Top Restaurants in Costa Rica

Local food is a way of life in Costa Rica. Corn, beans, and root vegetables are grown here and find their place on most Tico tables. But the culinary scene is opening up to the world: Expect Asian and European restaurants, too.

Highlights
Calle 31, San José, Costa Rica
Kalú is the brainchild of Costa Rican-French chef Camille Ratton, who sought to create a sacred space for diners to encounter new tastes. Backed by a capable kitchen crew, Ratton turns out colorful, tasty dishes based on Mediterranean, Asian, and Creole flavors. Try the Spanish omelet with coffee-smoked salmon, or soba noodles and roasted vegetables topped with spinach-pistachio-encrusted fish. Kalú also operates two retail operations on-site: Kiosko, a gift store, and Cafeoteca, which roasts, packs, and sells coffee from Costa Rica’s every province.
Av 11, San José, Costa Rica
A shared love for southern Italian comfort food and a chance encounter in the supermarket drew chefs Antonio d’Alaimo and Ciro Genova into this gastronomic venture. The Italian duo, known to everyone as Ciro and Tony, personally welcome every guest to their small dining room. The menu features, among other things, veal marsala, snapper in wine sauce with fresh tomato and laurel, and tortellini Alessandro (pasta stuffed with chopped ham and cream). A wide-ranging wine list and tempting dessert menu help round out the evening.
Calle 33
This Madrid-style tavern specializes in Spanish as well as Italian, Lebanese, and Mediterranean tapas. Like many other spots in Barrio Escalante, Olio is known for its lively atmosphere—yet not so lively you can’t carry on a conversation. Its exposed-brick walls and eclectic decor lend it a particular warmth. The restaurant is also famed for cocktails, European wines, and fusion sangrias in locally inspired flavors like pineapple or watermelon.
Av Sta Teresita, San José, Costa Rica
Though Costa Rica is home to any number of artisanal ice cream shops, Galway is the first and only one to serve up ice creams based on liquor—as well as ones that leverage the bonanza of tropical fruits available in the country. The shop’s been packed since opening day. So whether you go for a cone of the Tequila Rosa, a Jager-cream, or any of the fruit flavors, your mouth is in for a delightful surprise.
Calle Real, San José, San Rafael, Costa Rica
Since 1998, Saúl Méndez, a chain of clothing stores, has been branching out into the food world with a series of bistros and cafés it has successfully opened in Guatemala and Costa Rica. One of the most visited branches, in Barrio Escalante, is located in a repurposed old house. Saúl Bistro serves salads, soups, sweet and savory crepes, desserts, and a full line of coffees and juices. The café is a solid choice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is popular for afternoon tea, too. Our fave: Saúl’s Central American–style breakfast, featuring gallo pinto (rice and black beans) with eggs and a white-corn tortilla.
Calle 33, San José, Costa Rica
Thanks to some amusing murals by local artist Juan Gha, no one overlooks Bocana. Besides the artwork, Bocana is known for a selection of tapas, pizzas, and other bar food, as well as an array of Costa Rica’s popular artisanal beers. The menu includes some highly original flavor and style combinations, like the platanachos, which blend two favorite snacks—fried plantain chips, called patacones, and cheesy nachos—on one plate. The second-floor location offers lovely views of Escalante architecture and the commuter trains as they hustle by.
Av 13, San José, Costa Rica
Restaurante Whapin is a great option for getting to know—and love—authentic Caribbean cuisine, with its unusual spices and unmistakable coconut infusions. A yummy snapper, Cahuita-style, does plenty to breach the distance between San José and the Caribbean. And that’s what good eating is all about: building bridges to the world’s farthest corners, one delicious bite at a time.
Avenida Central
They say if you really want to know what a country is all about, you should go to its markets. A great example of this maxim can be found at San Jose’s Mercado Central, which sprawls across an entire city block and is a state-designated cultural landmark. Stalls, set along narrow aisles, sell meat and fish, cheese, artisanal crafts, clay pottery, grains, natural remedies, shoes, and traditional costumes. Look for the stalls that locals call sodas: These informal restaurants, truly Tica treasures, serve Costa Rican staples like the best olla de carne (beef and vegetable stew) you ever tasted. This multihued market is a must-visit.
Calle 11
Tin Jo, a family-run restaurant, has five themed dining rooms, each dedicated to a different Asian culture: Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, and Thai. Guests order from a menu that includes selections from all the countries’ cuisines, so you can sit in the Indian hall and enjoy a sushi dinner while your companion has wonton soup and chicken satay. You won’t forget the experience . Don’t dream of leaving without trying the exotic sorbets, such as blackberry with anise, or zacate-herb with lime.
Calle 5, San José, Costa Rica
Alma de Amón, located in old-school Barrio Amón, seeks to revive some of Latin America’s very best dishes. The border-crossing cuisines are served by candlelight in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Among the recommended dishes: traditional Costa Rican olla de carne (a beef and vegetable stew), Puerto Rican–style mofongo, with fried plantains, and Cuban guava pastries. The artisanal sodas—created by Canadian mixologist Liz Furlong—include standouts like the Dr. Clorito Picado (named for a pioneering physician and malaria researcher). The grapefruit concoction is served with a red-syrup-filled syringe for color. The vivid red cocktail happens to match the restaurant’s walls, which are hung with portraits of eminent Latin Americans like Pope Francis, Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz, and the legendary soccer star Pelé.
Calle 15, San José, Costa Rica
French chef Patricia Richer has imported French tastes to her adopted Costa Rica. Every evening, she opens her 1927 Barrio Amón house to 12 lucky diners at a time, where she serves Provençale fare in rooms designed to evoke Parisian romance. On Saturdays, the chef leads personalized French cooking classes. (Given the small scale and the intimate vibe of the dinners and the classes, reservations for both are de rigueur.)
Besides Poás’s impressive volcano, this beautiful region is home to cozy down-home restaurants. One standout is Freddo Fresas, named for the strawberries (fresas) that constitute the region’s principal crop. Diners here enjoy tasting local specialties such as hand-thrown tortillas, chorreadas (a sweet-corn pancake iteration), tamales, bean empanadas, and other rustic yummies. Their strawberry-based desserts—fashioned from fruit just picked from the restaurant’s garden—are a must. Never too acidic or overly sweet, the perfect berries are like nothing you can get at your hometown supermarket. Try fresh strawberry juice or eat the fruit in the Costa Rican mode, i.e., with condensed milk or melted chocolate.
Among Playa Avellana’s numerous pleasures, the small-town, almost-no-cars vibe sets the scene for true relaxation—as well as fun. Look for Lola’s—perhaps the hippest spot in town—in the tiny business district and try out fresh, locally sourced pizzas, mahi-mahi tacos, and veggie burgers; smoothie lovers will go nuts. Locals and visitors pack in under the almond trees late mornings after surf excursions and other adventures. Be on the lookout for Lolita, the piglet daughter of the original Lola (sadly no longer with us) as she frolics in the sand or ranges across the property.
From Soccer field in Potrero 4 Km North, Provincia de Guanacaste, Las Catalinas, 50304, Costa Rica
Set tight in the jungles around Hotel Casa Chameleon, at Las Catalinas, the restaurant Sentido Norte is 45 minutes from the Guanacaste provincial capital, Liberia. A hilltop restaurant helmed by Costa Rican chef José López, it showcases a mix of local tastes and other modern classics, from sunrise until sunset daily. French toast with plantains, and ceviche punta penca (shrimp, octopus, and avocado) are current top orders; don’t miss the liquid enchantment on offer at the bar, perfect for sunsets, and aguas de sapo, a sweet, spiky pop made with guaro aguardiente.
Provincia de Guanacaste, Los Pargos, Costa Rica
Petite, luxurious Villa Deevena is at the heart of nature in Playa Negra, Los Pargos. Its clean lines announce this is something different and the magical dishes that come from Chef Patrick Jamon’s kitchen have created a local sensation, with an emphasis on seafood, always fresh and locally sourced. Exuberant tropical tastes (with a dash of the French) add to a refined, never-mass-tourism vibe.
Main road to Tamarindo, 500m SW from Auto Mercado, in front of El Tesoro, Provincia de Guanacaste, Tamarindo, 50309, Costa Rica
Cozy and comfortable, it’s hard to leave Pangas. The hours fly by here, where the Las Baulas estuary meets the Pacific, at wooden tables, right on the sand; or beneath marvelous, sparkle-lit trees in a setting that’s practically one with the surrounding nature. A tropical fusion menu makes the most of local bounty, featuring innumerable fruits, grass-fed beef, and locally caught seafood; fresh-prepared cocktails intensify the vibe. Surf-racks and showers available to those coming off the waves; reservations suggested.
Ave. 11 Calle 3A - 955, Barrio Amón, San José Province, San José, 10101, Costa Rica
Chef Santiago Fernández Benedetto is a lively personality on San José’s burgeoning gastronomic scene and without a doubt, Restaurante Silvestre is lovingly designed first restaurant. In 2017, he transformed an old manor house in Barrio Amón (a previously elite neighborhood) into a charming kitchen and dining room. These days he’s playing with traditional Costa Rican ingredients to conjure up unique, contemporary dishes. The menu showcases fish, meat, and vegan options, with seasonal specials. A well-stocked cava provides wonderful wine pairings. Whatever you order, leave some space for dessert—we recommend the guava filled chocolate spheres, inspired by actual UNESCO World Heritage indigenous stone spheres.
Provincia de Guanacaste, Sámara, Costa Rica
At El Lagarto, you can partake in two of Manuel Antonio’s greatest assets: scenic views and ocean-fresh seafood. This is just the place to order lobster, shrimp, scallops, squid, octopus, or red snapper. The BBQ part of the restaurant’s name means that meat-eaters also have excellent choices—think steaks and ribs—while vegans delight to grilled vegetables, mushrooms, and other veg-forward specialties. Relax and sip a cocktail as your order sizzles alongside tomatoes or zucchini and eggplant slices. A table by the windows is perfect for watching the sun sink into the tranquil Quepos Sea. Reservations strongly recommended.
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