Costa Rican Food

food collage

What is typical food like in Costa Rica?  One of my friend’s from the States was asking me this the other day, and I’d been wanting to do a post on this for some time.  Rice and beans are plentiful here and used in a lot of dishes.  Though we do not dine out frequently, here are some of our favorite things we order when we do go out.

For breakfast, Gallo Pinto con Natilla (rice and beans with a side of natilla).  Natilla is similar to sour cream, but not as thick and not as sour tasting.   I love this for breakfast:

gallo pinto

And this is Greg’s favorite breakfast – Gallo Pinto con Carne (rice and beans with beef in a sauce):

gallo with meat

Side note:  Greg always adds salsa picante (hot sauce) to almost everything he orders (be it breakfast, lunch or dinner). This is a typical hot sauce found here, Lizano brand, flavor is “Tabasco” (per Greg, this is “much thicker and less vinegar-y” than the real Tabasco brand found in the States):

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This is the normal Lizano sauce – found everywhere in Costa Rica (and every table of every restaurant). Good flavor and used on just about everything.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 6.12.58 AMClick here to try Lizano

And you can’t go wrong with fresh fruit.  Shown here is watermelon, pineapple (soooo delicious here!), oranges, banana and papaya:

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Patacónes are a delicious appetizer made from plantain.  Unripe (green) plantains are peeled, sliced, and then fried.  Shown here, they are served with guacamole, beans and “pico de gallo” type tomato salsa:

patacones

Picture courtesy of mytanfeet.com

Chifrijo is a dish commonly found in bars, sodas (small cafes) and restaurants.  You can usually order a small size as an appetizer, or a larger size for a meal.  It is a combination of the following, layered in a bowl: rice, beans, chicharrones (fried pork rinds – similar to pieces of rib meat – one of Greg’s favorite things), a “pico de gallo” type tomato salad and lime juice.  Usually served with tortilla chips and maybe a slice of avocado.

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A very typical meal offered here in almost any soda or restaurant is the casado.  “Casado” literally means marriage, and in this case means a marriage of foods.  There is usually a choice of medium or large sizes, and you pick the meat (chicken, beef or fish).  This picture shown is the medium size (believe it or not) with chicken, rice, beans, avocado and a potato/vegetable mixture.  The potato/vegetable mixture will vary – sometimes you’ll get french fries or tortilla chips, and some casados come with a fried egg on top.  When you’re hungry – order a casado, it will never fail to fill you up!

casado

My favorite thing to order for lunch is arroz con pollo – which is a flavorful rice with vegetables and shredded chicken breast (similar to a fried rice).  You will usually have a choice of chicken, shrimp or vegetables.  This one came with tortilla chips and a side salad:

arroz

You can readily find fajitas de pollo (chicken fajitas) here; however – they are not the same as in the States.  Here, they are typically fried, and are more like chicken fingers, and usually come with a side of papas fritas (french fries) and a dipping sauce:

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Now lets get to the drinks.  You heard that Costa Rica produces coffee, right?  Well it turns out that most of the really good coffee is exported.  That being said, we have still found some pretty good coffee here.

This cup of joe is from Soda La Perla (one of our favorite little sodas for breakfast).  This is café con leche (coffee with milk), made at an espresso machine with steamed milk.  I swear this tastes better than a Starbucks latte…

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For coffee at home, we love 1820 Coffee.

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Click here to try 1820

And sometimes for a special treat, Britt:

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 6.25.42 AMClick here to try Britt

This is a batido, which is a blended drink made with fresh fruit (they usually have a variety of 5 or 6 fruits to choose from), and with either water and ice (con agua) or milk and ice (con leche).  To me, it is like drinking a refreshing smoothie.  This one is banana and mango with milk:

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This one is strawberry with water and ice:

en agua con fresa bebida

Imperial is the national beer here (although, get this – you can buy it for LESS in the States than in Costa Rica…  not sure what is up with that).  I don’t usually drink beer, and Greg says Imperial is just “ok” – he’s more of a pale ale/IPA/craft beer type of guy.  However, he does enjoy having an Imperial (or 2) when we dine out.  Tip:  it is usually served in a glass with ice, as most of the bottled beer is not kept ice cold – and Greg has learned to enjoy his this way (con hielo – pronounced “yellow” means “with ice”).

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Coca (coke) and Coca Light (similar to diet Coke, but different) are readily available, usually served in a glass bottle with a glass of ice:

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If you are in Costa Rica, you should try a michelada – this comes in an ice cold glass with a salted rim, served with lime juice and ice.  The beer comes separately in a bottle, and you pour it over the ice/lime juice.  It’s refreshing, and Greg loves it. To me, it tastes more like a margarita then a beer, so bring it on. 

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At home, Greg and I usually drink red and white boxed wine with dinner.  The boxes come in 1 liter size, and the wine is actually quite good, at about $4-5 a box, it fits with our budget nicely.  Check out our Battle of the Boxes White Wine Review and Red Wine Review.

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This is a rum made in Nicaragua which is pretty good (per Greg), he’ll sometimes order a ron y coca (rum & coke):

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And for dessert?  Honestly, we hardly ever order dessert when we dine out (I prefer to make homemade at home).  However, flan is a very typical dessert here, similar to the Latin American variety – a baked sweet custard with caramel sauce on top.  Both Greg & I don’t really care for flan, but we ordered this one (coconut flan) – just so I could get this picture for you.  It was actually pretty good:  

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Oh, a couple of tips before I go.  Condiments (catsup, mayonnaise, etc.) are almost always served in these little “to go” packets.  This restaurant kindly offers a scissors to open them with.  I say kindly, because trust me, it is difficult to open them.

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Secondly, napkins are usually on the table in these very small pop-up dispensers (I usually go through like 20 of them at every meal).  The little section below (by my finger) sometimes has toothpicks in it.

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This does not cover all the typical Costa Rican foods here, for sure (like ceviche…  which is very common, but we just never order or eat that), but I’m hoping this will give you a little glimpse into Costa Rican food.

Till next time! — Jen

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Jen

I quit my job in my early 40’s, sold everything and retired early to live a simple life in Costa Rica!

Check out my book: "Costa Rica Chica" - the book.

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16 Responses to Costa Rican Food

  1. Great article Jen. I have had ceviche many times. I love it. The ceviche at Rancho Nelson is very good, but there is a sports bar in Atenas that has the best that I have ever had. The bar is on the square, but I cannot remember the name.

    Helen and I were fortunate to have a tica friend Andrea. She is quite a cook and she was always feeding us home cooked meals.

  2. Great run-down on the food, Jen. It’s certainly a country without particularly “inspired cuisine” but at the same time, some tasty basic food and this is a great overview.

    Another thing we found we really enjoyed was fried shrimp (camarones empanizados), available practically everywhere it seemed. (We’d virtually given up eating any deep-fried food in the states, but somehow all bets were off when it came to those shrimp!) And we also ate a lot of ceviche which was usually quite good.

    While we find food in the supermarket here (in Utah) to be much better quality at generally better prices than CR, we *do* miss the inexpensive options for eating out. Restaurants here (like anything that involves labor costs) are definitely more expensive so we rarely go. (Not so much of a problem since I love to cook, but still, something we do miss now and then.)

    I have a bottle of Lizano in the fridge and do make gallo pinto now and then! 😉

    • Totally agree with you on the “not particularly inspired cuisine” here (you put that nicely). Thanks for the note on the fried shrimp – Greg loves fried shrimp, and not sure why he hasn’t tried this before. It’s funny how we would never eat fried food in the States either, but we DO tend to order the fajitas de pollo often here. Then again, we rarely go out here, I mainly cook from scratch here at home (as you do too!) and I have a rule that I don’t fry anything at home. 🙂 Nice to hear from you, Arden! Cheers.

      • Hi Jen,

        Nice post. “not particularly inspired cuisine”…… you have to come visit Panama. Costa Rica is a food Mecca compared to Panama. But to be fair though amd I guess it would be true in Costa Rica as well, the great food to be found here is served in people’s homes and particularly the homes of the wealthy where it seems the Spanish food traditions have lived on. High quality food just does not seem to be that important when dining out at an everyday restaurant. But it is usually pretty well prepared, inexpensive and filling.

  3. We travel to Central America several times a year. Mostly to Honduras, but we have been to CR several times and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it there. We are seriously considering moving there in 4 years when I retire. The point of me writing this is to say how ‘spot on’ your description of the food was. I really enjoy your blog, too.

  4. Can you please tell me how I can support myself and my son when we get to Costa Rica? I would like to start a business but it seems I have to wait a couple of years to gain residency first.

  5. Hi Jen! We got to try our first ever Chifrijo last night with Samantha and Yeisen (mytanfeet.com) and it was yummy! Especially with hot sauce and lime.

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