costa rican food

Must-try Costa Rican Foods and Where to Try Them

Costa Rica, known for its lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and diverse wildlife, is also home to a vibrant and flavorful culinary tradition. Its cuisine reflects its agricultural abundance and cultural diversity, offering a variety of delicious dishes deeply rooted in local customs. Here’s a detailed guide to some must-try Costa Rican foods and where to savor them. Let’s dive in!


Ceviche is a refreshing, zesty Costa Rica dish for hot tropical days. It’s made with fresh fish or shrimp marinated in tangy lime juice for an hour and mixed with chopped onions, cilantro, and bell peppers. The acidity of the lime juice “cooks” the fish, giving it a tender texture without the need for heat. It’s typically served with soda crackers or plantain chips, making it an ideal starter or light meal.

Where to try: Some of the best ceviches in the country are along the Pacific Coast, especially in the port town of Puntarenas.

  • La Leda: W7CR+MGC, Provincia de Puntarenas, Espíritu Santo, Mata de Limón, Costa Rica
  • La Cevicheria: 50m North of Rancho Itauna Provincia de Puntarenas Santa Teresa, Cobano, 60111, Costa Rica
Gallo Pinto
By Facebook of Rancho Ania Oficial

If you haven’t sampled Gallo Pinto, you’re missing out on one of the must-try Costa Rican foods. Gallo Pinto’s name, “spotted rooster,” comes from the speckled appearance of the rice and beans.

This dish mixes rice and black beans with onions, bell peppers, and cilantro. It’s often served as breakfast and a staple side dish throughout the day. For breakfast, it might be served with scrambled or fried eggs, a dollop of natilla (sour cream), fried plantains, and perhaps a slice of fresh cheese. For lunch and dinner, it’s a side of meat or fish. This hearty dish will fuel your adventures through the rainforest or a day of surfing.

Where to try:

The Casado, translating to “married man,” is Costa Rica’s go-to lunch dish. There’s no fixed recipe; it’s a mix-and-match of veggies and protein. You could get grilled fish, stewed beef, a pork chop, or fried chicken, all served with white rice, beans, and a coleslaw or a simple salad of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. Sometimes, it also includes fried plantains, avocado slices, tortillas, or even a fried egg, depending on where you are and what’s in season. Each component complements the others, creating a symphony of flavors and textures.

Where to try: Almost every restaurant has casado on their lunchtime menus, so you can easily find it everywhere, especially at Costa Rica’s small and casual open-air cafés.

Arroz con Pollo - Must-try Costa Rican foods
By Facebook of Rosti Costa Rica

Arroz con pollo is a beloved dish featuring rice cooked with chicken (or shrimp), vegetables, and spices. The rice absorbs all the delicious flavors, resulting in a colorful, flavorful, and hearty meal. Adding annatto seeds gives the rice its distinctive yellow color and a slightly nutty flavor. Often served with a side of beans or salad, this dish is a staple at family gatherings and special occasions. 

Where to try: Check out these spots in San Jose:

  • La Criollita:  Av. 7, San José, El Carmen, 10101, Costa Rica
  • Rosti • San José: Calle 5 Av Primera y al Cine Variedades, Diagonal 3A, San José, Costa Rica

Batidos are the tropical smoothies of your dreams. Made with fresh, locally sourced fruits like mango, papaya, pineapple, and passion fruit, these drinks can be blended with either milk or water. They’re refreshing, nutritious, and perfect for cooling down on a hot day. Some popular variations include batidos made with soursop or guanabana, a fruit known for its unique sweet and tangy flavor.

Where to try: You’ll find batidos at local cafes and vendor stalls, but the easiest place to get them is the central market. 

  • San José Central Market: WWM9+V5F, Calle 8, San José Province, San José, Paso De La Vaca, Costa Rica
By Instagram of Indiasplace

Rondón is a rich, hearty stew from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It contains fish, coconut milk, plantains, yucca, and spices. It’s a flavorful and comforting dish that showcases the Afro-Caribbean influence on Costa Rican cuisine. The name “Rondón” comes from the English phrase “run down,” referring to how the ingredients are cooked to create a delicious, thick stew.

Where to try:

  • Restaurante Lidia’s Place:  M64X+C44, Limón Province, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica
  • Restaurante Riquísimo:  Av. 71, Limón, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica
Chifrijo - Must-try Costa Rican foods
By Facebook of Bar Río de Janeiro Escazú

Chifrijo is the ultimate Costa Rican bar snack. This dish features layers of rice, black beans, and crispy pork rinds (chicharrón), topped with fresh pico de gallo salsa and a handful of tortilla chips. Scooping up a bit of everything with a crunchy tortilla chip is like a fiesta in your mouth. It’s perfect for sharing with friends over a cold beer. Chifrijo is a must-try for anyone wanting to dive into local flavors.

Where to try: If you’re in San Jose, check out these restaurants:

Olla de Carne - Must-try Costa Rican foods
By Facebook of Restaurante Rancho del Sapito

When it comes to comfort food, Olla de Carne takes the crown. This traditional beef stew is a hearty mix of chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, plantains, yucca, and corn, all simmered in a rich, savory broth. It’s the meal that warms you from the inside out, perfect for a cozy dinner or a leisurely Sunday lunch.

Where to try:

  • Restaurante El Sapito:  230, Provincia de Cartago, Capellades, 30603, Costa Rica
  • Restaurante Los Pizotes:  V6R5+H69, Ruta Nacional Primaria 10, Provincia de Cartago, Cervantes, Costa Rica

For something a bit different, try Pejibaye, or peach palm fruit. This unique fruit is boiled until tender and typically served with a sprinkle of salt, a dollop of mayonnaise, or a squeeze of lime juice. It has a slightly nutty flavor and a creamy texture, making it a satisfying and healthy option when craving something light and nutritious.

Where to try: Pejibaye can be found at the weekly farmers’ markets in almost every Costa Rican town.

By Facebook of La Fiesta Del Maíz

Next, Chorreadas are thick, corn-based pancakes that are slightly sweet and delicious. Made from fresh corn kernels blended with milk, eggs, and a bit of sugar, these pancakes are cooked on a grill until golden brown. They are often served with a dollop of natilla (Costa Rican sour cream) or drizzled with honey. Chorreadas are a great breakfast or a delightful snack any time of the day.

Where to try:

Tres Leches
By Spoon’s website

No list of Costa Rican foods would be complete without mentioning Tres Leches. This decadent dessert, meaning “three milks,” is a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream. The result is a moist, rich cake topped with whipped cream and sometimes fresh fruit. This cake is the perfect end to any meal or a delightful treat.

Where to try: You can find it widely available, but if you’re in San Jose, check out these spots:

Tamales - Must-try Costa Rican foods
By Facebook of Tamales Típicos Rafaeleños

Tamales are a festive favorite in Costa Rica, especially during the holiday season. They make these savory bundles by filling masa (corn dough) with various ingredients like pork, chicken, or beans, wrapping them in banana leaves, and steaming them to perfection. The result is a flavorful, soft dough that encases a savory filling. Tamales are a favorite during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations but are a treat any time of year.

Where to try:

  • Restaurante Sabor Tico:  620, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Costa Rica
  • Tamales Típicos Rafaeleños: C. 4, Heredia, San Rafael, 40501, Costa Rica
  • Tamalera Doña Aida: Costado oeste de la plaza de deportes de la arena, Provincia de Alajuela, Grecia, 20303, Costa Rica

In a nutshell, food is a crucial part of any trip. Whether you’re grabbing a bite in lively markets, local spots, or beachside joints, we hope this must-try Costa Rican foods guide will spice up your culinary journey through Costa Rica. Pack your appetite and prepare for a culinary adventure in Costa Rica. Who knows, you might discover your new favorite dish here!

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