Costa Rica may be a rather small country, but its cultural diversity is well known in Latin America. This small nation spans from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean Sea, with valleys, mountains, volcanoes, and lakes spread throughout the middle. Each region of the country comes with its unique climate, flora and fauna, and cultural way of life. While the central mountainous region is renowned for its mild climate and bountiful farming, the Pacific coast proves to be extremely hot and tropical. The Caribbean coast is another culture altogether, with traditions flowing from the locals’ Afro-Caribbean and indigenous origins. As all travelers know, there is no better way to experience the culture of an area than through the cuisine. Eating your way through Costa Rica will prove to be just as diverse and interesting as is the country, and the cultural differences between the 7 provinces can be easily distinguished through their meals.
Your itinerary for your Costa Rica trip is probably already overflowing with jungle hikes, beaches, and volcano trips, but don’t forget to research your meal options as well. While restaurants and outdoor eating opportunities are bountiful and easy to find in Costa Rica, putting a bit of research behind your meal choices will be worth the work. To help you on your journey, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 restaurants in each of Costa Rica’s 7 provinces.
The Alajuela Province is a central mountainous region which claims the best weather in the entire world. Their fertile mountain land makes for excellent farming and produces high-quality, local produce. They also farm livestock and poultry. The abundance of farming opportunities in this province is apparent in their restaurant options.
- Restaurant Chubascos
Chubascos is a traditional food restaurant which takes full advantage of the local exotic plants. You’ll enjoy plates full of black beans, plantains, locally sourced meats, and soups. This is absolutely the best way to experience Costa Rican traditional cuisine, all owned and prepared by a local family. This restaurant boasts traditional architecture with both indoor and outdoor seating options, a tropical garden, and traditional decor.
- El Chante Vegano
Regardless of your eating restrictions, visiting a vegan restaurant is the best way to experience the bountiful tropical foods of Costa Rica. The food is not only healthy and all locally sourced, it also takes a vegan spin on traditional Latin American meals. Your plate will be stuffed with avocados, beans, sprouts, and herbs, and you’ll enjoy it in a beautiful open-air garden.
- Carnes y Parrillas
Lovingly named “meats and grills,” you know exactly what is on the menu at this small restaurant. While slightly more expensive than other grill restaurants around, you make up for the cost with huge portion sizes and top-quality meats. Specializing in plates for two and Latin American grilling flavors, your huge meal should be washed down with a pitcher of sangria.
- Xandari Resort & Spa Restaurant
This is absolutely the best option for dinner with a view. Located high on a hill overlooking Alajuela, this resort restaurant produces gourmet meals at an affordable price. If you enjoy it, you may choose to stay for lodging and spa options.
Monteleone may have the best steak and grilled fish around, but they are actually famous for their incredible beer list, cocktails, and funny bartenders. You’ll find a great variety of Latin food and enjoy local Costa Rican craft beers or hand-made cocktails in open-air seating.
Also centrally located and agriculturally rich, the province of Cartago will provide food options similar to Alajuela Province. When in these central provinces, you’ll never go wrong with a veggie based plate and a good cut of meat.
- Bocadito del Cielo
Starting with a traditional Costa Rican cuisine restaurant, the “Bite of Heaven” is the highest rated restaurant in Cartago Province on several online review boards. This restaurant has proven to be a favorite among visitors and locals alike, and will offer plates filled with plantains, corn tortillas, seasoned beans, and meat.
- Malanga Fusion Caribe
This restaurant honors the owners’ Caribbean roots with tropical, exotic meals. This is the perfect chance to experience the culture and cuisine of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. You’ll enjoy seafood, soups, exotic sauces, and an incredible view with outdoor seating options.
- Inka Grill
Inka Grill is a Peruvian seafood grill perfect for seafood lovers and vegetarians. Your bill will be slightly higher than average for a Cartago restaurant, but the octopus, shrimp, and fish is top of the line. Complete with tangy sauces and lots of lime, this will be a dish you’ll remember.
- Tintos & Blancos
An upscale version of traditional Costa Rican food, “Reds and Whites” has the best wine list in all of Cartago Province. This restaurant will serve fine food, perfectly paired wine, and will offer a classy and relaxing dining experience.
- Novillo Alegre
This Argentinean Steakhouse takes full advantage of the livestock industry in Cartago. While not suitable for vegetarians, Novillo Alegre has absolutely the best red meat options in the province. Complete with thick, South American style sauces and seafood appetizers, this meal will leave you full for a surprisingly economical price.
Bordering the Pacific shoreline, your trip to Costa Rica will most likely lead you through Guanacaste at some point. Here, visitors are looking for a beach vacation and fresh seafood, and very few leave disappointed.
1. Villa Deveena
This high-scale restaurant is perfect for a big celebration or a fancy night out on the town. The menu is a French/European take on local seafoods and fresh meats. Often booked for wedding receptions and anniversary events, Villa Deveena is the perfect way to celebrate a night on the beach.
- La Bodega
For the traveler on a budget, La Bodega offers, hands-down, the best breakfasts and lunches in the province, and all in low Costa Rican pricing. Health-focused, the menu is full of local vegetables, cheeses, and meats. A salad or sandwich at La Bodega will give you the energy you need for an afternoon of surfing.
- Black Stallion Café and Surf Saloon
This barbeque based restaurant is situated in its own little ranch, right next to hiking trails, ziplining excursions, and horseback riding tours. For South American style barbeque and side dishes, this restaurant is perfect for the hungry adventurer.
- Surf Box
On Playa Flamingo, this casual, café-style restaurant will absolutely blow you away. With their exotic fruits, loaded yogurts and oatmeal, and fresh ingredient tacos, this restaurant choice will appease vegetarians, vegans, meat lovers, and people of any food intolerance. Known for their fresh produce and creative uses of exotic fruits, a meal at Surf Box will give you ideas to bring home with you.
- Le COQ Lebanese Health Food
After a couple weeks of fried plantains and Costa Rican rice and beans, you may be ready for a break. This Lebanese restaurant provides a heart-healthy cuisine of falafel, fish, shawarma, and a great variety of other middle eastern foods.
Thickly forested, Heredia Province is Northern/Central, bordering Nicaragua. You’ll find influences from many different cultures in this small but diverse province.
- Trilogy Pub & Friends
In a college town, you expect to find good pubs and a long beer list. Trilogy Pub & Friends won’t let you down. With a casual ambiance, you’ll find a great selection of both local and imported beers, great appetizers and pub style foods, and plenty of pool tables and bar games. This may not be the best choice for someone looking for a large, hearty meal, but Trilogy Pub & Friends is definitely a great way to spend your night.
- Factory Steak and Lobster
Although slightly pricier, this restaurant goes the extra mile with every one of their dishes. Renowned for their lobster and muscles, your plate will be large, artistically presented, and absolutely delicious. They have great service and a beautiful space to complement their gourmet dishes.
- Kawah Café
This café style restaurant is a favorite among locals in Heredia. With food for vegetarians and meat lovers alike, Kawah Café provides a beautiful open-air seating arrangement with creative dishes and prize-winning Costa Rican coffee. Your soup, salad, or sandwich will be filled with seasonal vegetables and local meats.
- Taste of Inda506
When you’re ready for a break from Central American cooking, this Indian restaurant will surprise your taste buds. With dishes like Lamb Spinach Curry and Butter Chicken, this traditional Indian restaurant will pair your foods with yogurt smoothies and warm, fresh naan.
- The Market
This market style restaurant is an Italian fusion joint with fresh ingredients. Famous for their pastas, sandwiches, and brunch options, The Market is a great place to eat healthy and enjoy a nice coffee for a decent price.
When visiting the Caribbean province of Costa Rica, food should be among your highest priorities. This province is bursting with tropical, Caribbean culture, and that pride is clear in their food options as well.
- Black Star Line Restaurant
Black Star Line Restaurant is bursting with flavor and natural ingredients. The original building burned down last year, but the owners opened a new locale just across the street. The Caribbean flavors with a Jamaican twist will be just the beginning of the memorable experience, and the excellent service and English-speaking waiters will complete the meal.
- Soda El Patty
Sodas, or cafeteria-style venues, rarely make lists of top restaurants in any area, but Soda El Patty has been a favorite for visitors and locals alike for generations. You will receive a plate brimming with the most traditional, authentic cuisine and fresh-squeezed juices. The service is quick and dependable, so the mouthwatering smells coming from the kitchen won’t torture you for long. While not suitable for a formal meal, this soda will give you the most authentic glimpse of Caribbean life.
- Caribbean Kalisi Coffee Shop
This Caribbean coffee shop is to die for, complete with a self-serve buffet. With fish, chicken, cow tongue, oxtail, and beef all available, this may be your opportunity to try some dishes that have scared you previously. Each plate will be filled with Caribbean style rice and beans. They also have a great dessert menu and coffee options.
- Red Snapper Restaurant
This restaurant is perched on top of a hill with a view of the entire city. It has a beautifully constructed building, lively environment, and often offers live entertainment. The food is absolutely delicious and has something for everyone, from traditional Afro-Caribbean meals to Italian or American style dining.
- Gelateria Lemons
While not technically a restaurant, a Caribbean food list wouldn’t be complete without a tropical, hand-made ice cream joint. They offer tropical ice cream, great coffee, as well as other pastries and sweet crepes.
Puntarenas is the southern-most province and spans the majority of the Pacific Coast line. This tropical paradise is full of white sand beaches and exotic food options.
- Bar Restaurant Los Laureles
The owner loves her restaurant, and this love comes through in her menu, presentation style, and overall environment. During your meal, more likely than not the owner will come greet you herself to make sure you’re enjoy the night as much as she is. And with nacho patacones, fish tacos, Cajun pasta, and coconut flan on the menu, you probably are.
- Ohana Sushi Tapas Bar
You may be in Central America, but the location right on the Pacific Ocean creates the perfect opportunity for fresh sushi. This will be a fun and lively night for you and your travel companions, and Central American made sushi will not disappoint.
This Central American cuisine restaurant created with a French flare will be memorable, to say the least. They have a large and varied menu, and will work with your glutton or lactose intolerances. You’ll try new dishes like Plum Stuffed Chicken and Pork Tournedos in this romantic and open aired restaurant.
- The Bamboo Room
This casual restaurant will help you get those fish & chips, burgers, or wings you’ve been craving. And what’s more, you’ll enjoy it overlooking the rainforest. Your meal will be creative and delicious, and the extremely talented bartenders can give you suggestions for an after-meal cocktail.
- Gringo Curt’s Seafood and Visitor Center
This “catch-of-the-day” style restaurant will put a huge filet of the freshest fish on top of sautéed vegetables, all cooked in a giant banana leaf. The portions are absolutely enormous, and often two people will opt for one plate. While they may not have a set menu, this may be your best option for quality fish and a meal that leaves no one disappointed.
- La Esquina de Buenos Aires
Here on “The Corner of Buenos Aires,” you’ll smell the food before you see it. This Argentinean steakhouse has absolutely the best steaks, empanadas, and garlic shrimp in the province. Not only that, the wine list is stunning, desserts plentiful, and the cocktails will keep coming.
- Tin Jo
People may be confused as to the strong Chinese influence in San Jose, but nobody contests the quality of the best Chinese restaurants in town. Tin Jo is an Asian fusion restaurant, with Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian influences. This restaurant never disappoints, and you may find yourself returning to try more options on the long and varied menu.
- La Divina Comida
Another Peruvian restaurant in this big city upsets no one, as there’s never too much ceviche, quinoa, octopus, or risotto. Ask the waiter to suggest a wine to go with your meal and enjoy every bite!
Somehow there’s a quality Italian Restaurant in every country in the world, and L’Olivo is Costa Rica’s. Once you start craving pasta, bread, and pancetta, stop in here and enjoy indoor seating and a great wine list.
- Restaurante Ram Luna
This is a traditional food restaurant complete with traditional entertainment during the weekends. The food is excellent, the dancing is entertaining and educational, and the ambiance is perfect for a big group or a quiet romantic dinner. The open-aired seating and incredible view of the city will make this the perfect night during your Costa Rican adventure.