Costa Rica

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Though Costa Rica is not known for its cuisine, that’s not to say it doesn’t have excellent dining options. An influx of tourists over the past decade has spawned a new generation of upscale, trendy dining options, typically located in resort towns and within hotels. Fresh seafood, American-style grills, French bistros, and pizzerias are perhaps more common now than a traditional place serving casado (a one-plate dish with rice, beans, meat, and side dishes like plantains or vegetables). Tips are included in the bill, but leave 10% for exceptional service.

Top Restaurants in Costa Rica

Café Milagro

The Quepos answer to Starbucks, this small café with a shady patio churns out fresh roasted Costa Rican coffee along with hearty, flavorful breakfast and lunch dishes: muffins, fresh-squeezed juices, gallo pinto, ham and cheese sandwiches, banana pancakes, etc. Coffee, however, is the centerpiece; you’ll find chocolate raspberry lattes, espresso shakes, mono locos, and as always, straight hot java. They have a more upscale Latino fusion restaurant, El Patio de Cafe Milagro - Bistro Latino, in Manuel Antonio.

Downtown Quepos, on the ocean front road near the bridge, 011-506-2777-4982, www.cafemilagro.com
Tags: budget | cafe

Father Rooster Restaurant

Right on the beach in Playa Ocotal near Playa del Coco, Father Rooster is a slap-happy beach bar and grill. Go for the Mexi-Floribbean fare (burgers, grilled shrimp, fajitas, ceviche, and fish sandwiches) and then lounge on one of their beach chairs or fall asleep in a hammock with a Tequila sunrise.

Playa Ocotal, on the beach, 011-506-2670-1246, www.fatherrooster.com
Tags: budget | american | mexican

Ginger

It’s hard to miss this trendy restaurant right on the road to Papagayo. Mediterranean and Pan-Asian small plates and tapas are the theme: expect dishes like lettuce cups with twice-cooked pork belly, shoestring fries with garlic mayo, spring rolls, pepper-crusted tuna, and pickled ginger slaw. For the quality (especially considering they don’t have much competition) the price is outstanding. It’s a place that would be unthinkable in the same location a decade ago – proof of how much (and how quickly) the country is changing.

Playa Hermosa, on the road to Papagayo, 011-506-2672-0041
Tags: moderate | great value | asian

KALU

One of Costa Rica’s proponents of the slow food movement, this gourmet café serves up its own bread, pastries, pastas and sauces. Crowd pleasers include tuna steak, ceviche duo, and sea bass filet with oyster sauce. Step onto the terrace for a view of the surrounding art galleries, museums, and design shops.

Corner of Calle 7 and Avenida 11, House #956, 011-506-2221-1051, www.restaurantebakea.com
Tags: moderate | trendy

Le Monastère

Visiting dignitaries and upper-crust Ticos are drawn into this elegant restaurant night after night for its jaw-dropping views of the entire San Jose metropolitan area, waiters dressed like 19th-century monks, and a superb French chef who prepares traditional dishes like fresh foie gras salted in Port Wine or a seabass filet in tarragon cream sauce.

1 mile southwest of the Paco Shopping Center in Escazú (follow signs), 011-506-2289-8515, www.monastere-restaurant.com
Tags: seafood | expensive | french

Machu Picchu

Downtown San Jose is where you'll find the best Peruvian restaurant in the country. Decent ceviches (Peruvian ceviches, not the typically bland Central American versions) are the most popular choice, but the rustic little place is good for causa (a traditional Peruvian dish - mashed potato dumpling with varied fillings), arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood), and ají de gallina (chicken strips in spicy cream sauce) as well. One word of caution: be careful with the Pisco sours - they bite!

Corner of Calle 32 and Avenida 2, 011-506-2222-7384, www.restaurantemachupicchu.com
Tags: budget | seafood | great value

Miss Edith's

Miss Edith’s is the place to be if you’re looking for local bites. One of the best traditional restaurants left in Costa Rica, this tiny, undeniably rustic shack hidden down a dirt road at the edge of the jungle is always busy with locals and travelers in the know. Try regional Afro-Costa Rican dishes such as rondon (a meat dish cooked with bananas, yucca, and spices) and stewed fish in coconut milk.

Cahuita (turn right at the police station), 011-506-2755-0248
Tags: budget | great value

Nectar

Nectar matches the chic design and style of the hotel in which it’s located, Flor Blanca, one of the most luxurious resorts in all of Costa Rica. Patrons delight in its New American cuisine with Latin and Asian influences – think carrot ginger coconut soup, whole fried red snapper, and a pan seared “fresh catch of the day” sandwich. The open-air pool/beach setting, stone floors and walls, chairs made of sea grass, and sophisticated presentations make it one of the most idyllic seaside eateries.

Playa Santa Teresa, 011-506-2640-0232, www.florblanca.com
Tags: seafood | expensive | trendy | asian

Park Café

A onetime two-Michelin-star chef at Pied á Terre in London, English chef and owner Richard Neat relocated to a Sabana Norte colonial house decked out in Rajasthani columns and Indonesian statues to launch Park Café. Perhaps the most important restaurant to ever hit the Costa Rican dining scene, it serves mostly small plates and tapas – expect roasted duck breast with cannelloni of confit leg and chocolate sauce and ravioli of crab with curry sauce.

Sabana Norte, 100 meters north of Rosti Pollo, 011-506-2290-6324, www.parkcafecostarica.blogspot.com
Tags: expensive | editor pick | smart splurge

Stashu’s Con-fusion

Just a few open-air canopy roofs are all that’s blocking the stars from the mosaic tile floors of the dining area. The organic menu includes some of the most delectable and health-conscious food in Puerto Viejo. It’is quite simple: just pick a sauce (Thai Peanut, Indonesian Curry, Guayaba Curry, or Mexican Chipotle) to accompany vegetables, chicken, shrimp, meat, or fish. Occasionally there’s live music. Closed on Wednesdays.

200 meters south of Stanfords in Puerto Viejo, 011-506-2750-0530, www.loconaturalrestaurant.com
Tags: budget | trendy

Tree House Restaurant

Circling a colossal, over 60-year-old Higuerón tree, this bi-level restaurant, bar, and cyber cafe is all about the atmosphere – you’ll feel as if you’re actually perched within the tree. It’s the most popular place to eat in Santa Elena and the most common meeting place. Choose among typical casados, pizza, sandwiches, spaghetti, and burritos.

Santa Elena, 011-506-2645-5751, www.treehouse.cr
Tags: family | moderate

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