Does anybody else pick which restaurants you want to go to before anything else when organizing a trip? Food-related experiences are very important to me and I must say, Costa Rica restaurants do not disappoint.
You will have plenty of opportunities to try traditional Costa Rican dishes and when you get tired of that there are plenty of ethnic restaurants throughout the country as well. There are also plenty of options for budget eating or fine dining. Basically, Costa Rica is a restaurant paradise. However, there are a few things you should know before choosing restaurants for your trip.
Best Restaurants by Area
It’s hard to say the absolute best restaurants per area of the country because there are just so many delicious options. However, we do have a section on restaurants per area in each of our destination guides. These restaurant choices are divided up by price point. That means you should have no problem finding the perfect place that reflects your budget.
However, if you are a foodie. I can give you some suggestions for our favorite areas in the country for food….
Tamarindo: Tamarindo has every kind of food you could possibly want. Plus, there are plenty of beachfront restaurants with great views. If you are into fish or seafood, this is a great spot to get some fresh fish.
Santa Teresa: I wish I could eat in Santa Teresa every day. There is a wide variety of restaurants and I always just feel healthy here. It’s easy to find very clean meals which are delicious. My personal favorite is raw tuna, which you can get almost everywhere here.
If you need some advice, get the rare sliced yellowfin tuna appetizer at Banana Beach Club as a light lunch. That with a glass of their white sangria is something I dream about on a regular basis.
San Gerardo de Dota: San Gerardo is a tiny little town in a cloud forest near San Jose. However, they have some of the best restaurants and service in the country. Thomas mentioned that he heard someone from the US with fine dining restaurant experience moved to San Gerardo and trained all the restaurants. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it could be true.
Anyway, San Gerardo is all about trout. Smoked trout dip, trout ceviche, whole trout, trout sandwiches etc.
Although these are my favorite restaurant spots, you will have very little trouble finding delicious food anywhere you go in Costa Rica.
Food You Should Try
We have a full guide on all the traditional Costa Rican cuisines that we suggest you try. However, two things that are a must while in Costa Rica are Costa Rican breakfast and a casado.
Casado is the name for lunch or dinner which consists of some type of meat, a vegetable, rice, beans, and usually some fried plantain. The picture above is a delicious casado I had in Montezuma at Soda Tipica las Palmeras.
Breakfast in Costa Rica is also delicious. Typically you will receive Gallo Pinto, which is a delicious mix of rice and beans that is considered the national dish. Along with that, you will get eggs, fried plantains, a piece of bread, fruit juice and coffee.
The breakfast pictured above was from a restaurant on the Caribbean coast. The traditional breakfast there is a bit different than what you will get on the Pacific. On the Caribbean they use different spices in their Gallo Pinto and this breakfast was served with an arepa type bread instead of normal bread.
One thing I absolutely love about breakfast in Costa Rica is the fruit juices. Typically your waiter will list the fruits of the day that you can choose from. They will then ask if you want your drink “en leche (milk)” or “en agua (water)”.
I always opt to have my fruit blended in water (which is more like ice) but if you want more of a fruity milk shake go for the milk. It’s delicious! Nothing beats a fresh fruit juice on a hot day.
Traditional Restaurants vs. Foreign
Although there are tons of traditional Costa Rican restaurants you won’t have any trouble finding ethnic foods from all over the world.
Cheap Eats vs. High End
There are restaurants for all budgets in Costa Rica. We definitely suggest you try at least one cheap eat though. You can typically find the best traditional Costa Rican food at small restaurants that don’t look like much from the outside.
If looking for fine dining experiences, check the resorts in the area you are staying in. Most of them have very nice restaurants which welcome outside guests.
Also, don’t forget to check our destination guides for restaurant advice. We have restaurants listed for each area for all budgets.
Our Costa Rica Restaurant Advice
– It is not necessary to tip at Costa Rica restaurants because a 10% service charge is added to your bill. However, we still leave a tip. It is somewhat expected in touristy towns and servers don’t make much money. I know they appreciate the bonus.
– Often it is not necessary to make a reservation for a restaurant in Costa Rica. However, if you are traveling during a really busy season (around Christmas, early January, Easter weeks) it might be best to make a reservation.
You can ask at your hotel. They are typically more than willing to call and make a dinner reservation for you at the restaurant of your choice. Or, you can always stop by the restaurant earlier in the day to make a reservation or call.
– If you are on the Pacific coast, try to get an early dinner so you can enjoy the sunset view while eating. There are plenty of beachfront restaurants throughout the country which are perfect for this.
We also love sunset dinners in Manuel Antonio from up above the town on the hills. Just keep in mind that the mosquitos come out in full force once the sun goes down, so definitely bring bug spray with you.
– We have never gotten sick from the food in Costa Rica, but we are also pretty careful about where we eat. I definitely suggest not eating meat from street vendors if possible. You don’t know how long things have been sitting out and your stomach might be a bit more sensitive than locals’ stomachs are.
– Ask at your hotel for some restaurant tips. Specify what you are looking for or just ask where they would eat in town. You can usually find excellent places this way.
– You can drink the tap water in most places in Costa Rica, but in smaller more remote towns it is best to get bottled water. Keep this in mind when ordering water at a restaurant or when getting ice in drinks.
Again, we have never had any issues in Costa Rica, but once in Nicaragua Thomas got ice in a cocktail and was sick for two days after. It’s always best to be a bit cautious with this.
– During the rainy season, you might find that a lot of restaurants are closed. On the Pacific coast, this typically occurs in October and November. There is often not enough business to be worth staying open during those months. Anyway, just keep this in mind when planning out your restaurant choices.
– In Costa Rica, it is up to you to ask for the bill. Your server will not just bring the bill out to you at the end of the meal. Also, after they drop they bill off the servers sometimes make themselves scarce, you will likely have to call them over to pay and get change.
– Service in Costa Rica is not always what you are probably used to. The mindset in Costa Rica seems to be more that they want you to enjoy your meal and don’t want to disturb you. This means that often if you need a new drink or something you will have to flag your server over to your table. They won’t frequently come and check on how the meal is going.
– A restaurant experience that we love in Costa Rica is beach bars. It is so nice to enjoy a tasty cocktail and bar food with beautiful ocean views. We have a full guide to our favorite beach bars to help you out.
– If you like beer, there are plenty of excellent craft breweries throughout the country. We have a full guide to our favorite breweries including a self-guided brewery tour you can do in the Barrio Escalante neighborhood of San Jose.
– We created a guide to useful Spanish phrases that will help while traveling in Costa Rica. There is a section on restaurant words and phrases. Definitely check this out before traveling.
In most larger restaurants in touristy areas, you will have no problem communicating with the restaurant staff in English. However, in smaller areas, the staff may only speak Spanish.
– Usually, the menu will have all options listed in Spanish and in English. However, if you have a Spanish menu that you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask for an English menu. Most places have one.
If that fails, use the free Google Translate app. There is a camera feature on here which will allow you to scan a document with your phone’s camera. It will then instantly translate the text into the language you need.
If you have any questions about Costa Rica restaurants, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. we are always happy to help you out. Plus, there is nothing I enjoy more than suggesting restaurants! Also, if you have eaten anywhere in Costa Rica that you absolutely loved, we would love to hear about it!
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