In the southernmost corner of Costa Rica in the postcard perfect region known as the Osa Peninsula, lies Il Giardino, the first, and many agree, the best, Italian restaurant in Puerto Jimenez, owned and operated by an Italian family that takes nothing more seriously than providing a delightful, thoughtful dining experience. At Il Giradino, the food is deeply rooted in family tradition; each recipe is a family secret, right down to the made to order and from scratch pastas and even lasagna. Daily specials include catch-of-the-day seafood, and there is a wine selection for everything. Nowhere else in the Osa can you enjoy such fine Italian food, exceptional service and take in a relaxing ocean view while feasting on scrumptious Italian fare.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: Sitting outside enjoying the ocean view only enhances the flavors of the Italian cuisine.
Sophia's expert tip: Il Giardino has an impressive collection of Boruca masks on display, showcasing the art and craftsmanship of the local indigenous people, who were the original Costa Ricans of the Osa Peninsula.
Amimodo is an old-school yet new-school family style and family friendly Italian restaurant on the main road in Puerto Viejo. A nondescript, single story cafe style that's invitingly and casual from the street side and the beach side, Amimodo doesn't need to toot it's own horn; those in the know have been coming here for excellent authentic Italian dishes and special occasions since the doors opened nearly twenty years ago. The seating spills out from inside to out, and there is a little bar inside for pizza and cocktails. Some nights a live band plays spirited Caribbean music, but mostly it is a mellow vibe.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The ocean breeze complements the fresh cuisine and tropical cocktails.
Sophia's expert tip: Happy Hour is on most days, with inexpensive tapas and "drinks of the day" specials, like a Pipa Loca, fresh green coconut spiked with rum and garnished with an exotic flower.
Stashu's con Fusion is truly a work of art, and a labor of love. One of Puerto Viejo's longest running restaurants (it was formerly called El Loco Natural), Stashu's has been helmed in the kitchen since the early days by Stashu himself, chef and artist whose creations are as pleasing to the eye as they are the palette. Stashu's is a breezy, open air place a few steps south of the center of Puerto Viejo, naturally decorated to feel like the tropical escape that it is, and the menu is full of inspired dishes that make the most of the bounty of local fare- the fish plates are always delicious, but save room for dessert, too.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: Outdoor dining feels cozy and intimate with twinkly lights and different level decks.
Sophia's expert tip: Excellent choice for date night, closed on Wednesdays.
Product C is part of a growing group of restaurants in Costa Rica that embodies the locally grown movement, serving fresh-caught seafood that spends very little time between the water and the table. What started as a beachside fish shop in surf town of Mal Pais has blossomed into two modern concept restaurants in the capital city of San Jose, serving locally and sustainably caught seafood including four kinds of ceviche and raw warm-water oysters. The inspired chef works with the fishermen directly, then brings his creativity to each dish, and the results are fresh, flavorful, and perhaps even unforgettable.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: There's nothing like fresh seafood served al fresco- in the middle of the city.
Sophia's expert tip: Try the lobster bisque with the chef's own "ocean bacon" - a mix of light and dark smoked fishes.
New to the scene in Escaz� is Tintos y Blancos, a wine bar that serves excellent food in an inviting atmosphere and even offers live music on certain nights. Perfect for a pre-dinner date or even the main attraction, Tintos y Blancos has an admirably extenisive wine list, especially for Costa Rica, and a Mediterranean inspired menu to match. Choose from tapas style appetizers and cheese plates to full entrees, all prepared using fresh ingredients and designed with drinking wine in mind. Each glass comes with a little hang tag so you can keep track if you're trying different varietals, and the indoor and outdoor seating areas are ideal for settling in for a relaxing tasting session.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: Ample outdoor seating along Avenida Ezcazu is a great spot to sip wine.
Sophia's expert tip: Check out the underground complex of tunnels and boutique wine shop.
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 Outdoor Dining because: Opting for the outdoor patio makes the meal even more memorable.
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.
What started as a simple hotel cafe has expanded to become one of the country's finest restaurants with well-earned reputation. Casually elegant, this restaurant is situated off the Grano de Oro Hotel's central courtyard which provides for pleasant seating options on cooperative days. A French chef is behind the European menu has Costa Rican influences and changes regularly, featuring seafood, beef, chicken and vegetable offerings. If it's available on your visit, try the macadamia-encrusted covina or the Gorgonzola-stuffed filet mignon, but truly whatever you choose will shine. And most certainly make room for dessert as the offerings here are scrumptious.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The intimate outdoor patio is about as romantic as it gets in San Jose.
Sophia's expert tip: Excellent place for a special occasion dinner or a very memorable date.
The first of its kind in Puerto Viejo de Limon, KOKI Beach is a truly eco-friendly establishment; a bar, restaurant and lounge made almost entirely from reclaimed materials that takes relaxing and dining and turns them into art forms. With a full bar and a lunch and dinner menu that incorporates lots of local organic produce, Koki Beach invites guests to relax and stay awhile, while giving them plenty to look at- the water's edge is just across the way, and the design details like the unique chair collection and tables made from old doors will have you feeling inspired, and impressed.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The best view of the waterfront and comfortable chairs to lounge in with cocktails are here.
Sophia's expert tip: Koki Beach is a great place to go on holidays to see unique artistic presentations like the wine bottle tree at Christmas and take advantage of seasonal specials, like the ceviche.
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 Outdoor Dining because: The tables in the sand are the most coveted spots at Sobre las Olas.
Sophia's expert tip: Grab a table outside and enjoy the view.
La Pecora Nera is a romantic restaurant set in the rainforest of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, where the Italian chef Ilario is as charismatic as he is talented in the kitchen. His recommendations of daily specials are always spot on, but you can't go wrong with anything on the simple yet well-rounded menu. A bruschetta appetizer is a medley of fresh toppings on crisp toasts, a perfect intro to a penne arrabiata or fettucine alfredo done just right. La Pecora is romantic yet family-friendly, unpretentious yet undeniably special, and easily one of the top 10 best restaurants in Costa Rica.
Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The open air seating surrounded by the jungle is as romantic as it gets.
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.