fare and ambiance. Plenty of delectable moments await you in Costa Rica. Prepare yourself with our guide to must-try foods, and you’ll go home with happy tastebuds.

Bocas & Appetizers

Costa Rica’s finger food is a world of its own, producing delicious tidbits like chicharrones (deep-fried pork), fried yucca, patacones (green plantain patties), gallos (minced delights served on a corn tortilla), and chifrijo, a seven-layer-salad cousin that mixes tortilla chips, rice, beans, chicharrones and salsa. Also look for ceviche (lime-marinated raw fish or seafood) and hearts of palm salad. In general, bocas are usually offered at bars, while entradas are appetizers served in a more formal setting.

Caribbean Inspiration

Costa Rica’s Caribbean province of Limon is home to many Jamaican immigrants and features its own unique cuisine. In the southern Caribbean towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, you’ll find many coconut-infused dishes including rondon – fish and seafood cooked in a coconut sauce, and “rice and beans” (the name is in English), a dish made with red beans and rice and heavily marinated in coconut milk. Street foods include scrumptious meat kabobs and spicy jerk chicken.

Crazy for Corn

Costa Ricans love sweet corn – there’s even a festival devoted to the grain – and you’ll find several corn-based specialties for sale throughout the year. Chorreadas are thin, corn pancakes served in almost every restaurant; ask for natilla, the Costa Rican version of sour cream, with yours. For a bit of deep-fried goodness, dig into an empanada (turnover), which is made with finely-ground cornmeal, then stuffed with cheese, potatoes or meat, and finally deep fried to golden perfection. Pan de maiz is another treat, and is a thick, sweet pudding made with fresh corn kernels and baked in the oven. Give these corny delights a chance; they’re all so good, you’ll want seconds of each.

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

Costa Rica’s fruits and vegetables are a rainbow of color, taste and scent. Every town has a feria, or farmer’s market, that offers familiar favorites – strawberries, mangoes, papaya, watermelon, tomatoes, and peppers – and exotic goodies such as rambutan (a cousin of the lychee, akin to a tropical grape with a red-spiked outer shell), cas (Costa Rican guava), peach palm fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen (an antioxidant-rich fruit with sweet, white, pulpy sections), jocote (a fleshy, sweet fruit with a pit), and passion fruit. Street stands usually offer a small selection of tropical fruits and vegetables, and are great way to supplement your meals. For a quick snack, try a bag of green/unripe mango with slices of lime – the sweet-and-sour combination is one of the area’s most characteristic flavors.

Gallo Pinto

Costa Rica’s unofficial national dish, gallo pinto, or speckled rooster, owes its name to its black-and-white patchwork pattern. White rice and black beans combine with onion, cilantro, bell peppers and a special sauce to create a mild dish usually eaten at breakfast, though you can order it any time of day.

Sweet Tooth

On a hot day, there’s nothing better than a granizado or copo, similar to a snow cone. These tropical treats are made of hand-shaved ice and flavored syrup – copos are jazzed up with one or two milks (powdered and/or condensed), while granizados are often topped with ice cream. Most central parks around Costa Rica have at least one copo or granizado vendor, and many have several who compete with friendly smiles and old-fashioned bells that may remind you of the ice cream man. For an indulgent dessert, dig into a slice of tres leches, a moist cake made with three milks – condensed, evaporated, and heavy cream –  topped with whipped cream.

Queso Palmito and Toronja Rellena

In the misty mountains of San Ramon, two fresh delicacies await: queso palmito and toronja rellena. Queso palmito, or palmito cheese, is made fresh from cow’s milk, pulled and spun to create a delicate, lightly-flavored cheese reminiscent of mozzarella. For dessert, try the toronja rellena, a candied grapefruit stuffed with a Costa Rican candy made of condensed milk.

Restaurants & Fusion Cuisine

Costa Rica is a melting pot of many cultures, and restaurant fare echoes its multi-cultural heritage. In San Jose and many tourist areas, you’ll find Peruvian, Italian, Argentinean and Asian-influenced cuisines. If you love surf and turf, head to a Peruvian restaurant, which offers seafood and meat dishes spiced mildly (but always with super spicy sauce on the side!). Argentinean steakhouses serve authentic churrasco, a thick, tender steak grilled just the way you like it. Throughout Costa Rica, you’ll find Italian expats who haven’t forgotten how to cook – prepare yourself for the best brick-oven pizza this side of Sicily. Finally, Costa Rica’s Asian restaurants offer delicious Korean, Thai and Japanese cuisine. If you’re a sushi fan, try the Tico roll – its sweet and savory combination of sweet plantain, sea bass ceviche and avocado are a delicious departure from the norm.


Tamales are Costa Rica’s official Christmas food, though you’ll probably find them at street vendors and in stores throughout the year. Very different from their Mexican cousins of the same name, Costa Rican tamales usually combine pork, vegetables and a whole host of secret ingredients – each family has its own special recipe – packed on cornmeal patties, which are then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. In December and January, you’ll find tamales almost everywhere throughout the country; don’t be afraid to spice one up with hot chile sauce or melted cheese drizzled over top.

Totally Tico

Costa Rican, or Tico, comfort foods combine the best of local ingredients to create delightful dishes that warm both the heart and soul. Olla de carne is a delicious stew made from lean beef, corn on the cob, potatoes, yucca, carrots, green plantains and squash, usually served home-style from a large pot. Arroz con pollo, or chicken with rice, is another family favorite, generally cooked in a rice cooker or on the stovetop – the delectable dish combines white rice, shredded chicken, carrots, celery, sweet corn, and achiote, an inexpensive saffron alternative. As a side dish to many meals, Costa Ricans are fond of picadillos – healthy combinations of minced and spiced vegetables sometimes enhanced with ground beef – whose main ingredients are often squash, potatoes, or green plantain.

Vegetarian Delicacies

Costa Rican food is naturally vegetarian-friendly. Fresh fruits, vegetables, as well as beans and rice are always on the table – but veggie options branch out into soy-based dishes and other alternatives such as all-veggie sushi, gourmet salads, and cheesy empanadas. Vishnu Restaurant, with locations throughout the Central Valley, is the country’s most famous vegetarian option, offering everything from soy burgers to fruit-and-cheese plates. Their fruit smoothies are a treat – choose to make yours with water, milk or low-fat yogurt.

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