A Guide to Costa Rican Food: 10 Essential Dishes to Eat in Costa Rica

Discover fresh seafood and fruit-packed batido smoothies among the country’s culinary delights.


Costa Rica is home to an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables including the unique, savory pejibaye.

Photo by John Desarno Photo/Shutterstock

In Costa Rica, simplicity and freshness reign supreme in nearly every dish, thanks to the country’s incredible biodiversity—and an ecosystem that boasts two oceans, lush forests, volcanic soil, and cool mountains. That means fresh seafood, a mind-blowing assortment of native and exotic fruits and vegetables—guava, mangoes, cassava, and cacao beans—and some of the world’s best coffee, just beyond a Tico’s backdoor.

Those fresh ingredients show up in Costa Rica’s best dishes, from ceviche to casado (a mixed savory plate) and Caribbean rondón (seafood stew).

Dive into traditional preparation at chef Pablo Bonillo’s buzzy Sikwa Restaurante in San José, known for its authentic indigenous gastronomy, or find playful twists at Hacienda AltagGracia, an Auberge resort in the country’s interior. Here, chef Liezl Odendaal crafts unique dishes, like a savory and sophisticated take on the chorreada (pancake). And definitely do a back-of-the-house tour at beachfront Arenas Del Mar resort, in Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast, to see real sustainable zero-kilometer sourcing in action.

Whatever you do, put these 10 essential Costa Rican foods on your must-try list.

1. Ceviche

Though ceviche originated in Peru over 2,000 years ago, Costa Rica’s version offers a superbly zingy and refreshing take on the seafood salad. Traditional Costa Rican ceviche is prepared with white sea bass, bell pepper, onion, lime juice, and cilantro.

Where to try it

Ceviche is best alongside a cold beer and chips at the beach, and some of the best in the country is found along the Pacific Coast, such as at Leda in the port town of Puntarenas.

2. Gallo Pinto

You won’t make it a day in Costa Rica without gallo pinto, the national dish of rice and beans, seasoned with spices, peppers, onions, and lots of cilantro. Tico-style gallo pinto is part of a very typical breakfast dish called desayuno típico. It’s served with fried or scrambled eggs, fried plantains—another Costa Rica must-eat—and avocado (don’t forget Salsa Lizano tamarind sauce). It’s also eaten throughout the day as a staple side dish.

Where to try it

Each region of Costa Rica has its own variation and Guanacaste is known for serving some of the best (try Rancho Ania, Palenque Garabito, or La Choza de Laurel).

Casado, a typical lunch in Costa Rica.

The casado meal can be found on menus across Costa Rica.

Photo by PetraJPhoto/Shutterstock

3. Casado

Another dish accompanied by gallo pinto, the traditional meal of casado is served with either fish, chicken, or a pork chop, and a variety of sides like fried plantains, picadillo (vegetable hash), salad, and sometimes corn tortillas.

Where to try it

A casual lunchtime version of desayuno típico, you’ll find casado on many lunchtime menus, especially at Costa Rica’s small and casual open-air cafés known as “sodas.”

4. Batidos

Pair your casado with a batido, a ridiculously colorful drink of fresh fruit blended with ice. The Costa Rican smoothie is typically blended with one or more fruits, including guava, pineapple, papaya, mango, blackberries, and strawberries.

Where to try it

In San José, pick up a batido at the Central Market.

5. Rice and beans

There’s a strong Caribbean influence on Costa Rican food in places like Limone and Puerto Viejo on the east coast, where you’ll find dishes you won’t get anywhere else in the country. Classic gallo pinto is simply “rice and beans” here—a coconut milk-infused (or hot tomato version) made with red beans—not black—and served with chicken or fish and fried green plantains.

Where to try it

Give it a whirl while staying at the boutique Hotel Aguas Claras or in town at Lidia’s Place in Puerto Viejo, where you should also try pan bon (a sweet Caribbean bread made with coconut milk and dried fruit) and slow-cooked rondón seafood stew. For the ultimate Caribbean snack, get your hands on a couple of spiced meat pies cooked with onion and chili powder.


Chifrijo: a taco salad, Costa Rican style.

Photo by AS Foodstudio/Shutterstock

6. Chifrijo

Craving bar food? Order chifrijo, which is basically a taco salad with a distinct Costa Rican spin. The dish typically combines rice, beans, a fried protein (typically pork), and a regional version of pico de gallo in a bowl with tortilla chips and sliced avocado. Be sure to top it with more Salsa Lizano.

Where to try it

Find it in San José at Chicharronera Don Yayo, El Roble, or Bar Río de Janeiro Escazú.

7. Chorreadas

A chorreada is a traditional corn pancake made with salt, sugar, and water, typically served at breakfast but also as an afternoon snack with coffee. The corn base lends the dish a sweeter taste with a moist and spongy consistency.

Where to try it

You’ll find it served with a sweet sour cream (natilla), but also uniquely prepared at places like Hacienda AltaGracia, where a savory version features shiitake mushrooms, pickled red onion, fresh herbs, and lime vinaigrette. Try it also at La Fiesta Del Maíz and Casa del Maiz.

8. Pejibaye

Found along the coast, pejibaye is the fruit of the peach fruit palm tree. It grows in huge clusters high in the tree. Naturally, getting it down isn’t an easy process, but once collected, it’s typically cooked in salted water for a couple hours before the skin and seeds are removed. The result is a sweet potato-like texture with floral notes, best enjoyed with mayonnaise in the center.

Where to try it

Find it prepped like so at the weekly farmers markets in virtually any Costa Rican town.

Lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean.

Lionfish has no natural predators in this part of the Caribbean and threatens other aquatic populations.

Photo by Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock

9. Lionfish

OK, lionfish at the table is by no means a traditional Costa Rican affair, but this nonnative fish has been overtaking the waters of the Caribbean. It’s on many menus in a creative and sustainable effort to reduce numbers.

Where to try it

Partake in the movement at Monly Bar Restaurant Grill in Puerto Viejo, where you’ll discover a fish with a white flaky texture similar to grouper or mahi-mahi and a touch of butteriness.

10. Tres Leches

It’s a funny thing that Costa Rica’s national desert originated in Mexico, because tres leches is so very Costa Rican—and a foodie obsession for those with a sweet palette. This spongy cake is always made from scratch with sugar, flour, eggs, and vanilla, plus three types of milk—evaporated, heavy cream, and sweetened condensed—then topped with whipped cream.

Where to try it

You’ll find it everywhere, but dig in with abandon in San José at Spoon or the restaurant at the Grano de Oro Hotel.

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