Costa Rica is one of the world’s culinary jewels, with food that is both simple and sophisticated, a nuanced blend of Amerindian staples, Spanish imports, and the country’s famed tropical fruits and vegetables.
The delectability of Costa Rican cuisine is undeniable (especially when prepared overlooking a beautiful beach or lush mountain valley).
Because of the country’s naturalism, dining in Costa Rica is a one-of-a-kind and true experience. Costa Rican cuisine is popular for several reasons, including the availability of fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, herbs, and spices.
The country has worked hard to become a popular cuisine destination, using products that thrive in the country’s lush volcanic soil and climate.
Visited other locations in Central America? Check out our other tasty guides:
- What is Belize Food?
- Nicaraguan Food: 11 Delicious Dishes You Shouldn’t Miss While In Central America.
- 11 Mouth-Watering Honduran Foods
- What is Panama Food?
- 8 Must-Try Anguilla Restaurants
- 1 Food Prices in Costa Rica
- 2 Costa Rica’s Top 15 Meals
- 2.1 Beef and Vegetable Stew Olla de Carne
- 2.2 Pinto Gallo
- 2.3 Maicena Tamal
- 2.4 Soup de Sopa Negra (Black Bean Soup)
- 2.5 Casado
- 2.6 Patacones
- 2.7 Cocadas Trtaras
- 2.8 Palmito Cheddar
- 2.9 Salad Rusa (Russian Potato Salad) Costa Rican style
- 2.10 Sweet Corn Pancakes Chorreadas
- 2.11 Chifrijo
- 2.12 Tamales
- 2.13 Picadillo
- 2.14 Arroz with Huevos
- 2.15 Ceviche
- 3 The Greatest Costa Rican Meals in One Place
Food Prices in Costa Rica
Food costs in Costa Rica are one of the more hospitable aspects of the economy. As a result, prices in San Jose are higher than elsewhere, but still fair.
A restaurant lunch costs $5-$10 or less, and most places have delectable desserts for $1-$3. (cheap by Western standards).
Outside of San Jose, meal expenses may be much cheaper, particularly if you are prepared to go away from the tourist trap cafés and restaurants. True comfort food served by grandmothers may be less widely recognized, but every taste will make you happy.
Let’s go through the whole range of popular and tasty Costa Rican cuisine you may sample, from snacks to big dinners.
Costa Rica’s Top 15 Meals
Beef and Vegetable Stew Olla de Carne
I’ll start with Costa Rica’s most popular soup, Olla de Carne. The name refers to “pot of beef,” which is frequently cooked and served as the main course.
Olla de Carne is a typical meal made with yucca, maize, onion, garlic, plantains, potatoes, cilantro, carrots, and plenty of meat. The soup should be simmered for at least eight hours to attain its full potential and blend all of the flavors. This is because bone-in beef adds so much flavor to the soup as it cooks gently.
Ribs or shanks of beef are often used in this recipe. If you want to attempt making one at home, brisket is simpler to acquire and less expensive.
Gallo Pinto is the national meal of Costa Rica, and you can expect to see it for breakfast every day. The Gallo Pinto dish calls for separately cooking rice and black beans until tender. The beans are washed in cold water first, and the rice is allowed to soak overnight. They are then combined in a stew with chopped onions, garlic, salt, and cilantro.
You’ll notice how the beans absorb all of the flavors from the other ingredients when you eat Gallo Pinto. Natilla sour cream, fried plantains, or tortillas round out the tastes and improve the simplicity of the meal.
Gallo Pinto is a rustic Costa Rican staple cuisine, and if you want the finest tasting one, go for a cheaper, simpler establishment. They maintain the natural flavor without overpowering the meal.
The star of Costa Rica’s traditional cuisine, Tamal de Maicena, is always served with coffee. The texture of this Costa Rican cuisine will make your mouth swim. It’s thick and velvety, with a delicious flavor and a texture akin to pudding. It is traditionally served with Arroz with Leche (a sort of rice pudding).
Tamal de Maicena has the texture and substance of a wobbling jelly cake. It’s sweet and creamy in texture, with a coconut undertone. It sounds really delicious, doesn’t it?
Tamal is famous in Costa Rica for afternoon coffee, but I believe it would be delicious at any time of day. It is created using milk, sugar, freshly grated coconut, butter, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.
Certain meals are impossible to stop eating, no matter how full you are. Tamal de Maicena is exactly one of them!
Soup de Sopa Negra (Black Bean Soup)
Another vegetarian Costa Rican soup is Sopa Negra (Black Soup), which originated in the country’s central highlands. Currently, it may also be found along the coast, particularly in the Limons Afro-Caribbean region.
Sopa Negra has lately gained popularity across Central America. It’s called bean soup because it contains a lot of beans as well as chopped shallots, cabbage, celery, garlic, onion, cilantro, pepper, oregano, and salt. It is served with white rice and pieces of cooked egg.
The soup is deep, savory, and rich. It may not look to be fancy, but it will warm your body and spirit if you are trekking in the mountains during the winter.
Costa Rica’s second most popular cuisine translates to married man. It began when men laboring in the fields brought packed meals wrapped in banana leaves made by their wives. It is becoming a popular lunch or supper option.
This meal is popular and widely diffused because, in addition to being simple and fast to make, it may be served hot or cold.
Wrapping any kind of meat, such as chicken, hog, cattle, or fish, in cabbage, tortillas, rice, or beans makes this simple Costa Rican dish a sure choice on any restaurant menu.
Meet these fashionable Costa Rican nibbles. Patacones, which are firm on the inside and crispy on the exterior, go well with guacamole, mashed beans, chimichurri (chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lemon juice), tomato, or pink sauce.
I know it seems strange, but patacones remind me of French fries, which I like. They make an excellent appetizer, but they may also be served as a full course for lunch.
What is there not to like about patacones? Plantains that are crunchy, salty, and flavorful, and pair well with guacamole. A fantastic afternoon snack.
Homemade patacones are also an excellent way to use up overripe plantains. You may have these irresistible treats ready and waiting on your table in no time, or you can purchase them from the little comedores on practically every street corner in Costa Rica.
Trtaras cocadas are a family custom that many Costa Rican families prepare throughout the holidays, particularly between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
They travel easily and may even be obtained pre-made in certain regions, contributing to the national reputation of trtaras cocadas. These are one of the most well-known sweets from this little Central American nation.
It is a peculiar sweet cake that originated more than a century ago in the Sarchi region, a hilly territory near the Nicaraguan border. According to Elizondo Morales Pelloquin, locals in Sarchi used to sell tartaras on carts drawn by donkeys or horses.
The baking process begins with a circular foundation of flour, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg, followed by a chewy coconut filling, tapa dulce (raw cane sugar), cinnamon, and nutmeg. The dough is chewy and soft, and it is cooked in four stages: frying, drying, boiling in sugar syrup, and dehydration.
Tartaras cocadas are most often sold in four to six-unit containers. Definitely a hint that eating just one is difficult.
I suppose cheese is the last item that comes to mind when thinking about Costa Rican cuisine, but wait until you try it. Palmito is Costa Rica’s most treasured cheese, and it may be purchased in a variety of locations around the nation or directly from a maker. Palmito has a distinct, delicate, but rich taste, and it melts well, making it an ideal component for quesadillas and nachos.
Palmito cheese is traditionally prepared by grating it with a coconut grater to get a stringy texture. It is also available at pubs and hotels in the form of a pull-apart ball (by hand or a knife).
Palmito cheese is made in rural towns like San Carlos and Zarcero. Authentic palmito cheese is manufactured from pure cow’s milk from the farmer’s cows or cows directed by the farmer.
If you liked mozzarella sticks as a child, palmito cheese is the adult equivalent. Also, the flavors are fairly similar.
Salad Rusa (Russian Potato Salad) Costa Rican style
Ensalada Rusa is a classic Russian salad brought to Costa Rica by German, English, and Scandinavian immigrants. Since it contains boiled potatoes, beets, carrots, chicken, chopped vegetables, salad, mayonnaise, and salt, Ensalada Rusa may serve as a full meal.
If you want something bright, sweet, and savory, you’ll like it. This meal is perfect for picnics, birthdays, and holidays.
It may seem weird for a Costa Rican meal to be inspired by Central Asian cuisine, but it is real. Ensalada Rusa mixes traditional Central American tastes with those of Russian cuisine, particularly beetroot and cooked eggs.
It’s a semisweet salad with veggies and meats all in one. With this salad, you may use whatever veggies you choose.
Sweet Corn Pancakes Chorreadas
Chorreadas are a traditional Costa Rican meal that has long been offered as a snack at local cantinas. They are also consumed throughout the day and are particularly popular with children. The term chorrear is derived from the Spanish word chorrear (to pour).
There’s no need to add syrup to these sweet corn pancakes since they’re already sweet enough. Corn is a staple grain in many countries of Latin America, including Costa Rica. Chorreadas are a delightful treat or breakfast made from maize, milk, eggs, sugar, butter, flour, and vanilla essence.
Chorreada batter is similar to pancake batter, but it does not need to be cooked on a griddle since it cooks in its own steam once within the corn husk. The end product is a light, fluffy pancake with a sweet flavor.
Chorreadas are one of the most Costa Rican dishes I’ve ever had. They are simple yet tasty and traditional, and you will find them all across South America.
Chifrijo is a popular local cuisine that consists of rice, beans, fried pig belly (or fried pork rinds), and condiments such as onions, mayonnaise, and chimichurri sauce.
Some varieties include cheese or hot dogs to better suit to the local taste.
That is not to imply that this meal is never offered outside of Costa Rica; certain places serve various varieties of this dish, yet the majority of reviews mention how delicious it is regardless.
Chifrijo is a traditional dish served in restaurants and taverns around the nation. The price of this meal fluctuates between 250 and 500 cordobas, and it goes well with beer or rum drinks.
A platter of chifrijo with Mexican chips, rice, avocado slices, and lime wedges is always plenty for two.
Tamales have been a Christmas Eve tradition in Costa Rica for decades, and they are cooked every year. Yet, the number of tamales made by a family has no link to its size. The most essential thing is to appreciate this renowned traditional Christmas dinner over a big table or in front of a roaring fire while many other dishes are laid out around the table, whether you purchase them or cook them yourself.
Tamales are served at every major celebration and birthday party, so if you’re fortunate enough, give them a try.
Tamales are made with pork wrapped in cornmeal and stuffed with fresh cabbage, heavy cream, eggs, and seasonings. Tamales may be filled with chicken, pig, beef, shrimp, catfish, tuna, beans, or other seafood; the options are limitless.
Tamales are customarily wrapped in banana leaves, rather than corn husks, as they are in Mexico. As a consequence, their texture becomes softer and wetter.
After cooking, locals wrap the tamales with damp towels to keep them moist and toasty. As a result, they gain an extra soft texture.
In Costa Rica, if you ask for a pia, you will get two malaise tied together, because two is always better than one when it comes to food, right?
Picadillo is a popular dish in Costa Rica and across Latin America. Its name derives from the South American Spanish term picadillo, which means minced meat.
Picadillo is a form of hash that has become popular in Costa Rican cuisine owing to its simplicity. Ground beef, onions, peppers, garlic, salt, achiote, and half of the cilantro are the six components that can be obtained practically everywhere in the nation. Yet, the recipes vary from place to region, making it quite flexible.
Picadillo is cooked in Costa Rica using chayote, arracacha (a root vegetable that resembles a small carrot but has a white inside), or potato. Picadillo is often served in sandwiches with corn tortillas, white rice, and casados.
Arroz with Huevos
Arroz with Leche is a centuries-old rice pudding delicacy popular in Costa Rica. Its roots are tied to the scarcity of rice and milk in Central America. It is also known as Spanish rice (Arroz espaol) or just arroz.
imagining rice pudding
Costa Rican arroz con leche is a cultural and culinary phenomenon of Latin America that blends white rice, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon for the ultimate sweet treat eaten cold or hot.
This rice pudding delicacy is well-known and renowned across the globe, having been influenced by Arabian cuisine and introduced to Costa Rica by the Spanish. Since it is very simple to cook, Costa Rican households prepare a lot of it. Arroz con leche, like tamales, is a must-have on holiday menus, with each family putting their own spin on the original recipe.
Finally, the king of Latin American cuisine, ceviche, is a popular Costa Rican dish, particularly in the central and southern Pacific areas.
It comes originally from Peru and consists of uncooked fish chopped into little cubes that have been marinated in lemon juice for at least three hours. The citric acid cooks the fish, giving it a wonderful and fresh taste.
Chopped onion, cilantro, bell pepper, celery, salt, and pepper are added to this. It’s often served with salty crackers and avocado cubes. One of the keys to superb ceviche is fresh seafood, which can be found in plenty on the Pacific coast.
Ceviche, which is low in calories, healthful, and ridiculously simple to make at home, continues to quietly dominate Costa Rican cuisine in both restaurants and households.
The Greatest Costa Rican Meals in One Place
Costa Rican cuisine is second only to the country’s natural beauty. Costa Rican food is fresh and healthful, and it is sometimes referred to as the gastronomic center of the Central American area.
The country’s diversified environment has resulted in a variety of traditional meals as well as contemporary restaurants providing foreign cuisine ranging from French to Italian.
But, if you visit Costa Rica, you will most likely discover that the cuisine tastes extremely different. The meal is regarded to be basic and uncomplicated. As previously stated, the utilization of fresh ingredients distinguishes Costa Rican cuisine.
Food is usually a wonderful conversation starter or ender in Costa Rica. Questions such as “How does it taste?” may be addressed by debating whether food is better than the view. Costa Rican cuisine, on the other hand, will evoke recollections of relaxing at a local taco stand or sitting down to a romantic supper for two on the beach.