A foodie’s guide to the best Costa Rican dishes to try
There are so many reasons to love Costa Rica—from the colorful rainforests, to the vast volcanoes, plentiful wildlife, and welcoming communities. But traditional Costa Rican food takes any trip to this fabulous little country to a whole new level.
Costa Rica’s homegrown philosophy is “pura vida,” which means “pure life” or “simple life.” This captures the natural, colorful ingredients you’ll taste in every meal. Here are some of the Costa Rican dishes and drinks you won’t want to miss on any of our Costa Rica tours.
Popular foods in Costa Rica
So, what kind of food does Costa Rica have, anyway? Costa Rica is known for its Latin foods, but with that “pura vida” mentality. Unlike other traditional Latin dishes, Costa Rican meals are simpler and typically contain less spice. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less delicious! Thanks to Costa Rica’s diverse altitudes, landscapes, and climates, the country boasts an impressive range of locally grown fruits and vegetables, making every simple bite an experience to savor.
- Gallo pinto. We can’t talk about traditional Costa Rican food without featuring the famous rice and beans. In Costa Rica, white rice and either black or red beans are cooked with bell peppers, cilantro, and onions. The different colors gave it its name, which translates to “spotted rooster”. Locals eat this as a side with any meal, including with a fried egg for breakfast, paired with meat or fish for dinner, or as a meal on its own.
- Casado. This popular lunch plate translates to “married man” and is made with a mix of typical Costa Rican foods. It usually consists of rice and beans, salad, fried plantains, and meat or fish. You can find casados on the menu in nearly any restaurant, though everybody makes it a little differently.
- Rondón. Made with local fish and vegetables, coconut milk, spices, and herbs, this traditional Costa Rican food is most common along the Caribbean coast. It’s a thick, hearty stew that’s perfect for rainy days or cooler nights.
- Patacones. Ever had a green plantain? If not, this is the way to try it. This typical Costa Rican food takes green plantains and slices, smashes, and fries them — turning them into a crispy and delicious snack that’s best with lime or salsa.
- Ceviche. Like most Costa Rican dishes, their version of ceviche is simple, yet divine. It’s made with fish that’s marinated in lime juice for at least an hour, rather than just a few minutes, resulting in a more opaque, and less raw-tasting fish. Many locals will add a splash of hot sauce or ketchup to the dish for some added flavor.
“The food was so delicious! Some of the best dishes I have ever had.”
—twelve-time traveler Katie
Explore Costa Rica on tour
Some must-try sweets
Of course, no trip to Costa Rica is complete without tasting some of their drool-worthy treats.
- Locally grown chocolate. Chocolate was once Costa Rica’s leading export. Today, you can still find cacao producers all over the country. Costa Rican chocolate is rich and flavorful... and a very big part of the culture there. In fact, on our Costa Rica: Rainforests, Volcanoes & Wildlife tour, you’ll even have the chance to learn how it’s made before you sample some in Monteverde!
- Copos or granizados. You can’t miss the kiosks and carts selling this delicious shaved ice treat. Vendors top this Costa Rican famous food with everything from milk powder, to fresh fruit, to marshmallow. It’s a delicious and refreshing sweet treat on a hot day—or any day! They’re also super Instagram-worthy.
- Miel de chiverre. Sweetened squash paste is a traditional Costa Rican food typically eaten as dessert. It’s made with squash from a fig leaf called chiverre, which is similar to spaghetti squash, only sweeter. And when cooked with cinnamon, it’s incredible! Many locals eat it inside of empanadas, though you can also eat it on its own with a spoon.
- Fruit, fruit, and more fruit! So many fruits are grown in Costa Rica, making roadside fruit stands a must. These open-air stands dot highways and country roads. Stop to taste the deliciously ripe pineapples, mangoes, bananas, starfruit, and try some manzana de agua (water apples), guanábana (soursop), mamón Chino (rambutan), mamey, or marañon (cashew fruit), too.
“…Oh Costa Rica, fair Costa Rica, your fruit plantations can’t be beat. Mangoes, papaya, pineapple, guava, add a sweetness that’s always a treat. For the adventurous, hiking and snorkeling were highlights of our C.R. stay. We walked the black sands, saw many fruit stands, on our warm, tropical holiday!” —third-time traveler Jean
Traditional Costa Rican drinks
Costa Rica isn’t just known for its sweet and savory foods. The spectacular Central American country has plenty of signature drinks to sip.
- Café. Costa Rican coffee is some of the best you’ll find anywhere! Coffee producers offer a variety of roasts and blends to taste. The mountainous terrain, volcanic soil, and mild temperatures combine to create the perfect climate for growing coffee. You can visit a coffee farm on our tours to Costa Rica to learn how it’s grown, and even take some home as a delicious souvenir!
- Refrescos. Sounds refreshing, right? These fresh fruit smoothies can be found anywhere, and they make for the most delightful way to relax after a hot day at the beach or a hike through the rainforest.
- Pipa fria. Translated as “cold coconut water," pipa fria flows from roadside stands and restaurants all over Costa Rica. The coconuts are generally shaven down with a sharp machete, exposing a hay-like outer layer. Then, locals chop a hole in it so you can sip the cool water with a straw in pure tropical bliss!
- Piña coladas. Sure, you can drink one of these coconut, pineapple, and rum frozen cocktails at home. But nothing compares to the ones made from an organic pineapple farm in Costa Rica! Sipping one of these is a top must-have cultural experience on tour for a reason.
- Guaro. This clear spirit is the national liquor of Costa Rica. It’s distilled from sugar cane juice and has a similar flavor to vodka, but it’s slightly sweeter. You’ll find it makes a perfect ingredient for some truly unique cocktails.
- Pinolillo. This ancient sweetened drink is still found throughout the country, especially in more rural and indigenous areas. It’s made with ground, toasted cornmeal and a little bit of cacao. Most locals mix it with either water or milk and some sugar, as well.
“I truly felt as if we were experiencing the real Costa Rica… I liked that we didn’t just drive through a plantation, but that we stopped and actually got a better idea of how it all works… Costa Rica’s pineapples are the BOMB!” —Go Ahead traveler Allison