Pura Vida, Costa Rica! Top 10 Food Favorites

Hungry? Thirsty? Neither? Good, you don’t have to be. Let’s keep things short and get to the good stuff, shall we?

My favorite food finds of Costa Rica from our two-week trip passing through Liberia, Playa Negra, Playa Santa Teresa, Monteverde, and Arenal/La Fortuna (more about our trip here and here). If you decide to head out to this b-e-a-utiful country, you must must must try these.

Where appropriate, I’ve included names of and links to restaurants, sodas, etc.

1. Burritos & Smoothies, La Ventanita, El Castillo

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Burrito bliss

Unpretentious and unsuspectingly delicious, the “ventanita” refers to the little window from which the owner/chef/artist takes, prepares, and serves up your order. Amazing burritos. It reminded me of the things I love about food.

Here’s what makes the difference (warning: foodie love rant ahead): Each bite was full of that mix of flavors you want from a burrito, a balance of all of its ingredients. You could tell that each ingredient was delicately placed onto the tortilla, and safely tucked inside ready for toasting, and most importantly, to be savored. We tried the chicken and beef versions. If you have to choose, I recommend the beef, because it was shredded and so more equally spread out in the burrito.

Paired with a refreshing Papaya smoothie (water-based, you generally have the option of water- or milk-based) and bliss. For an extra kick, you can add a splash of rum to any smoothies. Pineapple + rum = aaahhhh *refreshing drink sound*

2. Pipa Fria, Street Vendors (look out for the signs)

Coconut

Pipa fria, a chilled coconut, straight from nature’s cup. Ask the vendor to open up the coconut so you can enjoy the coconut meat too!

You’ve been driving for hours, it’s hot outside, your water is lukewarm, and you pass a sign on the side of the road that reads: “Pipa Fria.”

Stop.

Right now.

Ok, first make sure your stopping by the side of the road won’t hurt anyone, but then seriously, stop, and go get one.

Drinking coconut water straight from the coconut is the ultimate refreshment. Even more so than a smoothie (and at a fraction of the price, at least in Costa Rica). Embracing nature’s gift straight from nature’s cup.

But here’s where I noticed a lot of people end the enjoyment too early. Once empty of its divine liquid, the coconut is tossed… But you’ve still got half the fun inside! Before rushing back to your car, your spot on the beach, or wherever you ‘need’ to be, drink up close to the vendor, and ask them: “Puedes abrir por favor?” – You won’t regret it. (Unless for some reason you don’t like coconut, in which case, I’m sorry, but you are missing out.) They’ll even make you your very own coconut spoon (made from the husk) so you can spoon out the slippery, sweet, meat. Ok, now you can toss it.

3. Casados, Sodas (almost everywhere)

Casado

Our first Casado in Playa Negra

We tried this everywhere and each time was equally delicious despite the variations. You can’t go wrong with Costa Rica’s national dish. It means ‘married man’ and man, this is a marriage I could get used to. With rice, beans, plantains, vegetables, and meat, he’s a hearty one, so put your eating pants on and don’t plan anything fancy for the afternoon.

Since being back home, we’ve made this three times to bring us back to that Pura Vida state. (I’ve been using this recipe with some small modifications to the chicken marinade which means adding soya sauce. To complete the dish, I made a side of almost caramelized bell peppers/onions, guacamole, and salsa. And if you’re really hungry, sour cream too. If anyone wants a more complete recipe let me know!). Of course, our dish would be incomplete without the next one on my list, which we were able to bring back home with us!

4. Lizano’s Salsa Sauce, Supermarkets (even in the airport)

Lizano sauce

Our stock of Lizano sauce (disappearing too quickly)

By chance, we splashed some of this one our first meal of eggs, rice, and beans, and we’d found our new condiment of choice. Who needs ketchup when you have Lizano sauce? Full of flavor, this sweet, salty, tangy, sauce became a staple on rice, and sometimes even just with bread.

As I said, we brought some back with us (and in case you forget to buy it at the supermarket, not to worry, we found bottles at the airport too).

5. Papaya & Pina Jam, Monteverde

Papaya Pina Jam

Chunky papaya and pineapple jam, a sweet treat

While I’ve tried jams beyond the ‘typical’ raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, this one eluded me. I’m so happy we stumbled upon each other!

It was a Thursday, we were at breakfast, and along with our toast, a little dish with an orange-colored jam descended on our table. Orange jam is not my favorite, so I avoided it at first. I don’t even remember why, but the fate brought me to try it.

Oh, and it was good. A sweet blend of papaya with chunks of pineapple made by a local women’s association to help raise funds.

We brought some leftover peanut butter and made a little PB&J a la Costa Rica, just perfect (I’m having some as I write this, what inspiration it is). For me, it wasn’t just the surprise food find, but also just goes to show us not to make assumptions about what’s put in front of us and to try before we judge. Life lessons from food, the best teacher.

6. Ceviche, Sodas (almost everywhere)

Cevichito

Sampling ceviche at every possible place

Like Casados, we ordered this everywhere. Fresh slices of fish are “cooked” in a combination of lime juice, onion, garlic, coriander, and chili, and served with tortilla chips or crackers. A light and refreshing snack or starter to any meal and definitely gives you your fix of seafood. We also tried the shrimp variation, mmm…. Shrimp…

7. Mystery dish, El Sabor Tico, Monteverde/Santa Elena

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An amazing dish at El Sabor Tico in Monteverde

To forget is a tragedy and sadly, I can’t remember what this dish is called, but I’m hoping these details will capture it sufficiently so it can be found and enjoyed once more. Fried pork, tortilla, bean paste, salsa, fried sweet plantain, salad. Put it all together and in particular, the plantain’s sweetness combined with the saltiness of the pork is ah-mazing. Describing it makes me want to eat it pronto. El Sabor Tico got everything right.

8. Pork BBQ with a Mini-Tortilla, Paraiso New Year’s Fair/Liberia

Pork BBQ

Pork BBQ

If you read my first post about our Costa Rica trip, you will have seen my rant about how this pork BBQ was a gem that made our taste buds rejoice in its simplicity and the ingenuity of using a mini-tortilla to take a piece of pork off the BBQ stick and then, be able to eat it all in one bite. While I thought we might never encounter this humble pairing outside of the Paraiso New Year’s Fair, the sight of a vendor smoking up their BBQ on Liberia’s Church square was a relief. Lesson: Keep a look out for BBQ stands. You never know when they’ll pop up and delight you.

9. Ice Cream, Monteverde Cheese Factory, Monteverde

Monteverde Ice Cream

Costa Rica’s best ice cream courtesy of the Monteverde Cheese Factory

While browsing through my new favorite travel companion, the LP Guide, we found out that Monteverde is home to the best ice cream in Costa Rica. Say what?! It’s also home to a cheese factory, where you can buy local… Gouda! Gouda?! In Costa Rica? I hope I’m not the only one who was surprised. Of course, we had to make a stop. I confirm, it was GOOD. Creamy. We mistook another ice cream parlor for the Monteverde Cheese Factory Ice Cream, and this was worlds apart. Did I say creamy? I tried the sour cream and strawberry (which kind of tastes like strawberry yogurt/strawberry cheesecake) and macadamia nut. Divine. (And the Gouda was a nice pairing with some crackers, too!)

10. 3-in-1 Combo: Patacones, Tacos, & Fish Special of the Day

It was tough picking out just ten, so for #10, a combo of honorable mentions:

With that, I am now hungry and Costa Rica-sick, so I will have to leave it at that to make a snack. And a question – do you know what the mystery dish is called? If you do, please let me know, I’ll be eternally grateful.

And if you’re heading to Costa Rica, buen provecho!

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