Costa Rican cuisine is often overlooked but foodies shouldn’t write-off Costa Rica. Sure, almost every traditional meal is a variation of rice and beans. But Costa Ricans take these staples and create a variety of unique and flavorful dishes.
San José is more than just Costa Rica’s political capital. It is the country’s cultural and gastronomic hub. Chefs flock to San José to serve their spin on traditional Costa Rican delicacies. But don’t limit yourself to gourmet restaurants. You can discover some of the city’s best food in simple cafés and food stalls.
Are you ready to explore Costa Rica’s most popular dishes? Let’s go!
Casado is the traditional Costa Rican lunch. Of course, there are different variations of this meal, but a true casado consists of rice, beans, meat, and a salad. Chefs decide what ingredients to offer, but you will often find casado with chicken, fish or pork.
Casado translates to “married man.” There is some debate about the origin of this name, but it was likely first with hungry laborers who wanted a homemade meal. Casado is similar to traditional meals married men would eat when they came home from work.
You can enjoy casado all over Costa Rica. Small, roadside cafés (sodas) offer the most authentic casado in the country. In San José, head to the Central Market to find traditional, affordable, and delicious casado.
Arreglados are popular meat-filled sandwiches. Instead of bread, arreglados are served on puff-pastry made of Masa (corn flower). Arreglados typically include meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and mustard. But, like casado, the ingredients of an arreglado depends on the chef’s preferences.
The Central Market is the place to find traditional food in San José. While you are strolling through this market, make sure you visit the Soda Tipica stall. Here you can enjoy a variety of Costa Rican dishes, including arreglados.
Pejibayes are a tropical fruit that grows on Costa Rican palm trees. The vibrant pejibayes are packed with nutrients. Besides their health benefits, pejibaynes are juicy and delicious. From September-April you can find this popular snack at farmer’s markets, fruit stands, and grocery stores.
Pejibayes are often boiled and served with lime and mayonnaise. This exotic delicacy is also made into cakes, soups, and liquor.
If you are visiting in October, consider taking a day trip from San Jose to Tucurrique. This small town hosts an annual Pejibaye Festival. Enjoy parades, dancing, and treats while you learn more about this unique fruit.
Coffee is synonymous with Costa Rica. There are countless coffee plantations throughout the Central Valley. And in the capital city of San José, the 3rd-wave coffee movement is gaining momentum.
Most San José cafés, like Cafeoteca and Café del Barista, serve brews from the country’s 8 coffee regions. Speak with knowledgeable baristas about the coffee growing, roasting, and brewing process.
Chorreadors are the traditional wooden devices used to brew Costa Rican coffee. Hot water is poured through a cloth filter filled with coffee grounds. Many of the city’s cafés use chorreadors to prepare their coffee.
Chicharrones are a popular crispy, fried snack. Typically made from pork ribs, this satisfying treat is often eaten with lime, yucca, and rangpur (a citrus fruit).Another essential component of chifrijo are Chicharrones.
You can enjoy chicharrones all year long, but they are heavily associated with holiday celebrations and parties.
If you are visiting during December, take a trip to the Puriscal Chicharrones Fair. This town is about 15 miles outside of San José. Bring your appetite for fried food. In addition to the delicious snacks, this festival offers live music and parades.
The classic Costa Rican breakfast dish, gallo pinto, is traditionally made with rice and beans. But, each chef puts their own spin on this simple dish. You might find this served with onion, celery, eggs, and meat.
You can order gallo pinto all over San José, as it is served in Hotel buffets, soda shops and restaurants. Tortilla y Cafe is one of the city’s most popular spots serving this authentic Costa Rican breakfast.
Arroz con Leche
Arroz con leche translates to “rice with milk.” But this sweet, sticky dessert is more delicious than the simple name suggests.
This rice pudding always contains cinnamon and often includes raisins. You can enjoy this dish warm or cold. This is a popular dessert to make at home, but many San José restaurants also serve this delicious treat.
Chifrijo is a dish with pork (often chicharrones), pico de gallo, rice, beans, tortillas, and lemon. This is a popular bar snack that is perfect to share with friends.
For an authentic experience, visit La Oveja Negra. This relaxed San José bar offers a wide selection of local beers in addition to traditional snacks, like chifrijo.
Patacones, or fried plantains, are a popular food in Costa Rica. Although they may seem simple, these sweet golden rounds are incredibly satisfying.
Plantains are not native to Costa Rica. They were first imported in the 16th century. But this fruit flourished in the tropical Costa Rican climate. Today, most Costa Rican most dishes include some variation of the plantain. Patacones are one of the most popular ways to serve plantains in the country.
These warm, soft plantains perfectly complement beans, meat, and chimichurri. Plus, they won’t be hard to find as restaurants all over San José serve patacones.
Picadillo is a traditional hash-like dish. This meal includes ground meat, tomato, and vegetables over a bed of rice.
The specific ingredients in a picadillo vary by chef and region. Most menus name picadillos after their main vegetable ingredient. Look for the popular chayote picadillo, which typically includes a small green gourd-like vegetable.
Despite what you may have heard, Costa Rican cuisine offers much more than a plate of rice and beans. Costa Ricans have spent hundreds of years perfecting their recipes. Plan a trip to San José and experience these traditional dishes for yourself!