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The Best Of Costa Rican Food | 15 Best Costa Rican Dishes

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Costa Rica is one of the world’s culinary treasures, with cuisine at once both simple and refined, a subtle mix of Amerindian staples, Spanish imports, and the typical tropical fruits and vegetables for which the country is famous.

The deliciousness of Costa Rican food is undeniably evident (especially when prepared overlooking a beautiful beach or lush mountain valley).

Dining in Costa Rica is a unique and authentic experience because of the naturalism that runs through the country. The country’s abundance of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, herbs, and spices is only one reason why Costa Rican food is so popular.

The nation has worked hard to become a go-to food destination, using ingredients that grow so well in this country’s fertile volcanic soil and climate.

Visiting other destinations in Central America? Check out our other delicious guides:

The Cost of Food in Costa Rica

Food prices in Costa Rica are one of the friendlier facets of the economy. Consequently, prices in San Jose tend to be higher than elsewhere, but still reasonable. 

You can enjoy a restaurant meal for $5-$10 or less and delicious desserts in most restaurants for $1-$3 (cheap by Western standards). 

Outside San Jose, food prices may be lower yet, especially if you’re willing to venture out of the tourist-trap cafes and restaurants. Real comfort food cooked by grandmothers may be less well known, but each bite is guaranteed to make you smile.

Let’s reveal the full spectrum of the most popular and delicious Costa Rican foods you can try out there, from snacks to full meals. 

15 Best Costa Rican Dishes

Olla de Carne – Beef and Vegetable Stew

I am starting with the most popular soup of Costa Rica, Olla de Carne. The name translates to “pot of meat,” which is prepared and served commonly as the main meal.

Costa Rica Food: Olla de Carne

Olla de Carne is a traditional dish prepared with yucca, corn, onion, garlic, plantains, potatoes, cilantro, carrots, and of course, a lot of beef. For the soup to reach its full potential and meld all the flavors, it should simmer for at least eight hours. This is because bone-in meat provides so much flavor as it slowly cooks within the soup. 

In this dish, you will typically find ribs or shanks of beef. However, if you’d like to try and prepare one at home, using brisket is easier to find and cheaper.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto is the national Costa Rica dish, and be prepared to see it for breakfast every single day. The Gallo Pinto recipe consists of boiling rice and black beans separately until soft. The beans are first rinsed under cold water, and the rice is left to soak overnight. Then they are both stewed together with chopped onions, garlic, and salt, and cilantro.

When you eat Gallo Pinto, you will notice how the beans absorb all of the flavors from the rest of the ingredients.  Natilla sour cream, fried plantains, or tortillas compliment the flavors and elevate the dish’s simplicity.

Costa Rica Food: Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto is a rustic staple food of Costa Rica, and if you’re hunting the best tasting one, always choose a cheaper, simple restaurant. They deliver the original taste without overstuffing the dish.

Tamal de Maicena

Tamal de Maicena is the star of Costa Rica’s typical dishes, always served with coffee. The texture of this specific Costa Rican food will make your mouth water. It is very thick and soft, with a delightful taste and a texture similar to pudding. It is usually served with “Arroz con Leche” (a sort of rice pudding).

Tamal de Maicena has the texture of a wobbly jelly cake with the consistency of custard. It’s sweet and kind of creamy in texture with an undertone of coconut. Sounds pretty good, huh? 

Tamal is popular for afternoon coffee in Costa Rica, but I think it would be good any time of day. It’s made of milk, sugar, freshly grated coconut, butter, cornstarch, and vanilla.

Some foods you can’t stop eating, no matter how full you are. And Tamal de Maicena is precisely one of those!

Sopa Negra – Black Bean Soup

Sopa Negra (Black Soup) is another vegetarian Costa Rican soup, originated in the country’s central mountains. Nowadays, it can also be found in the coastal regions, especially Limon’s Afro-Caribbean area. 

Sopa Negra has recently become very popular all over Central America. It’s known as “the bean soup” because it has many beans and chopped shallots, cabbage, celery, garlic, onion, cilantro, pepper, oregano, and salt. It is served with white rice and boiled egg slices.

Costa Rica Food: Sopa Negra

The soup is dense, rich, and flavorful. It may not appear fancy, but it warms your body and soul if you’re hiking the mountains during the colder season. 

Casado

The second most famous food in Costa Rica translates to “married man.” It originated when the men working at the fields used to bring mixed lunches wrapped in banana leaves prepared by their wives. Today it is a popular choice for lunch or dinner.

Costa Rica Food: Casado

In addition to being easy and quick to prepare, this dish can also be eaten hot or cold, which is why it is so popular and widely spread. 

Wrapping any type of meat like chicken, pork, beef, or fish with cabbage, tortillas, rice, or beans makes this simple Costa Rican food a safe bet on any restaurant menu.

Patacones

Say hello to these trendy Costa Rican snacks. Firm on the inside and very crunchy on the outside, patacones pair great with guacamole, mashed beans, chimichurri (chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lemon juice), tomato, or pink sauce.

I know this might sound weird, but I find patacones very similar to French fries, which I love. They are a great appetizer, but you can also serve them as a main dish for lunch. 

Costa Rica Food: Patacones

What’s not to love about patacones? Crunchy, salty, savory plantains that go perfectly with a good guacamole dip. A killer afternoon snack. 

Homemade patacones are also a great way to use up the plantains that aren’t so ripe anymore. In no time, you can have these addictive snacks ready and waiting on your table or buy them from the small comedores on almost every street corner in Costa Rica.

Tártaras Cocadas

Tártaras cocadas are a family tradition, and many Costa Rican families make them during holidays, especially during the holiday season between Christmas and New Year´s Eve. 

They travel well and can even be found in some places as a pre-made treat, helping give tártaras cocadas national renown. They are one of the most traditional desserts to come out of this tiny Central American country.

It is a distinctive sweet cake that has its origins more than a century ago in the Sarchi region, a mountainous area near the border with Nicaragua. Elizondo Morales Pelloquin says people in Sarchi used to sell the tartaras in carts pulled by donkeys or horses.

Baking them consists of a circular base of flour, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg, then filling them with a chewy coconut filling, tapa dulce (raw cane sugar), cinnamon, and nutmeg. The dough is both chewy and soft, and it goes through four different stages of cooking: frying, drying, boiling in sugar syrup, and dehydration. 

The four to six-unit packages of tartaras cocadas are most common. Certainly, a sign that eating just one is hard.

Palmito Cheese

I guess cheese is the last thing someone could connect with Costa Rican food, but wait until you have a bite. Palmito is Costa Rica’s most prized cheese and can be found in various stores throughout the country, or you can buy it directly from a producer. Palmito has a particular and subtle yet rich flavor, and it melts perfectly, making it the perfect ingredient for quesadillas and nachos.

The traditional way of preparing palmito cheese is to grate it using a coconut grater to obtain a stringy texture. It can also be found at bars or hotels in a ball that can be pulled apart (by hand or a knife).

Costa Rica Food: Palmito Cheese

Palmito cheese is produced in rural areas such as San Carlos and Zarcero. Traditional palmito cheese is made from pure cow’s milk from the farmers’ cows or cows that they direct. 

If you ever had mozzarella sticks as a kid, palmito cheese is your adult version of the same thing. And the tastes are also very similar.

Ensalada Rusa – Costa Rican style Russian Potato Salad

Ensalada Rusa is a traditional Russian salad that made its way to Costa Rica through the German, English, and Scandinavian settlers. Ensalada Rusa can substitute a complete meal because it consists of cooked potatoes, beets, carrots, chicken, chopped veggies, salad, mayonnaise, and salt.

You’ll love it if you like something colorful, sweet, and savory. Picnics, birthdays, and holidays are great occasions to serve this dish. 

Costa Rica Food: Ensalada Rusa

It is strange for a dish from Costa Rica to be influenced by Central Asian food, but it is true. Ensalada Rusa combines the traditional flavors of Central American cooking with those from Russian cuisine, specifically beetroot and boiled eggs. 

It is a semisweet salad that contains vegetables and proteins all in one meal. You can substitute any vegetables you like in this salad.

Chorreadas – Sweet Corn Pancakes

Chorreadas are a typical Costa Rican dish that, for many years, has been served as a snack at the local cantinas. They are also eaten throughout the day and are especially popular with kids. The name originated from the Spanish word “chorrear” (to pour).

There is no need to add syrup to these sweet corn pancakes, as they are sweet enough on their own. Corn is a staple grain in many parts of Latin America, and Costa Rica is no exception. Chorreadas use corn, milk, eggs, sugar, butter, flour, and vanilla extract to create a delicious dessert or breakfast. 

Costa Rica Food: Chorreadas

The batter for chorreadas resembles pancake batter, but it does not need to be cooked on a skillet, as it will cook in its own steam once inside the corn husk. The result is a light and fluffy pancake with a sweet taste.

Chorreadas are one of the most Costa Rican food I know. They are simple but delicious and traditional, although you will see that they are consumed all over Latin America.

Chifrijo

Chifrijo is a very much loved and famous dish among the locals, which consist of rice, beans, fried pork belly (or fried pork rinds), and condiments such as onions, mayonnaise, and chimichurri sauce. 

Some variations are made with cheese or hot dogs, making it easier to cater to the local palate. 

But that’s not to say that this dish is never served outside of Costa Rica; some restaurants serve different variations of this dish, and the majority of reviews are talking about it being incredibly tasty nonetheless.

Costa Rica Food: Chifrijo
Photo Credit: Dana L. Brown

Chifrijo is a classic dish that can be found everywhere in the country, from restaurants to bars. The price of this dish ranges between 250-500 cordobas, and pairing it with beer or rum drink is an excellent choice.

A tray of chifrijo accompanied by tortilla chips, rice, avocado slices, and lime wedges is always suitable for two people.

Tamales

Tamales have been a part of Costa Rican festive tradition for decades, and they’re made each year on Christmas Eve. However, the number of tamales a family makes has no relation to the size. Whether you buy or make them yourself, the most important thing is to savor this famous traditional Christmas dish over a long table or in front of a crackling fire while many other dishes lay around the table. 

Tamales are part of every big celebration and birthday party, so if you get lucky enough, go ahead and try them.

Costa Rica Food: Tamales

Tamales consist of meat wrapped in cornmeal with fresh cabbage, heavy cream, eggs, and spices. Fillings for tamales can include chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, catfish, tuna, beans, or other seafood – the possibilities are endless.

Tamales are traditionally wrapped in banana leaves, and unlike Mexico, Costa Ricans don’t wrap them in corn husks. As a result, their texture comes out wetter and softer.

To keep the tamales moist and warm, locals use wet towels to cover them after cooking. This causes them to develop an additional soft texture.

If you ask for a piña in Costa Rica, you’ll get two malaise tied together, and two is always better than one when it comes to food, right?

Picadillo

Picadillo is a typical dish in Costa Rica and Latin America. Its origin goes back to the Latin American Spanish word picadillo, meaning minced beef.

Picadillo is a type of hash and has been a significant part of Costa Rican cuisine due to its simplicity. It contains six ingredients found almost anywhere in the country; ground beef, onions, peppers, garlic, salt, achiote, and half the cilantro. But the recipes range from one region to another, making it highly versatile.

Costa Rica Food: Picadillo

Picadillo in Costa Rica is either made with chayote, arracacha (a root vegetable that looks like a short carrot but has a white inside), or potato. Picadillo is usually stuffed into sandwiches and served with corn tortillas, white rice, and casados.

Arroz con Leche

Arroz con Leche is a traditional rice pudding dessert popular in Costa Rica for centuries. Also known as Spanish rice (Arroz español), or simply arroz, its origins are linked to rice and milk being scarce and hard to acquire in Central America.

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Costa Rica Food: Arroz Con Leche
Photo Credit: Restaurante Casa Justo

Costa Rican arroz con leche combines white rice, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon for the perfect sweet treat served either cold or hot; a true cultural and gastronomic phenomenon of Latin America.

This rice pudding dessert is widely known and popular worldwide, probably inspired by Arabic cuisine, and was brought to Costa Rica by the Spaniards. It is insanely easy to prepare, and therefore Costa Rican families prepare a lot of it. Similar to tamales, arroz con leche goes without saying on tables during festive seasons, with each family twisting the original recipe on their own.

Ceviche

Lastly, the king of Latin America’s food, the ceviche, is a trendy Costa Rican dish, especially in the central and southern Pacific regions. 

Costa Rica Food: Ceviche

Originally from Peru, it is made up of raw fish cut into small cubes, marinated in lemon juice for a minimum of three hours. The citric acid “cooks” the fish, giving it a fresh and delicious flavor. 

Added to this is chopped onion, cilantro, bell pepper, celery, salt, and pepper. You’ll often see it arriving with salty crackers and avocado cubes. Fresh fish, which can be found in plenty on the Pacific coast, is one of the secrets to good ceviche.

Low in calories, healthy, and insanely easy to duplicate at home, ceviche is still silently ruling the cuisine in Costa Rica in both restaurants and homes.

Wrapping Up the Best Costa Rican Foods

Food in Costa Rica is second only to the country’s beauty. Often referred to as the culinary capital of the Central American region, Costa Rica’s cuisine is fresh and healthy. 

The country’s diverse landscape has resulted in various traditional foods and modern restaurants serving international fare, from French to Italian cuisine.

But if you visit Costa Rica, you will probably find that the food tastes very different. The food there is known to be simple and not spicy. As mentioned, it is the use of fresh ingredients that make the difference in Costa Rican food.

Food in Costa Rica is always a good conversation starter or ender. Questions like “how does it taste?” might be answered with the debate of whether food is better than the view. But no matter what, Costa Rican food will spark memories of unwinding at a local taco stand or sitting down to a romantic dinner for two on the beach.


Which of these Costa Rican dishes do you most want to try? Let us know in the comments section below!

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