Anybody else a total foodie? If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you research when visiting a new country is which tasty traditional foods you need to eat while visiting. Costa Rica does not have as much of a distinct food culture as some other Latin American countries, but despite that, there are definitely some must-try items of food in Costa Rica.
Food in Costa Rica tends to be simple. Expect a lot of rice, beans, meats, and vegetables. Although the food is somewhat simple, I like eating here because everything usually feels so fresh and it is easy to find healthy options.
Also, if you are gluten-free, Costa Rica is the perfect place for you. My mom is gluten-free and loves visiting because there are always plenty of options on the menu for her.
Now on to our list of must-try foods in Costa Rica…..
Meals in Costa Rica
Gallo pinto is literally just a mix of rice and beans. It sounds simple, but it is incredibly tasty. Every person and area in the country does gallo pinto a little bit differently.
I’ve been trying to perfect gallo pinto for two years now and I fail every time. Ugh! Because of that, I always feel the need to eat gallo pinto whenever I can. I guess I’m secretly hoping that by eating enough of it I will figure out why mine always fails.
This food is typically eaten for breakfast with eggs, plantains, a piece of cheese, some fruit, and coffee or fruit juice. If you see “desayuno tipico” on a menu, this is the breakfast you need to order to get gallo pinto with eggs. Typically this meal will cost between $5 and $10.
Ceviche is made by soaking uncooked fish in lime juice along with minced onions, cilantro, and minced peppers. It sounds a bit weird, but it actually pretty good and definitely worth a try. Usually, you are served soda crackers on the side. I typically eat it as is but I’ve also seen locals add ketchup and mayonnaise to their ceviche before eating.
Ceviche is not usually big enough to eat as a whole meal, but it is the perfect appetizer or small lunch item.
Just be warned that if you have a shellfish allergy you need to check before you order this. Some are made of purely fish and others include seafood as well.
Chifrijo is the perfect bar food. It is simply a mix of rice, beans, meat and a tomato salsa. Usually, the meat is fried pork meat or pork skins. Tortilla chips are always served with it for dipping.
I suggest getting this as a snack during happy hour with some beers.
I love love tamales and I think you will as well. This is simple comfort food at its finest.
In some countries, tamales are made in corn husks but often in Costa Rica they are made in banana leaves. When you open up the banana leaf there will be a filling of corn meal, chicken or pork, and whatever else the chef chooses. Sometimes there is potato inside. Sometimes you’ll find some rice. No matter what, I’ve never had a bad tamale. The stuffed banana leaves are then boiled in water until the inside ingredients cook.
Just a warning, you do not eat the banana leaf. This is just used to hold the filling inside a little pocket. This may seem obvious to some of you, but we have heard of travelers thinking they are supposed to eat the banana leaf.
We usually buy tamales out our local grocery store as a simple and cheap dinner, but they are also fairly easy to make if you are feeling creative.
This is our go-to appetizer when we have dinner at a traditional restaurant. Patacones are smashed plantains that are then fried into these tasty tortilla type things. They are usually served with salsa and sometimes various other kinds of dip.
The chorreadas in this picture are thicker than most of the correadas you will see in Costa Rica. These are basically unsweet pancakes made of corn flower. Usually, they are topped with Natilla.
This is not a food item you will see at restaurants usually, but rather at any place where street venders are selling food. We sometimes get one as a little breakfast when we go to our local farmers market.
This is definitely Thomas’s favorite meal at restaurants here. Pescado entero literally means “whole fish.” Sometimes it is served fried and sometimes it is baked. If it is served fried the bones usually disinegrate and you can eat them.
A casado is the typical lunch or dinner food here in Costa Rica. You can get one at any soda (the name for small local restaurants). Typically you can expect to pay between $5 and $10 for a huge plate of food. Usually, you will get some type of meat, rice, beans, and some type of vegetable. It’s simple food but it’s filling and ridiulously affordable.
Costa Rican Desserts
Tres Leches Cake
If you like sweet desserts, tres leches is for you. Tres Leches is basically a white sheet cake which is then stabbed with a fork to make holes throughout the whole cake. Condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream are poured onto the cake until they are completely soaked up. It is every lactose intolerant persons worse nightmare. 😉 I find it to be way too sweet, but it is really popular here and I think you should definitely at least try it out. You can find it on the dessert menu of almost every restaurant.
Can you tell I like copos? This is not actually a dessert item but rather a Costa Rican beach treat. If you are on the beach you will definitely see locals pushing a cart around the beach. In the cart is a big block of ice. If you order a copo they will shave off ice for you and put it in a plastic cup. On top of the ice, they will put the syrup of your choice (I recommend strawberry but they have tons of flavors), powdered milk, and then condensed milk.
I know, I know, it sounds rather disgusting, but you’ve got to try it. I find it a bit too sweet for me, but on a hot beach day, it is the perfect treat. Oh, and the best part is they usually cost no more than $2.
Another popular dessert in Costa Rica is using a combination of some of the country’s best tropical fruits in a fresh fruit salad. Some of the fruits typically used are; watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, and banana.
Costa Rica Condiments
Natilla is hard to describe. It’s basically sour cream, but better. It doesn’t have the sourness of sour cream. People in Costa Rica eat natilla on rice and beans among other things. I like to use it to make dips and instead of sour cream with nachos. This is one of those food items that I will miss terribly if I ever leave Costa Rica. I put it on everything!
Lizano is a sauce that people in Costa Rica put in almost everything. I don’t know how to really describe it. It is not spicy. I guess the closest thing I can think of to it is Worcester sauce, but even that is not a good comparison. Try it out on your gallo pinto and let us know what you think!
Also, if you are looking to bring back a nice souvenir for your family and friends, Lizano is a great (and cheap) option. Recently they have had unique Lizano bottles designed by Hola Lola. If you are flying without checking a bag they even sell these bottles at duty-free in the San Jose airport.
Costa Rican Drinks
Costa Rican Coffee
You can’t visit Costa Rica without having some local coffee! We suggest trying some from local coffee shops. We find the little shops you’ll find in various towns always have the best coffee and most unique experiences.
If you want a unique coffee experience we suggest going on a coffee tour. We recently went on the tour at Britt Coffee and really enjoyed it. Plus, they allow you to drink as much sample coffee as you could possibly want.
Coffee also makes a great souvenir item. We suggest buying this at any local grocery store rather than at souvenir shops. The cost tends to be cheaper at grocery stores.
Yes, this pipa fria is ridiculously extra looking. I’m completely OK with my extra-ness because this was no ordinary pipa fria. This was alcoholic pipa fria. Yum!
Pipa fria just means a cold coconut to drink out of. You can find these sold at most beaches by locals. Typically they will cost you no more than a dollar or two.
I like having a pipa fria as a nice treat to cool down on a hot beach day. I always feel extra tropical while drinking one of these on a beautiful Costa Rica beach.
We didn’t include alcoholic drinks on this list because I am making a whole other list of must-try alcoholic drink in Costa Rica. Stay tuned for that!
Our Tips for Food in Costa Rica
– If you want to save some money eating out, we have a whole post on how to eat on a budget here.
– Typically you do not need to make a reservation, but if you would like to eat a higher-end spot, it is best to at least call and ask if you can make a reservation.
– If you rent your car with Adobe through us they will give you a free cell phone to use for your stay. You can use this to make reservations.
– Another thing we love in Costa Rica is all the exotic fruits you can try. We have a full post here about must-try fruits and where you can buy them.
– Most restaurants here do not have websites. Some have Facebook pages, but even then they don’t always include their menu. I find TripAdvisor to be the best place to get a feel for various restaurants.
– There are pharmacies in every town which carry lactose pills, antihistamines etc. but if you know you have a food sensitivity or allergy, we suggest bringing meds you typically use from home. They tend to be more expensive here and you never know if they will actually carry the medicine you need.
– Almost all restaurants in tourist areas have their menu in both English and Spanish.
– This list obviously focuses on just typical Costa Rican foods, but if these items do not appeal to you, don’t worry. Costa Rica has food for all tastes and budgets. There are so many foreigners living in Costa Rica that you will have no problem finding everything from sushi to pizzas.
We hope this guide to traditional food in Costa Rica was helpful! Please let us know if you have any food-related questions in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out. Also, let us know if you had a favorite food item while you were in Costa Rica.
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