The western suburb of Escazú has become a cosmopolitan boomtown, while further west nestled in the Valley of the Sun; Santa Ana is no longer a sleepy country town but a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of urban expansion. Prosperity abounds throughout this area of the Central Valley as shopping plazas, trendy boutiques, bars and a plethora of restaurants spring up overnight. Whether you have a yen for international cuisine, searching for a light snack or an elegant dinner, the choice is beyond belief.
Fast food fanatics can satisfy their hunger pangs and cravings at International chains to be found everywhere. The golden arches of McDonald’s spring up like mushrooms, while close by on street corners and in big and small malls KFC, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and many more compete with local chains, such as Rosti Pollo, Baglemen’s, Tapia and Spoons.
Keeping one’s eyes open and listening to discussions about old favorites, and new kids on the block can result in adventurous and memorable dining experiences. Cuisine from many different countries is available; some reasonably priced, others a shock to the pocketbook.
Starting the day with a U.S.-style breakfast or brunch at Café de los Artistas (2288-5082), you can enjoy your eggs benedict and sip your coffee on the quiet patio, which is just a block away from the noisy, busy thoroughfare of San Rafael de Escazú. Just down the road at El Cruce tucked behind Pop’s, the much loved, small Italian, moderately priced restaurant Sale e Pepe(2289-5750) is still cooking delicious pasta and pizzas in true Italian, family tradition. Across from Multicentro Paco another long-standing, popular breakfast spot is the French bistro and bakery Chez Christophe (2228-2512) has a mouth-watering choice of baked goods, and fabulous croissants are served for breakfast and throughout the day.
The aromas and flavors of Italy beckon from Multicentro Paco on the old road to Santa Ana. A great favorite of many Italian food connoisseurs is the smalltrattoria style Bella’ Italia (2588-2833). Reasonably priced Italian classics, delicious handmade pastas, a selection of Mediterranean favorites and a good wine list make this restaurant an excellent choice for lunch or dinner. Next door Inka Grill (2201-5922) is one of the many franchise locations known for its diversity of tasty, traditional Peruvian cuisine. Also in Multicentro Paco the recently opened Shannon’s Steakhouse(2588-1157) offers a conventional steakhouse menu with a variety of cuts to delight carnivores. Other appetizing choices are available for non meat eaters.
Just west, Chinese food addicts can satisfy their cravings at the long established Restaurante Lotus(2228-8105) with Cantonese, dim sum, hot and spicy Szechung and Hunan dishes, plus their tour de force Peking duck, which must to be ordered in advance.
Above Multicentro Paco, high on the hillside with an amazing view across the Central Valley stretching to the Gulf of Nicoya; Le Monastère (2228-8515) used to be a monastery and today is a popular, but expensive choice for a romantic dinner or special occasion. It’s a magical place embellished by the interior décor, marble statues, antiques and the accompaniment of a magnificent grand piano. Classic French and international cuisine is enhanced by an impressive wine list and waiters clad in monks’ robes provide excellent service. Downstairs, a medieval-style tavern,La Cava Bar offers bocas, grills and dancing to live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the mountains above Escazú, the country cousinMirador Tiquicia (2289-5839) also has a breathtaking view. It’s a popular, rustic restaurant and bar serving typical, tasty Costa Rican dishes that won’t break the bank.
In Golden Plaza on the road to Multiplaza, Pescatore(2289-8010) is a seafood extravaganza and pricey little gem that has received many raves from happy diners. The innovative owner/chef Regis Molina fuses the flavors of Peruvian and Mediterranean cuisine that astounds the taste buds and it’s an excellent choice for lunch or dinner.
From Multicentro Paco on the road to Guachipelin,Henry’s Beach Café & Grill (2289-6250) is a popular hangout. They offer a U.S.-style menu, burgers and pit BBQ ribs, plus chicken. You can also munch on a large selection of bar food as you chill out, swig down a beer and watch the wide screen TV.
Also on the road to Guachipelin, tucked in the tiny Formosa Mall, you’ll find the much praised, award winning Italian restaurant, Di Bartolo (2228-2800) Chef and owner Carlo Di Bartolo offers an extensive, pricey menu, but what emerges from his kitchen including the homemade pasta, specialty meats and wood oven pizzas are superb, and well worth the price.
Further north on the Guachipelin road in C.C. Multipark, Saisaki (2215-0280) keeps lovers of Japanese cuisine happy, plus they also serve a selection of Korean and Filipino dishes.
When one thinks of seafood at its best Product C (2288-5570) www.product-c.com comes to mind. This tiny, popular seafood venue just past the Red Cross in Santa Ana has closed, but will soon re-open across the road. At its other location in trendy Avenida Escazú, lovers of seafood can indulge themselves on fresh shucked oysters, the catch of the day, plus many other ocean fresh and smoked fish offerings. An added bonus is they are serving Craft Brewing Co.’s draft beer on tap.
Also in Avenida Escazú the L’Ile de France (2289-7533) continues its 30-year tradition of classic French cuisine and all the old favorites are still on the menu. However, chef Jean Claude has introduced some new fusion trends that blend in with the contemporary setting.
On the other side of the highway, Plaza Itskatzu offers a diversity of international cuisine to stimulate the appetite. Chancay (2289-6964) is an upscale Peruvian restaurant with traditional offerings including Chifadishes. This Peruvian version of Chinese food introduced by the large Chinese immigrant population is well worth a try, although on the pricey side. Las Tapas de Manuel (2288-5700) will give you a taste of Spain. The large selection of tapas Spanish style bocas, are served both hot and cold and are a great accompaniment to a jug of Sangria. Live Flamenco music at weekends adds to the Spanish atmosphere.
Outback Steakhouse (2288-0511) will whisk you to Australia where you can choose from Walkabout soup, Alice Spring chicken, or a mixed grill barbie. U.S.D.A. steaks and seafood come in huge portions, just like the Aussies eat.
For a lighter meal, Samurai (2288-0202) is a Sushi heaven, and also offers other Japanese favorites, attractively presented at reasonable prices.
The choice of restaurants in and around Escazú and Guachipelin is totally mind-boggling, therefore one has to look, try-out and find the most enjoyable dining experience, which is suitable for a quick snack, family outing, or that special occasion and relevant for your budget.
Heading west on the old road to Santa Ana you won’t arrive in India, but the Taj Mahal (2228-0980) is the closest you will get. Indian eateries are few and far between in this country, and in 2002 the Taj Mahal was the first to fill the void. Naan and other delicacies are cooked in a Tandoori clay oven, which adds to the authenticity of the northern Indian cuisine. Curries can be ordered mild, medium or very hot depending on your palate. Patio seating is recommended, but wherever you sit, Taj Mahal offers a truly Indian experience for lunch, dinner or a romantic evening.
Heading down the winding road towards Santa Ana you will pass the Hotel Alta (2282-4160), home to La Luz, a restaurant that meets all the requisites for a noteworthy celebration, or extravagant dinner. The interior décor is stunning and the panoramic view across the valley breathtaking. The innovative fusion cuisine that blends Continental, Californian and Pacific Rim, with the addition of fresh Costa Rican ingredients, is a gastronomical experience not to be missed.
Fans of Maxi’s in Manzanillo will be delighted to hear that Ricky has opened a second Maxi’s (2282-8619) on the road to San Rafael de Santa Ana. Authentic Caribbean dishes including wonderful rondon and rice’n beans accompanied by reggae music in the background are served indoors, or on the patio overlooking the garden of this relaxed, friendly, family-run establishment that won’t beak the bank.
In the center of town: Bacchus (2282-5441) is located in a beautifully restored adobe house dating back to 1870. Diners can choose to sit in one of the elegantly furnished rooms, or enjoy an al fresco meal on the patio. Renowned for its top-notch Italian cuisine with a myriad of traditional and innovative dishes to choose from, Bacchus continues to be a favorite choice for a romantic dinner or Sunday lunch.
Also in the center of town carnivores will salivate atDoris Metropolitan (2282-2221), a steakhouse offering a truly gastronomic experience and extensive wine list. The aged beef comes in every imaginable cut and cooked to perfection. The home-baked bread is wonderful, plus the chicken, fish, pasta and salads are all delicious. This restaurant is not cheap, but the ambience, quality and service make it well worth the price.
In downtown Santa Ana you’ll find sodas, restaurants and bars where you can eat and drink with the locals. However, if you would rather hang-out with the expats try The Old West (2282-9210) on the one-way street out of town, 100 meters before the Red Cross. This friendly bar is a good bet with reasonable prices. Cold beer, tasty satisfying grub and bar food, plus the burgers, which are always a hit. Cow Town (2203-0530) on the one-way street heading into town150 meters past the Red Cross, offers traditional Texan chow including chicken fried steak, chili and other tasty home-style choices, all at affordable prices.
Just north of the Santa Ana Red Cross: the Bufalo Grill and Market (2282-4112) beckons meat lovers to try their buffalo steaks, burgers, sausages and cheese. This pleasant, small, family-run establishment gives customers their first opportunity of sampling a healthier, leaner meat, and the burgers are a top favorite. If you wish to buy their products, you can do so at the restaurant’s small market counter.
Next door Lo Spago (2582-2127) is another great, little Italian restaurant following in the tradition of its owner Marco De Nando. He’s also the owner of Da Marco(2282-4103) in Piedades de Santa Ana, an old time favorite that has been around for many years. Both are charming, cozy Italian restaurants offering a large variety of homemade pastas, interesting traditional cuisine and an excellent wine cellar. Lo Spago has a wonderful variety of oven baked pizza, and Da Marco’s, location in Piedades offers comfy indoor seating, while dining on the verandah, adds to the pleasant, rural atmosphere of this his first endeavor.
A short distance north on the Lindora Road the Taco Bar(2282-7863) www.tacobar.info is a friendly, family restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The funky décor includes swing seats, which really appeal to the kids. There’s a large variety of tacos, and the yummy fish tacos, especially the fresh tuna, are a great favorite. The all-you-can-eat salad bar, wonderful smoothies and $3 breakfasts, add to the popularity of this friendly, family-style eatery.
PHO Vietnamese Restaurant & Café (2203-6969) located in Boulevard Lindora was the first authentic, all-Vietnamese eatery and is named after PHO a traditional broth, laden with meat, noodles, fresh veggies and spices, which is eaten daily throughout Vietnam. This little family-run restaurant also offers other delicious, reasonably priced, traditional meals including fried spring rolls, curries and noodle dishes.
You can satisfy your sushi cravings at Matsuri (2203-6868) in C. C Vistana Este. Upscale, cozy ambiance, excellent quality sashimi and a large variety of sushi will keep lovers of Japanese cuisine very happy.
Last but not least, on the road to Ciudad Colón the lovely boutique hotel Corteza Amarilla Lodge (2203-7503) with its stunning décor resembles an art and antique museum .Their Essentia restaurant comprises three dining areas, plus a beautiful open-air covered courtyard overlooking a lush tropical garden. The menu offers an eclectic variety of fusion cuisine, which blends together the flavors and textures of Asia, Europe and Latin America. Fine dining in this romantic setting is a memorable experience, whatever the occasion may be.