Best Local Flavors in Costa Rica

10 Best Costa Rican Restaurants Feature Local Flavor, International Fusion

Costa Rica’s cuisine is continuously evolving under the influence of other cultures who bring their spices and styles to the country’s traditional fare, which varies from region to region. Gallo pinto (spotted rooster), a mix of rice and beans cooked with garlic and cilantro, is Costa Rica’s most ubiquitous breakfast fare, served with eggs and a dollop of natilla (sour cream) on the side. Try an excellent version at La Criollita in San Jose, where you’ll also find tasty casados (marrieds) at lunch time, laden with chicken, beef or fish, rice, beans, and salads. Other traditional dishes include olla de carne (soup of beef, carrots, plantains and yucca, and arroz con leche (rice pudding). The Caribbean coast is strongly influenced by Afro-Caribbean culture and there the cuisine has a distinctly Creole flavor. Pati are spicy meat snacks that resemble empanadas but are packed with special Caribbean flavors, find the best at the small shack in the center of Puerto Viejo de Limon. At Maxi’s Restaurant in Manzanillo, dip into a steaming bowl of rondon (run down) soup made with yucca, plantains, coconut milk, and shellfish or pork. Locally grown cacao lends its rich flavor to the selection of baked goodies at Bread & Chocolate, and don’t miss a latte made with Café Britt, the country’s premier brand of coffee at Café Rico.


Lubnan is one of San Jose's only authentic Middle Eastern restaurants, and many will agree that it's the best. The Lebanese owners have filled the menu with plenty of regional dishes from lamb shish kebabs to fattoush salad with chicken to a yummy hummus. Indecisive sorts should opt for the mezza, an excellent and generously sized sampler platter fit for a family with lots of different tastes on it. The vibe is casual and energetic, a bar in the back has hookah pipes, there is live Middle Eastern music on Wednesdays, and belly dancing out in front on Thursdays. Once you make it past the unimpressive facade, you're in for real treat.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: Lebanese flavor infuses the dishes and the vibe at this casual favorite for Middle Eastern food.

Sophia's expert tip: Belly dancing is on Thursdays at 9pm, the best seats for the show are out in front.

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La Fuente de los Mariscos
Photo courtesy of slamonica

For excellent seafood, La Fuente is the place. Overlooking a busy parking lot and highway, it's perhaps not where one may expect to find delicious ceviche and stand out langosta (lobster) but indeed it is. The inside is so small you'll be rubbing shoulders with the wait staff and bartender, but the outside tables are accommodating enough, and once the food arrives, it won't matter that there are no candles or fancy tablecloths. Though seafood is clearly the specialty, the menu includes a fine selection of other options, from filet mignon to cheeseburgers, everyone can find something to feast on here. Portions are generous and if it takes awhile for your plate to arrive, all the more time to work up an appetite to savor the flavors that won't disappoint. And, there is a full bar.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: There's something about traditional Costa Rican style ceviche that tastes extra special.

Sophia's expert tip: Birthday diners get 20% off with ID.

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With such an international selection of food to choose from in Puerto Viejo, it may seem that the Caribbean flavor has been lost in translation, but that is clearly not the case at Soda Lidia, where traditional dishes like rice and beans infused with coconut and served with chicken in Caribbean sauce will delight your senses and filly your belly- and all without putting a dent in your wallet. It's a casual place nestled against the jungle' edge behind the main thoroughfare of Puerto Viejo, where Lidia still runs her ktichen like a tight ship and locals gather to catch up after a day of surfing. It's casual but cozy, and the casados include Lidia's special slaw- if you have yet to try patacones (fried plantains), here's a great spot to do so.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: Soda Lidia is the top spot in Puerto Viejo de Limon for tasting local Caribbean cuisine.

Sophia's expert tip: Try a refreshing fruit batido (smoothie) to complement an authentic Caribbean meal- the Chicken in Caribbean sauce is a favorite.

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Sobre las Olas
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Perched on the edge of the coral reef overlooking the beautiful coast of Cahuita, Sobre las Olas is a perfect little restaurant that has excellent food to match its ambience. The best seats are outside nestled between the palm trees, where mussels on the half shell and ceviche are fine appetizers to get you in the mood for an excellent meal. Italian owners have created a menu with the home country's influence but focused on fresh local ingredients and expertly prepared seafood. If you haven't happened upon it while visiting Cahuita, it's worth asking to be pointed in the right direction and is a pleasant stroll just north of town. Bonus: There is a full bar here, too.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: The flavors here reflect the Costa Rican Italian union of the husband and wife team behind this romantic local favorite.

Sophia's expert tip: Just when you think this place couldn't be much further along the coastal road as it heads north from Cahuita, there it is. Grab a table outside and enjoy the view.

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With a name like Chimera, one might expect an a diverse selection of food, and this Santa Elena restaurant delivers. Every plate is a creative fusion of flavors, many of which are Latin, all of which are wrought from the bounty of local ingredients that only the little enclave of Santa Elena, near the Monteverde Cloudforest, can offer. Tapas are the perfect solution for hungry travelers, and Chimera has a way with them. Perfect for sharing among a group of friends and especially for a romantic tasting dinner, each dish is an inspired fusion. The gazpacho appetizer, coconut shrimp, and ginger margarita all come highly recommended.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: With a signature minimalist style that lets the true flavor of each ingredient show through, the chef at Chimera works magic in her mountain-top kitchen.

Sophia's expert tip: In Greek Mythology, a Chimera is a fire-breathing female creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, comprised of sections of three different animals: a lion, a serpent and a goat.

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La Pecora Nera
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

If delicious authentic Italian cuisine served in a delightful open-air restaurant well off-the beaten track on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast sounds like your cup of tea, look no further than La Pecora Nera. The Italian chef Ilario is as charismatic as he is talented in the kitchen, and his recommendations of daily specials are always spot on, but you can't go wrong with anything on the simple yet well-rounded menu. It's romantic yet family-friendly, unpretentious yet undeniably special, and easily one of the best restaurants in Costa Rica. Ask the chef to recommend a bottle of wine to complement your meal.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: The flavor of Caribbean's freshest ingredients shines through in the masterfully created Italian dishes here.

Sophia's expert tip: The bruschetta mixta is a perfect appetizer for two, delicate toasts topped with a variety of Italian ingredients like roasted eggplant and proscuitto crudo.

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At the center of Puerto Viejo a large hand painted sign points the way to "The Best Damn Coffee in Town," and if you follow the sign to the otherwise incognito spot behind the main road you will not be disappointed- but it's not just excellent coffee on tap here- Cafe Rico also serves some of the best breakfasts around and offers a mighty fine lunch selection, too- all served in a shady, open-air space surrounded by lush vegetation (look for sloths and exotic birds in the trees) and the town's best used book selection. The service is friendly and you're more than welcome to while away the morning into afternoon, or perhaps rent a bike, snorkel equipment, or even do your laundry here (which gets you a free cup of damn good joe).

Recommended for Local Flavor because: Puerto Viejo's best coffee is served in the hidden recess of Cafe Rico.

Sophia's expert tip: Cafe Rico is one of the only places in town that serves Cafe Britt, one of Costa Rica's best coffees.

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Bread and Chocolate has become a landmark cafe in Puerto Viejo, and for good(ies) reason. Locals and tourists enjoy gathering to partake in some wholesome breakfasts, lunches, and signature baked goods here, which include handmade truffles, delectable brownies, and scrumptious muffins. There are only a handful of tables on the raised deck just off the main road in the center of town, but even when there's a full house it just seems cozy rather than crowded. Coffee is served in individual French presses, and everything is made fresh right there in the busy kitchen that Tom oversees. Bread and Chocolate is open from 6:30am to 6:30pm Tuesday through Saturday, and 6:30 to 2:30 on Sundays (closed Mondays). It's also cash only.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: Truffles and cakes made with locally grown cacao are a real treat.

Sophia's expert tip: Celebrating a birthday in PV? Bread and Chocolate now makes custom cakes for special occasions, and they are beautiful!

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La Criollita
Photo courtesy of slamonica

La Criollita is an excellent place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has something on the menu for everyone. The fare is traditional Costa Rican; generous portions of meat, chicken and fish with rice, beans and salad on the side, and big selection of delicious appetizers like Tico-style ceviche and a tasty chicken soup to whet the appetite. There are three dining spaces, a main room that overlooks the big and busy kitchen, a bright and airy side room with art-filled walls, and a charming covered outdoor terrace with a bird garden and wrought iron furniture. There is rarely a wait for a table, but lunch time fills up early with nearby business people, so breakfast and dinner are ideal for settling into a relaxing meal. The coffee is excellent, too,save room for dessert; checkout the options like flan and cheesecake on display under the glass on your way in. Bonus: Full Bar.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: Taste traditional Costa Rican flavors here and rub shoulders with the locals who come for lunch.

Sophia's expert tip: "Express Breakfast" specials can't be beat: try the gallo pinto with tropical fruit, eggs, toast, coffee and juice for a song.

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Maxi's Restaurant is truly a classic, planting its stilts in the sand several decades back, when it was the only restaurant in all of Manzanillo, and it practically still is. Located at the very end of the long road that runs all the way from San Jose down through Puerto Viejo, Maxi's stands overlooking the beach It's this prime location, mixed with the familiar, laid-back vibe of its proprietors, a menu stocked with fresh seafood Caribbean dishes, and a bar that makes Maxi's such a landmark. The two story, open-air restaurant is casual enough for flip flops and board shorts, but cool enough to host special occasion dinners, parties, and game-watching, too.

Recommended for Local Flavor because: Maxi's offers authentic Caribbean flavors and coconut infused seafood specialties.

Sophia's expert tip: Go for drinks and the view- it's a nice casual place to celebrate a birthday.

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Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia