Ninety percent of Costa Rican restaurants have menus that are 90% the same. Okay, so I didn’t actually do the research and get hard statistics. I just made that up, but it seems true.
Unless you’re in an Italian, Chinese or Peruvian restaurant (and possibly even if you are) odds are very good that you’ll be choosing from some variation of the following when you sit down to lunch or dinner.
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) 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 slices of lunch meat style ham for a literal “ham” burger. Some of the toppings are uniquely Costa Rican as well – pickled red beet 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.
There are a few others that aren’t quite ubiquitous but common enough to mention
Ensalada Palmito – heart of palm salad
Sopa Negra – black bean soup
Chicken Gordon Blue – a miss-transcription of Chicken Cordon Bleu that has somehow propagated across the country. The recipe misses out a bit in translation too but usually consists of a chicken breast, some sort of cheese and a slice of lunch meat.
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