Our readers describe their top picks for dining out

After four articles reporting on some of Costa Rica’s fine restaurants, readers were invited to make nominations. We mentioned some of their favorites, but there are more details. This is what they said:

Nuevo Arenal

We in Nuevo Arenal have many good restaurants. Here is a review.

On the main road around Lake Arenal  just west of Nuevo Arenal is a the Lucky Bug Art Gallery, restaurant and Bed and Breakfast. It is worth many a visit. It is open for breakfast and lunch and sometimes for dinner too. The setting is casual and entertaining since one can roam the gallery while waiting for one’s meal to be prepared. The menu slants toward the German since the owner was originally from Germany but came to Costa Rica via the U.S.A. Her English is perfect as well as Spanish and naturally German. The breakfasts are full plates of perfectly cooked eggs or other breakfast items. They are beautiful, almost too pretty to eat.

The lunch/dinner menu ranges from cooked local items to sandwiches and the best hot dog ever. Monica makes her own sauerkraut for the ruben sandwich. The eggplant parmesan is a variant on the very cheesy gooey variety one sees in most eateries. It is light and very flavorful, and I usually take half home for the next day. The schnitzel is ever popular. Please share a dessert as they too are unusual and delicious.

The coffee naturally is really good and should be lingered over while enjoying the view of the pond by the B&B. This  is not an inexpensive place to eat but is definitely worth it. Monica will ship any of her artworks should you fall in love while browsing the shop.

Sarah Benson
Nuevo Arenal

Sabana  Oeste

I am an Italian and therefore an Italian food lover and have tried most Italian restaurants around town.

In the category of authentic Italian (uses many true imported Italian products ) causal dining at more than reasonable pricing for always piping hot dishes made at the moment pasta (No precooked or semi cook foods or pasta here) in my view none can beat this restaurant, Piccolino Costa Rica. I somewhat hate to divulge somewhat wanting selfishly keep it my secret. It is situated near the new stadium.

No question your readers will be pleasantly surprised

Nick Iacovelli
La Uruca


Since we are regular restaurant patrons  (can you say four times a week) and live in La Garita, we find ourselves going to Alajuela frequently to eat at Coffee Dreams Café Restaurante where the menu is varied and consistently good coupled with a friendly and attentive staff.  The choices range from typical (with my personal favorite being gallo pinto at any time of day) to quiche, nachos, sandwiches and hamburgs.

Coffee Dreams is closed on Sunday, so we have no question on where we’ll eat: Jalapeño!  If anyone has lived here for even a short time, then they must know about Jalapeños!  Can’t be beat Mexican fare and wonderful chefs and waitpersons.  We find it to be top notch!

After eating at one of these two places and a visit with Larry at Goodlight Books and the best ever iced coffee, we often stroll to the Juan Santamaria Cafe for the tastiest of desserts!

If we are in San José, the cafe at the Teatro Nacional is a fantastic place for a pre-performance snack and drink!
Those are just a few of our favorites. We don’t eat red meat, and these places fill the bill nicely!

Ann Boyd
La Garita

P.S. Ragu in Alajuela has the best pizza!

More on Jalapeños

Of my several favorite restaurants in Costa Rica I would have to rank as my most favorite Jalapeños Central, in downtown Alajuela.  This Tex-Mex place is operated by Norman Florez, and it has just had its 10th anniversary in operation.  The food is tasty and quickly prepared to order and is moderately priced.  In addition to the Tex-Mex fare, there is some killer buffalo chicken on the menu plus some wonderful desserts.  Norman will happily prepare vegetarian versions of various of his menu items.

Jalapeños Central is easy to find, being about one block east and 2 1/2 blocks north of Alajuela’s Parque Central or just 50 meters south of the Casa Correos.  They are open seven days a week starting at 11:30 a.m.  Parking is available along the street or  there is secured parking immediately west of the post office. If coming from San José on TUASA or Station Wagon, do not take the express. The local will drop you off on Calle Ancha half a block from the Hóspital Antiguo and from the east end of it Jalapeños is only 2 1/2 blocks south, past Parque Palmares. Reservations are not required but seating is limited to only 32 positions so it frequently does fill up.  Watch for their green sign with red lettering hanging above the restaurant on the east side of the street.  Telephone is 2430-4027, in case you get lost.

Paul Mitchell
Alajuela Centro
and Tampa, Florida


Lemon Zest in Jacó. Family-owned, most consistent quality food restaurant I have ever eaten at. Lobster, fish and steaks.

Henry Cannon


My home is on the Costa Ballena at Ventanas next to Ojochal. How you guys could overlook Citrus in Ojochal and Exotica in Ojochal is beyond me. The Sabor de Ojochal has been a huge hit and reported in the A.M. Costa Rica. You guys need to feature our wonderful restaurants!

Jay Friedman, Jr.
More Ojochal
Azul in the El Castillo Hotel has fantastic food!  Ojochal is becoming more like a culinary destination and have many restaurants to choose from.  I personally can’t get enough of the Mediterranean menu at Azul!  They also have the best sunset I’ve ever seen (and happy hour cocktails while you watch it!).  I haven’t had a single thing on the menu that wasn’t absolutely wonderful.  From the homemade noodles for their chicken parmesan, to the chicken soulvaki, to the hummus, it’s all phenomenal!  I love that there aren’t many tables, and the view is gorgeous!  Also instead of dessert, try a piña colada made with their home made ice cream. Io die for!!!!
Taylor Dee


My favorite place to dine in Costa Rica is the Galeria Steakhouse. It is located next to the fire station in Grecia. I have been enjoying their fine food and excellent service for several years. They have an excellent menu. Their tuna steak is as good as it gets anywhere.

I usually dine at least once a week at Galeria. I have never been disappointed in a single meal or their service. I have traveled much of the world, and I have to say this is my favorite.

Ryan Johnson
San Francisco de San Isidro, de Grecia

Playas del Coco

Restaurante  La Farola: Run by a Spanish family who serve dishes authentic to their native area of León in northwest Spain.  Mama cooks, and the rest of the family serves and takes care of everything else.  The gazpacho is out of this world, the Russian salad is unique and very tasty (sort of a potato salad with tuna), and we loved our main courses.  Unusual for Coco, it is a very elegant small restaurant, and they could not be more welcoming.

Alan J. Shusterman
Baltimore, Maryland


We have a group here called the ROMEO Group (Retired Old Men eating Out), and we review a restaurant monthly The Quepos/Manuel Antonio area has many good restaurants, and one of our favorites is Raphael’s Terraza, located near the top of Manuel Antonio hill overlooking the Pacific and the local rock islands. The view is outstanding, the food is excellent, and Raphael assures good service, often waiting on table himself.

Bob Nurmand

Puerto Carrillo

I’d like to add an absolutely fabulous place to eat.  It is in Puerto Carrillo (near Samara) and is called El Colibri.  The place has six cabinas, but it is the restaurant that you need to try.

It is an Argentinian barbeque (asado).  The food is absolutely amazing which, judging by the fact the place is always full, is obviously a shared opinion.  I have not met one person yet who didn’t enjoy every bite.

The steaks are tender and barbecued just to your specifications.  The chimichurra is fantastic, the salads are delicious, and everything is as fresh as can be.  There are specials depending on the catch of the day or what is available locally.  Such as pork ribs (to die for), shrimp and tuna.  We were at Carrillo beach one day and saw a fisherman bring in a beautiful tuna.  That night, we had it for dinner at El Colibri.

The owners are a wonderful couple. Fernando does all the barbecuing and his wife, Roxanna. serves and is the restaurant manager.  About 12 to 14 tables with more added if more people come in.  You can even sit by the pool and eat there if that is your choice.  Or, if you have one of their cabinas, you can eat on your own terrace.

I highly recommend El Colibri.  We have been going there for over 15 years!  We live in the San José area but it is a beach destination for us because it is so good.

Nel Cameron

Barrio Escalante

My favorite restaurant is Mantras, a true vegetarian gourmet establishment located in Barrio Escalante 200 meters east of Farolito and 25 south. A very friendly husband-and-wife team run the restaurant. Pam is the chef and has mastered a wide range of dishes from all over the world. Aldo, her husband, is the manager and host who always greets his guests with a friendly smile. To go over the entire menu would be too lengthy, but here is a recent sample of a daily special for the lunch crowd:

Organic chilies filled with lentils, spinach, fresh herbs, vegetables and rice in a tomato sauce with parmesan cheese accompanied with a green salad.

Whole wheat pita filled with couscous,, tomato, nuts, blueberries and a soy fish in a curry sauce and a green salad.

Canalones filled with mushrooms and mozzarella in a spicy Italian sauce accompanied with a green salad.

Lunch prices for the day’s features are 3,850 colons including tax. A fresh drink is included with all meals, but for an additional 1,200 to 1,500 colons they have very special great tasting, healthy drinks, with the higher priced ones almost being a meal in themselves. People who have never eaten vegetarian food before have commented that they never thought vegetarian food could taste so good, and this is what keeps people coming back again and again. Additionally, the staff is very friendly and warm, and Pam and Aldo are bilingual and some of the wait staff speak English too. Mantras is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Warren Kinsman
San José

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