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Culinary options
Where to eat while traveling in Costa Rica

sodas | bars | grocery stores | tipico | ethnic | hotels | fast food

The typical cuisine (tipico) of Costa Rica is strongly influenced by the agricultural tradition and hearty meals like ojo de carne (a sort of vegetable beef soup), verduras (vegetable soup with plantains and yucca), tamales (pork, black bean or potato stuffing in corn meal, then steamed in a banana leaf wrapper) sopa negro (black bean soup with a chicken broth base and hard boiled eggs), gallo pinto (beans and rice), arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), chicken baked with ginger, and ensalada palmito (hearts of palm with tomato or cucumber) are just a few of our favorites. At home the meals are accompanied by fresh corn tortillas, black beans, refrescos (fresh fruit juice), rice, homemade bread, cabbage and carrot salad, tropical fruit, pejibajes (steamed palm fruits with mayonnaise) and of course the best coffee in the world.

While many of these dishes can be found in sodas or restaurants that cater to tourists, they often disappoint when compared to the homemade versions. A couple of notable exceptions are gallo pinto, sopa negro, and palmito salad which are often quite good in the small sodas. If you are ever invited into someone's home for a meal, graciously accept. Otherwise check out the options below.

Grocery stores: When traveling in the United States or Europe it is possible to save considerable amounts of money by buying groceries and building sandwiches etc. While an occasional picnic is nice in Costa Rica, you will save some, but not a lot of money buying groceries. If you are on a tight budget and want to eat cheap, the sodas are your best bet. The operators often grow their own produce, and buy chicken and other staples direct from the producers. Often their markup for a finished meal is less than the supermarkets markup for the ingredients.

Sodas: Ubiquitous in Costa Rica, sodas are usually a combination of a family run restaurant, and a convenience store that sometimes doubles as a bar or disco after the sun goes down. Prices for a full meal including a beverage generally range from US$3 to about US$6 and the quality can be quite variable.

Bars and Bocas: Bocas or boquitas are a Costa Rican tradition. They are small to medium sized snacks that used to be complimentary when you purchased a drink. There are still free bocas at a few out of the way bars frequented by regulars, but for the most part you have to pay a little for a boca. Some bars have two prices listed for drinks one with, and one without (sin) a boca. Usually you are limited to one boca per drink. This is because the $US 0.15 to 0.50 that you pay for a typical boca is still quite a good deal. Some of the best food we had outside of Tico homes was bocas. Much of the standard Soda fare can be had as bocas, but there are usually other spicier, more exotic choices on a good menu that we have never seen anywhere else. Bocas are more reminiscent of north central Mexican cuisine than tipico food. If you are lucky and the bocas are large (or drink a lot), you can make an excellent meal out of them. Please don't eat the huevos de tortuga (turtle eggs, eaten raw, sometimes with a little red pepper).

Tipico: These restaurants are sort of upscale sodas that usually print their menu in Spanish and English and advertise "Typical Costa Rican Dishes Served." Their fare is similar to sodas, but usually with larger, less oily portions, and sometimes a special or two.

Imported/ethnic: There are a lot of expatriates in Costa Rica, especially from Europe, Canada and the United States. Don't be surprised to find excellent French bread, pastries and crepes, Texas style BBQ or Italian pizza and pasta in the most unlikely locations. We've found these imports to be excellent, although generally considerably more expensive than Tico restaurants. One exception to the rule that ethnic food is usually authentic is found in the Chinese restaurants. Although we did find a few good Chinese restaurants, we found many more that were disappointing. Much of the Asian population in Costa Rica has been there for many generations and their culinary roots have withered.

Resort/hotel: These restaurants have menus and prices are what you would find in Hawaii, Mexico, the Spanish Costa del Sol, the French Riviera, Fiji, Tahiti, Barbados etc. The dishes offered express a strong influence from the ready availability of excellent fresh seafood, an amazing array of fruits, and some of the traditions of Costa Rican Cuisine.

Fast food: Besides the Sodas which can be considered sort of freelance fast food, there is the usual assortment of megafranchise fast food including but certainly not limited to, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky fried chicken. The prices and fare are approximately the same as they are anywhere else in the world.


sodas | bars | grocery stores | tipico | ethnic | hotels | fast food






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