90% of Costa Rican restaurants have menus that are 90% the same (I just made that up but it might be true) so the menu below will give you a pretty good idea what it’s like eating in Costa Rica.
Arroz con __________
Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) is the most common but you’ll also find camarones (shrimp), pulpo (octopus), mariscos (seafood), vegetales or verduras (vegetables), and carne (beef).
Casado con ____________
Casado literally means “married man” and describes what men in traditional marriages eat (when their wife cooks as opposed to bachelors eating a sandwich over the sink).
A multi-course meal on a single plate with rice, beans, ensalada russo or repollo (a cousin of cole slaw that usually includes grated carrots and cabbage in mayo or lime juice dressing) and a fill in the _______ meat – chicken, fish, beef or pork chop are most common.
__________ a la Plancha
Fill in the ________ with a meat that has been cooked “a la plancha.” It translates as grilled, but the interpretation of what grilled means is pretty loose in Costa Rica. More often than not it involves a frying pan rather than a nice wood, charcoal or even gas grill.
“A la parrilla” and “grillado” also translate as grilled and offer a slightly better chance that what you order will be cooked on a grill rather than a flat top or frying pan.
When something is called “frito” (fried) it usually means deep fried. Fried chicken is very common.
The verb freir technically means pan fry or saute it’s nearly never used that way.
____________ a la Leña
or horno de leña means baked or roasted in a wood oven. Usually for pizza or chicken but occasionally other meats.
Pretty obviously a hamburger but not always predictable what might be in it.
Occasionally we’ve had hamburgers with the beef patty replaced by or supplemented with slices of lunch meat style ham for a literal “ham” burger. Some of the toppings are uniquely Costa Rican as well – pickled red beetroot slices, pineapple and fried eggs are a few of our favorites…and of course accompanied by Papas Fritas – French fries
Bebidas (Drinks) Batidos, Refrescos or Naturales
Ubiquitous fruit in a blender drinks that simply have to be tried. Check out Cas, Maracuya or Tamarindo for a typical Tico taste treat.
Most restaurants will also have beer and many a choice of white or red wine (usually only one variety from Chile – its the cheapest). Most sodas do not have liquor licenses.
A few other menu items common enough to mention
Ensalada Palmito – heart of palm salad
Sopa Negra – black bean soup
Bistek (beef steak), Carne (mystery cut of beef), Filet (Filet Mignon), Lomito (Filet Mignon)
Corvina con Ajo – Sea bass fried with garlic
Pollo Frito – fried chicken
Pechuga de Pollo – chicken breast
Muslo de Pollo – chicken thigh
Imitation is the Sincerest form of Flattery
As we mentioned at the top, originality isn’t a benchmark of typical or even the best restaurant and soda menus. If something works you’ll probably see it on every menu in town and we’ve watched as one particularly successful recipe swept (very slowly) across the country.