On the road, north or east, there are great places to eat

A topic of conversation often arises about where to take visitors on an interesting day trip, or when on route to a specific destination, where to find a stopoff for a good meal or a tasty snack. Residents also have their favorites for an away day out of town that includes the following restaurants:

One often mentioned is Restaurant Colbert (2482-2776), which sits outside the village of Vara Blanca in isolation on the top of a windy hill, often covered with swirling mist. After a visit to Poas Volcano or La Paz Waterfall Gardens, there’s no better place to stop and enjoy the warmth of the brick fireplace and the hospitality of owner/chef Joel Suirer. The delicious smell of cooking and his freshly baked, crusty bread permeates the dining room and sets the taste buds tingling while you ponder the menu with its choice of French specialties, using some of his Mother’s cherished recipes. Mouthwatering offerings include rabbit, quail, baby goat and other unusual and inventive culinary delights. Colbert is not cheap, but you pay for what you get. Open Friday through Tuesday noon to 8 p.m. Closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Loveat (2447-9331): You can’t miss it! There are billboard signs for miles along the road before you reach this much talked about restaurant, which is part of the Lands in Love Hotel and Resort. The picturesque road between San Ramón and La Fortuna winds through small towns, villages and the misty cloud forest; then 32 kilometers from San Ramón it descends to Loveat. Lands in Love is a great place to spend the day if you want to fly like Tarzan, take the canopy tour or get a kick out of a zip line adventure.

After all this excitement you will no doubt, be starving and head for the restaurant. However, in passing this is a must stop where you can satisfy your hunger pangs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a quick snack on what is claimed to be some of the best vegetarian food in this country. Owned by a group of dedicated, talented Israelis, the restaurant also offers vegan and gluten-free choices, plus will cater to special diet requirements. Dishes from all over the world are on the menu, but the Israeli cuisine and wonderful hummus and falafel, plus the yummy cheesecake and deserts are not to be missed. Open daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Nobody came up with a favorite in Arenal. Many of the hotels and resorts have their own restaurants and the ubiquitous steak houses, pizza joints and sodas in town cater mostly to tourists and backpackers. Prices vary considerable from cheap eats to expensive dining.

Leaving Arenal behind and driving along the road that runs by the side of the lake offers an alternate, bumpy but scenic route to Monteverde. Between Nuevo Arenal and Tilarán you will find Mystica Lodge & Retreat(2692-1001)  that stands on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Arenal and the picture-perfect Arenal Volcano. Mystica Lodge’s restaurant is open for breakfast, but only for guests. Nevertheless, from noon to 9 p.m., visitors are very welcome for lunch and dinner. The charming rustic dining room has indoor and outdoor verandah seating offering panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside. At night the open fireplace is lit adding to the warm and cozy ambience, while at the other end of the room the unique, tile cottage, actually a wood burning oven, bakes the most delicious thin crust pizzas. Despite these being Mystica’s tour de force the restaurant offers other traditional Italian family recipes and is well worth a visit, whether you are staying in the area or just passing-by.

Perched high in the Tilarán mountain range amidst the swirling mists of the cloud forest, Monteverde and the nearby village of Santa Elena have become one of the country’s most cherished tourist destinations. The multicultural population offers lodgings and restaurants to suit all pocketbooks and when it comes to favorites there are many to choose from, but the same names keep cropping up.

Starting in downtown Santa Elena, Morpho’s (2645-7373) with its hand-painted décor inside and out of nature, wildlife and brilliant blue morpho butterflies, is one of the most popular places with locals and tourists alike. It has an excellent selection of tasty Tico standbys and international and vegetarian meals. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. If  business is hopping, the bar will stay open later and snacks are available.

Next to the supermarket Trio (2645-5274) offers a unique cuisine infused with exotic flavors. Try the burgers served with arugula and figs, plus the mouth-watering desserts. On a nice day, the small outside balcony with a view overlooking the valley is a delightful place to sit. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

The road from Santa Elena to the Monterverde Reserve is lined with hotels and restaurants. Sophia (2645-7017) in Cerro Plano is often touted as one of the best, but expensive in town. Known for their exotic cocktails and Nuevo Latino fusion cuisine, the staff offers a very different kind of menu to tempt the palate. Large windows overlook the lush green landscape and candlelight dining adds to the romantic ambience of this charming cloud forest restaurant. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

Chimera (2645-6081) also in Cerro Plano belongs to the same owner as Sophia and offers a selection of inventive Nuevo Latino infused tapas, plus different exotic cocktails. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

On the road to the Butterfly Farm Restaurante de Lucía (2645-5337) is a long standing favorite with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Known for their succulent steaks you can choose your own cut and they will cook it to order. Excellent fresh fish and chicken dishes are available and plates for non-meat eaters. There is a good selection of Chilean wines. Open daily noon to 9 p.m.

Further up the road two Italian restaurants compete in popularity. Johnny’s Pizzería (2645-5066) is an age old favorite for traditional Italian food and thin crust wood-burning oven pizzas. The seating on the outdoor covered verandah is a pleasant place to sit on a nice day. Open daily 11 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.

Tramonti (2645-6120): The Italian owners offer some tempting specialties from the old country such as antipasti, pasta, a good selection of Italian wines and wood-burning oven pizzas; including the much sought-after seafood one. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

Across from the Artists’ Cooperative CASEM, Stella’s(2645-5560)   is one of Monteverde’s longest running establishments known for its delicious baked goodies, homemade bread, wonderful soups and quiche. Locals drop-by for breakfast and hikers pick-up take-out munchies to sustain them while they explore the Cloud Forest Reserve and return for lunch on the charming patio, ideal for bird-watching. Open daily 6.30 a.m., to 5 p.m.

Leaving the misty mountains behind and heading to the Caribbean coast you will find a melting pot of cultural diversity, which is a world unto itself. A reggae beat permeates the small, funky, laid-back community of Cahuita and a variety of small restaurants can be found along the dirt roads, nestled in the jungle, or overlooking the thundering surf. Further down the coast Puerto Viejo is more developed, but the Caribbean vibes remain the same. It attracts many nationalities and expats have set-up businesses in town or by the glorious, palm-fringed beaches of Cocoles, Chiquita and Punta Uva that stretch south along the coastline road where it ends in Manzanillo.

Kelly’s Creek (2755-0007) was the one restaurant that stood out in popularity in Cahuita. The charming owners, Andrés and Marie-Claud, original from Madrid have been running a tight ship for over 15 years. Located at the entrance to Cahuita National Park. this all-wooden hotel and restaurant is situated by a creek abundant with wildlife where Roberto the alligator and his family live and enjoy the restaurant’s morning offerings of chicken legs. The menu is basically Spanish cuisine and the specialty is classic paella, which should be ordered in the morning for dinner that night. Kelly Creek’s restaurant is open to non-guests for breakfast 6.30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and dinner 6.30 to 9 p.m.

Puerto Viejo has all sorts of eateries to entice you, which cover an array of choices from cheap and cheerful to a selection that fall in a more pricey range. Sodas serving typical home cooked Caribbean specialties, plus vegetarian, European baked goodies, Thai, pizza and gourmet Italian are all there to satisfy your whim. Despite the choice people still have their favorites and a few are repeatedly mentioned. Ms. Sam (2750-0181) is a Puerto Viejo household name for reasonably priced Caribbean specialties. Pan Pay Café (2750-0081) offers freshly baked bread and croissants and is a favorite for breakfast. Chili Rojo (2750-0108)  is popular for Thai and Asian fusion, plus the always crowded Café Viejo(2750-0817) for tasty pasta, pizza and night life.

The Black Beach dirt road winds along the coastline, and at the end, 1.5 km. from town Hotel Banana Azul (2750-2035)  welcomes drop-in guests to join those staying at the hotel to enjoy their excellent, hearty breakfast, lunch at the Azul Beach Club, and their fixed price three-course dinner, which changes daily. Apart from meat, chicken and the catch of the day, the menu also caters to vegetarian, gluten-free and ovo-lacto diets. Friday is fajita fiesta night and Sunday a Caribbean night. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast 7.30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner 6 p.m. to 8.30.

The Pecora Negra (2750-0490) south of Puerto Viejo in Playa Cocoles is an all-time favorite on the Caribbean coast for pricey, but outstanding, gourmet, Italian cuisine. The small, thatched roof, open air restaurant’s exuberant owner/ chef Ilario Giannoni’s menu offers a small selection of traditional Italian dishes. However, his regular clientele, of which there’re many, wait with bated breath for his fantastic nightly specials, which he prepares in his open kitchen with great aplomb according to his whims. Open 5.30 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended.

Maxi’s (2759-9073): this second-floor open-air restaurant overlooking the ocean has been an all time favorite for years. People would drive the pot-holed, dirt road that ends in Manzanillo long before it was paved, just to eat at Maxi’s. Lobster when in season, mouth-watering fresh fish and Caribbean platters are the order of the day. Open daily noon to 9.p.m.

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