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The rain-forested canopies and the remarkable volcanic terrain of Costa Rica are amazing to behold, but these regions offer more than just paradisiacal tourist spots. From the cloud forest highlands down to the coastal towns, guests can revel in the country’s delicious cuisine that proudly displays its Caribbean and Latino roots. To satisfy your sense of taste, we bring you the best Costa Rican food you absolutely must try while on a trip to Costa Rica.
A plateful of black beans, rice, tortilla and meat or fish, casado (pictured above) is a lunch staple popular all over the country. The term itself translates to the word "married," which aptly describes the smorgasbord plate displaying Costa Rica's best offerings. The dish was created in the early 60s by laborers in San Jose looking for homemade food; this inexpensive meal is usually eaten in a local restaurant called sodas, where the head of the kitchen serves the dish to patrons as though serving their family at home.
Where to find it: A Costa Rican staple, you can find this dish anywhere in Costa Rica. The best casados can be found in small, family-run sodas or discover an elevated plate in fancier hotels.
- Instead of meat, you can try this dish with fish, such as locally farmed tilapia
- Vegetarian casados might not be on the menu but you can still ask restaurants to cook it for you
- In the Caribbean regions, you can find a similar dish served with rice and beans, but prepared with coconut milk
You could not miss this typical Costa Rican fruit — a peach palm variety that tastes as savory as an artichoke. The fruit is often boiled and then served with mayonnaise. You will easily spot locals snacking on this humble meal usually enjoyed with a cup of coffee.
Where to find it: Buy the fruit in local farmer's markets or drop by Mercado Central, in San Jose for a bite of this savory fruit.
- The fruit is harvested between September and May. You can find the freshest pejibayes during this season
- Pejibayes are packed with vitamins and minerals; this is a perfect treat for the health conscious
A hefty serving of white rice and black beans cooked together, gallo pinto, which translates to “spotted rooster” in Spanish, is a local favorite usually eaten during breakfast. This signature food is often accompanied by chopped vegetables, fried eggs, plantains and sausages.
The dish originated in the 1900s and comes with an interesting local backstory (according to some!); legend says that a farm-owner spent months fattening up a spotted rooster for a party, but the news of the event spread throughout the village and the number of guests increased. The kitchen staff then devised a plan to mix a large batch of rice and beans to extend the yield of the chicken, and thus, a new dish was made!
Where to find it: La Criollita in San Jose offers the best gallo pinto around, served in traditional tico fanfare and a homely ambiance. You can also find the roots of this Costa Rican cuisine in San Sebastian.
- Eat this traditional tico breakfast with tortillas and the Costa Rican favorite, Salsa Lizano, a spicy sauce made from spices and vegetables
- Pair the dish with agua dulce, a warm, sweet drink made from unrefined sugar
Arreglado, which translates to “arrange”, is the local version of a sandwich. Just like the name suggests, this dish is often served as a smart stack of meat, cheese and vegetables. It is then topped with a puff pastry made from corn flour. Indulge in this snack that carries all the local flavors in one bite.
Where to find it: Soda Tapia in San Jose is best known for their arreglados.
- Arreglados go great with Salsa Lizano
- This dish is available on the street, at bars and restaurants, so it is possible to pair it with any type of drink
Chifrijo is derived from a combination of two other Costa Rican traditional food items: chicharron (pork rinds) and frijoles (beans). A boca or appetizer often served in bars, this meal is a concoction of beans, pork rinds, pico de gallo and chimichurri mixed with spices like sweet chilli, garlic and pepper. The dish is then topped with avocados and tortilla chips.
Where to find it: Don Yayo Chicarronera in Atenas serves the most delectable chifrijo around.
- Best enjoyed with beer, eat chifrijo with your friends during a night out
- You can also eat this dish in its soup form to cure hangovers!
A dish that dates back to the olden Caribbean, rondon is a spicy coconut soup simmered with fish, sweet potatoes and yucca. This assortment is boiled for hours in an open wood stove that gives it a smoky depth. It is said that African slaves brought by Spanish conquistadors migrated to Latin America and were the first to make this dish. The name rondon means the act of cooking with whatever ingredients cooks could “run down” for the dish.
Where to find it: The province of Limon is known for its many restaurants serving their own unique takes on rondon.
- You can try different variations of the dish depending on the ingredients used by the cook
- It's the perfect food to eat on a rainy day
A Central American treat made from fried pork ribs, chicharrón are a Costa Rican favorite that is usually served during fiestas and family gatherings. The country even holds an annual Chicharrón Fair as an ode to this staple and offers large quantities of this savory dish.
Where to find it: Grab a bite of this anywhere, but the best chicharrón is served in Chicharronera Cacique Acseri in San Jose.
- Chicharrón are best eaten with beer or wine
- Pair this dish with lime juice and fried yucca just like the locals
- It's delicious, but be wary of eating too much, as it spikes the fat and cholesterol scale
One of the more popular foods in Costa Rica, sopa negra is the local equivalent to chicken noodle soup. This dish wards off the chilly atmosphere in the elevated zones of cloud forests. Locals cook this with beans, onions, garlic, coriander and topped with hard boiled eggs and tortilla.
Where to find it: Find this comfort food available in the highlands of the Central Valley.
- You can also find vegetarian versions of this dish
- Some recipes even cater to other dietary restrictions like gluten-free
Derived from green plantains, patacones are a crispy snack that you could eat on its own, or paired with pico de gallo. The plantains are peeled and sliced into quarter-inch pieces and are boiled, flattened then fried.The name patacon came from the silver coins from the Colonial Spanish era, which inspired the size and shape of this snack.
Where to find it: Snack on the best patacones in the coastal province of Puntarenas
- Patacones are usually cooked to order; bars serve this warm and chewy and then embellished with dips for added flavor
- In some Central American countries, patacones are known as “fritos” or “tostones”
One of the best Costa Rican dishes is arroz con leche, a dessert made with thick and creamy rice pudding mixed with a medley of cinnamon, raisins and condensed milk. It is an old-time dessert adopted from Spain, but history says this recipe was taken from the Moors who invaded the Iberian Peninsula back in the 15th century.
Where to find it: Enjoy arroz con leche in Liberia, Guanacaste, where local restaurants serve the best version of this sweet treat
- This Costa Rican comfort food can be enjoyed either hot or cold
There's no doubt that Costa Rican cuisine has taken a page out of its Central American origins. However, local dishes have managed to gain distinct flavors thanks to abundant natural resources and the country's own vibrant culture. The best food staples of Costa Rica reflect the tico's love for simplicity; locals stick to the staples and their organically grown harvests. This doesn’t stop them, though, from adding a kick of spice in their every offering. After all, this country is known for its Latin and Caribbean soul. Enjoy the symphony of tangy and seaside flavors in Costa Rica’s local dishes!