Where to eat and where not to eat? That is the question. Finding good restaurants, whether at the beach, on the side of a mountain or in the rainforest can make or break a vacation, weekend getaway or Sunday outing.
Both residents and visitors alike have their favorites, and, as always, when it comes to food, glorious food, opinions differ enormously. Throughout the country there are many excellent restaurants, beach bars and sodas offering local and international cuisine to suit every pocketbook, appetite and craving.
In northern Guanacaste with its beautiful beaches and rolling savannah landscape the choice is endless. From Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital, heading towards the coast on the main road a mile south of the Daniel Oduber International Airport the Café Europa and German Bakery (2668-1081) is not to be missed. This German-owned family bakery’s wonderful assortment of freshly baked bread is irresistible. Open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. visitors can stock up on bread and goodies to take to the beach or enjoy breakfast on the shady patio. Delicious German specialties are available for lunch and throughout the day.
On the coast heading from North to South Playa Hermosa’s calm and peaceful bay is home to the acclaimed Ginger (2672-0041). located on the main road that runs through town. Both locals and visitors clamber up the stairs to this unique tree-house restaurant that specializes in creative, fusion style tapas made with fresh tropical ingredients and seafood. Ginger offers an extensive wine and cocktail list and patrons flock there on Fridays for Martini Night. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.
The next port of call is Playa Flamingo where a couple of favorites are mentioned, such as Marie’s (2654-4136), a long-standing institution in this beach town and one of the original and best places to eat. They have now moved to new, swanky premises, but the menu continues to offer all the old favorites, fresh fish, plus international and Costa Rican standbys that have been Marie’s tradition over the years. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily 6:30 to 11 p.m.
It seems that Coco Loco (2654-6242) continues to grow in popularity and no doubt, that’s to do with its location right on Flamingo’s white sand beach, as well as delicious, reasonably priced fare, plus live, sunset Reggae evenings 5 to 8 p.m., on Fridays. Open every day 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Tamarindo appears to be the eating mecca on this part of the coastline. Nevertheless, a few favorites really stand-out. Dragonfly Bar & Grill (2653-1506), located in an open-air wooden rancho, the funky décor and wonderful, creative Latino-Asian, fusion cuisine guarantees a memorable dining experience in a romantic, tropical setting.
Tamarindo foodies just love Seasons by Shlomy (8368-6983). Chef Shlomy, a graduate of “Le Cordon Blue” in Paris plies his culinary talents using the abundance of fresh, local seafood and creates an amazing variety of Mediterranean and fusion cuisine. Al fresco dining in Hotel Arcos Iris’s small, quiet, poolside restaurant is always popular and reservations are recommended. Open Monday to Saturday 6-10 p.m.
Other favorites include Pangas Beach Club (2653-0024) at the north end of Tamarindo’s beach where visitors can enjoy the beach club amenities by day, a sunset cocktail or a candlelit dinner by night. The eclectic menu offers a choice ranging from rib eye steaks, lobster, catch of the day and healthy snacks. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday brunch commences at 9 a.m. and for updates about happy hour happenings and live music events check the Facebook page.
Leaving the ever-popular North Pacific coast behind, the intrepid travelers who face the rough, often unpaved roads of the Nicoya Peninsula’s Pacific coast will find some of the most praiseworthy restaurants in the country. In Nosara the Café de Paris (2682-1036) started out as a simple bakery but has blossomed into a hotel and restaurant serving hearty breakfasts, lunch and afternoon snacks. French, typical Costa Rican and vegetarian choices, plus delicious bread and pastries are their drawing card. Open daily 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On the outskirts of town the always popular La Dolce Vita (2682-0107) is small and simple, but owner Roberto makes it a local favorite with his traditional Italian fare and wood-oven pizza. Open daily 6 to 9 p.m. Please note that he will close all of September and October.
The south eastern coastline of the Nicoya Peninsula with its stretch of beachfront road is now booming and Santa Teresa, Playa del Carmen, Mal Pais and Montezuma have become chosen destinations for tourist and residents looking for a laid-back lifestyle. However, these beach communities offer culinary delights as good as you will find throughout the country.
Brisas Del Mar (2649-0941) is located in the Buenos Aires Hotel in Santa Teresa. Perched on the hilltop with a breathtaking view, it offers an excellent menu with a variety of local seafood and Continental cuisine. Although the location has changed, British chef Jon Dewhurst and his wife, Barbara, have a restaurant still considered one of the best in the area. Open daily for breakfast and brunch 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and 5 to 10 p.m., when reservations for dinner are recommended.
Mary’s (2640-0153), an age-old landmark near the end of the road in Mal Pais, was once the general store and provided the local kids with cerviche and snacks. Today, it’s a budding family business serving the catch of the day purchased from the local fishermen, plus delicious brick oven pizzas and other items prepared with ingredients from an organic farm. A popular hangout to shoot a game of pool, Mary’s is open from 5 to 10 p.m., closed Wednesday.
On the southwestern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the small, charming, funky beach town of Montezuma has a variety of excellent restaurants. When talking about favorites the following three are always mentioned.
Playa de los Artistas (2642-0920), This beachfront restaurant with a pricey menu that changes daily, serves wonderful, Mediterranean inspired choices and the freshest of fresh seafood. Customers can enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner in the rustic dining area or sitting on cushions at the low tables by the ocean. Open Monday to Saturday 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended.
El Sano Banano (2642-0638) and Restaurant Ylang Ylang (2642-0636). Owners Lenny and Patricia Iacona arrived in Montezuma when it was an isolated fishing village. Today they have two of the most popular businesses in town. On the main street El Sano Banano with its front and back patios serves healthy, fresh, organic food with an emphasis on vegetarian offerings, wonderful salads and delicious smoothies. Movies that change nightly are shown at 7.30 p.m., and the restaurant is open every day from 7 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. At the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort a 15-minute walk along the sand, its stunning ocean front restaurant specializes in vegetarian, vegan, raw and gluten free foods, plus fresh seafood and other choices, which are prepared with a Mediterranean flair. Candlelight dining under a beach front palapa or seated at an elegantly set table on the sand is a unique experience. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Please note that the resort and restaurant Ylang Ylang are closed throughout September and October, but El Sano Banano remains open.
On the Central Pacific coast Jacó dominates the tourist scene. However, there is one restaurant that is so popular that fans will drive the hour and a half from San José to satisfy their cravings for sushi. Located in Jaco’s main street, on the second floor of C.C. IL Galeone, it’s claimed that Tsunami Sushi (2643-3678) is one of the best, but expensive Japanese restaurants to be found in the area. Offered are specials and two for one nights.
A happy clientele chill out in the modern, stylish décor while they enjoy the excellent sushi, sashimi, an amazing variety of creative rolls, plus a selection of Japanese dishes. Open Saturday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Fridays, 5 to midnight.
Lemon Zest (2643-2591) is located on the second floor of El Jardin Plaza on Jaco’s main street. Renowned chef Richard Lemon and Nellie, his son, have gained a reputation for their inventive, international cuisine. Meats, poultry, fish and other menu choices are enhanced with a combination of flavors using local products, plus the fine wines from the wine cellar add to the enjoyment of a perfect dinner. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.
Manuel Antonio is one of the country’s smallest and most visited national parks. Despite the area’s booming popularity and numerous luxury hotels and restaurants, there is a wide range of eateries that won’t break the budget. Locals and visitors seem to agree that their favorites mentioned below deserve rave reviews.
Top of the list without a doubt, is Ronny’s Place (2777-5120) off the beaten track, surrounded by jungle, the restaurant’s rancho stands in the middle of a 90-acre farm. The view is mind-blowing with spectacular sunset vistas that stretch across two bays. Ocean fresh seafood, red snapper and lobster are house specialties, but the large burgers are a popular item, plus the sangria is touted as the best in Costa Rica. Open daily noon to 10 p.m.
Agua Azul (2777-5280) has a scenic location on the top floor of Villas el Parque with an ocean view and reasonable prices. Chef Rob and Paige’s hospitality adds to the enjoyment of the traditional and inventive menu. For lunch there’s a delicious choice of munchies, salads and hearty fare including huge burgers. Diners can start the evening with a special sunset cocktail while they choose from the dinner specialties on the menu, which include tempting seafood concoctions and the highly recommended Panko crusted tuna. Open 11a.m., to 10 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.
El Avión (2777-3378) is one of the Costa Verde Hotel’s three restaurants and a favorite in town. Built around a C-123 Fairchild plane, it’s a fun family restaurant during the day and a lively pub at night. The bar is in the cockpit and the balcony restaurant has a wonderful ocean view. A huge, reasonably priced menu offers a great variety of choices ranging from seafood to U.S. standbys and oriental platters. Open daily, low season: 1-10 p.m., high season: 12 noon to 11 p.m.
Last but not least, El Wagon (4000-1540 Ext:103) offers casual, relaxed dining in a patio setting with the most astounding mosaic tiled, still life floor depicting birds, butterflies and exotic animals. The kids really love this! The menu says “Act British, Think Yiddish, Eat Hebrew National,” and they actually do serve all beef Jewish hot dogs. Among many other fairly priced options chef Sebastiano’s scrumptious wood fired pizzas won “The Best Pizza in Manuel Antonio 2013 Award. Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.