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a platter of chicharrones tacos on a white plate
Chicharrones at Chicharronera Cacique Acserí
Chicharronera Cacique Acserí / Facebook

18 Standout Restaurants in and Around San José

Where to find show-stopping mariscos, brimming arepas, and quite possibly Central America’s best scoop of vanilla ice cream in the Costa Rican capital

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Chicharrones at Chicharronera Cacique Acserí
| Chicharronera Cacique Acserí / Facebook

For decades, surfers and eco-tourists filled planes to Central America’s most popular travel destination, but food-focused travelers have found lots to love in Costa Rica’s waters and jungles, too. The country’s various microclimates steadily funnel a bounty of seafood and produce into the bustling capital of San José, where ingredients make their way into casados (smorgasbords of rice, beans, meat, salad, and more), bocas (bar snacks), and vibrant seafood specialties. Make time to eat at one of the city’s family-run sodas típicas, sample classic dishes like gallo pinto (the country’s take on rice and beans), explore the stands of the Central Market, and dine at high-end restaurants like Sikwa, where chef Pablo Bonilla plays with the Indigenous pantry and jungle-to-table cooking.

While COVID-19 has dampened global travel everywhere, including Costa Rica, the country’s waves, tropical rainforests, and beaches remain just as stunning. For whenever travelers are able to plan their escape to paradise, here is Eater’s guide to eating and drinking like a savvy Tico in San José.

Price Key
$ = 2,400 - 9,000 Costa Rican colónes ($4 - $15 USD)
$$ = 9,500 - 24,000 colónes ($16 to $40 USD)
$$$ = Over 30,000 colónes ($50 USD and up)

The level of service offered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is indicated on each map point. For updated information on coronavirus cases in Costa Rica, please visit cr.usembassy.gov.

Bill Esparza is a James Beard Award-winning writer and author of LA Mexicano.


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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Restaurante Freddo Fresas

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Alajuela Province
Poás, Costa Rica

Once you’ve gotten your fill of fresh strawberries, picked straight from the garden of this charming cabana in the Alajuelas Province, grab a cup of fine Costa Rican coffee and order a traditional snack. The chorreadas (corn pancakes) pair well with a glass of strawberry juice, and the soups, like olla de carne (meat soup), sopa de pozol (hulled corn and pork), and sopa de frijol (bean soup), are not to be missed. Of course, there’s gallo pinto and casados, but consider a tortilla aliñada, a Frisbee-sized tortilla made with a mixture of corn masa, cheese, and cream. [$$]

Restaurante Freddo Fresas
Restaurante Freddo Fresas/Facebook

2. Chubascos

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712, Provincia de Alajuela
Alajuela, Costa Rica

The daytime-only institution started out as a small hut in 1982. Today, the rustic wood cabin set amid the lush natural forest near the Poás Volcano is a must-visit. Enjoy a cup of Costa Rica’s world-famous coffee before embarking on a day of hiking the volcano. There are famed Tico breakfasts like gallo pinto, gallotes (large filled tortillas), gallitos (tortillas filled with savory stews), and arepas, but most come here for the casados, a “pura vida” platter of rice and beans with eggs, cheese, picadillo (chopped meat), salad, and your selection of stewed meat. Outdoor dining. Takeout available. [$$]

Gallotes at Chubascos
Chubascos/Facebook

3. Bacchus

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Calle 5, San José
Santa Ana, Costa Rica

The garden terrace and huge variety of local fish are the main draws at this popular Italian restaurant. Hidden among the menu of Italian classics — ossobuco, tuna carpaccio, antipasti, the usual pastas and pizza al taglio — the restaurant touts plenty of Costa Rican products. Check out the seafood section, which highlights the bounty of local fish with dishes like sea bream cooked in lime, jumbo shrimp in a Barolo wine reduction, and a mix of corvina, shrimp, and octopus tossed with tagliolini pasta. Order online. Outdoor dining. [$$$]

Seafood pasta at Bacchus
Bacchus/Facebook

4. Maxi by Ricky

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Calle San Rafael, Urb. Madre Selva, San José
Santa Ana, Costa Rica

People come to Ricky Barthley’s shady, homey restaurant, located in the Santa Ana neighborhood, to watch sports and to order the rondon, a coconut-milk stew found all over the Caribbean, here consisting of fish or mixed seafood, cassava, taro, yams, plantains, and chile panameño. There’s lots of other delicious afro-Costa Rican and Caribbean seafood too, like Barthley’s chunky Costa Rican ceviche, shrimp fried rice with patacones, and mariscada stew with lobster, fish, and shrimp served with gallo pinto. Order online. Outdoor dining. [$]

5. Gallo Rojo

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Del Bac 350 mts norte, contiguo a Zen Designs, Costa Rica, San José
San Rafael, Costa Rica

Born to Costa Rican and Taiwanese parents, and with a resume that includes stints in the U.S., Spain, France, and Peru, chef Andrés Sandoval Tsao has composed a menu that reads like a biography. His pan-Asian-leaning menu features Taiwanese gua bao (pork buns), Vietnamese bo luc lac (shaking beef), pad Thai, and Peruvian chaufa. Some Costa Rican dishes and tacos are mixed in to Tsao’s relaxed tour of global street food. Order online. [$$]

Korean wings at Gallo Rojo
Gallo Rojo/Facebook

6. La Divina Comida

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Avenida Escazu, San José Province
San Rafael, Costa Rica

Chef Marco Antonio Ganoza’s modern Peruvian fusion restaurant is one of San Jose’s top destinations, with Nikkei-style ceviches, grilled octopus in a balsamic vinaigrette reduction, and ají chicken risotto. Try the classic lomo saltado or Costa Rican pozol acriollado (corn and pork soup) with a well-balanced pisco sour and views of trendy Avenida Escazu. Order online. [$$]    

A chicken dish at La Divina Comida
La Divina Comida/Facebook

7. L'Ile de France

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Malinche, San José
San Rafael, Costa Rica

Serving bistro classics — snails cooked in garlic butter, French onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, and duck a l’orange — and putting a Gallic spin on regional dishes, San José’s most acclaimed French restaurant has been satisfying travelers for more than 40 years. Costa Rican seafood offerings, like sea bream niçoise, seafood crepes, and jumbo shrimp cooked in lime, give this hot spot a local feel, but it’s still firmly rooted in France. Order online. [$$$]

Chocolate crepes at L’Ile de France
L’Ile de France/Facebook

8. Raw Co Juicery & Food

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San José
San Rafael, Costa Rica

After stints at prestigious Spanish restaurants, including the two-Michelin-starred El Coque Restaurante and El Club Allard, chef Nene Murillo returned to her native Costa Rica to dedicate her life to the raw-food lifestyle. She opened Raw Co Juicery & Food, a takeout operation specializing in vibrant dishes that emphasize the unadulterated produce of Costa Rica. When she’s not teaching classes on raw food preparation, she’s whipping up juices with turmeric, lime, ginger, and honey; gluten-free, plant-based sushi and poke bowls; and colorful bowls of pureed dragon fruit or red banana topped with fresh berries. Takeout available. [$$]

A dragon fruit bowl at Raw Co Juicery & Food
Raw Co Juicery and Food

9. La Granja

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Vía 104, Alfa
San José, Costa Rica

Head to this Tico family-style restaurant in the bustling Pavas district for desayuno granjero, country breakfast with fried eggs, gallo pinto, Costa Rican sour cream, plantains, fried cheese, and tortillas. There are a trio of hearty casados, including the casado granjero that’s like your own personal Tico buffet. Many dishes are served on banana leaves, just one of the charming details about this country house, with its heavy wooden picnic benches. For a true taste of Costa Rican home cooking, go with the pozol, a sweet corn and pork rib stew, reddened by achiote and accented with notes of culantro. Order online. Outdoor (covered) seating. [$$]

A banana leaf topped with fried eggs, gallo pinto, a cup of sour cream, fried cheese, tortillas, and a cup of coffee
Desayuno granjero breakfast platter
La Granja/Facebook

10. Furca

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San José Province
San José, Costa Rica

Under the leadership of head chef Marco Leiva, this is San José’s take on the global steakhouse, with fine cuts of chateaubriand, Brazilian picanha, falda (flank steak) served with sticky rice and bok choy, and porterhouse. Local Costa Rican products are central to dishes like the green papaya salad, octopus with cassava “charcoal,” and a saute of jumbo shrimp and poppies from the garden. Choose from a variety of sides, such as grilled asparagus, blackened yucca, and sweet potato puree, to accompany your steak, all paired with wines from the Americas. [$$$]

11. La Empanada

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San José Province
Alajuelita, Costa Rica

Begin your journey into deep-fried empanadas costarricenses at this Tico institution located alongside the Plaza de las Garantías Sociales. Since 1948, locals have been coming here for well-browned, crispy turnovers made with corn flour filled with beans, ground meat, chicharrón, cheese, and potatoes. Stop by in the morning, when the empanadas are accompanied by coffee. In the afternoon, opt for Costa Rican horchata or a gaseosa (soda) to pair, and get your empanadas split open and dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and chilera. The other savory treats, like enyucados, deep-fried yuca balls stuffed with ground meat, are delicious, but the empanadas are a must. Takeout only. [$]

12. Chicharronera Cacique Acserí

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209, San José
Aserri, Costa Rica

At any decent party, Ticos serve a plate of chicharrones along with limes, tortillas, and bocas (bar snacks) for topping like yucca, Costa Rican pico de gallo (aka chimichurri), culantro, and the indispensable Salsa Lizano. Since 1966, this well-known chicharronera has hosted gatherings large and small in the Aserrí district. Locals keep coming back for deep-fried chicharrones — meatier than varieties elsewhere in Latin America — served with black bean puree, rice, picadillo de papa with Salsa Lizano, and other standard bocas. Come with a group and order the Gran Cacique, which can feed four to six, or the chichafrijo grande (chicharrones with whole beans). Add on some ice-cold Imperials and enjoy the mascaradas (masked dancers) and cimarrona music. Order online. Outdoor (covered) dining. [$$]

A large plate piled with chicharrones in the center with tortillas, limes, beans, and sides
Cacique Mediano platter of chicharrones and sides
Chicharronera Cacique Acserí/Facebook

13. Soda Tala

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San José Province
San José, Costa Rica
2222 8054

Although you’ll want to explore all of the vendors at San José’s Central Market, be sure not to miss Costa Rica’s most famous soda (traditional food stall), founded by Natalia Cervantes, affectionately called Tala and now run by her family. The menu consists of savory antojitos (little cravings), like chorreadas, tortillas de queso, and gallos (filled tortillas). The famed Tala Pintos are combo plates with gallo pinto, egg cakes, and the option of cheese, meat, or sausage with tortillas. The filling casados combine rice and beans with your choice of meat alongside picadillo, salad, and spaghetti — all served with lots of chilera (Costa Rican hot sauce). [$]

A crispy gallo at Soda Tala
Soda Tala/Facebook

14. La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora

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Mercado Central, Paso De La Vaca, San José
10102, Costa Rica

One of the many gems in San José’s Central Market, this busy ice cream stall has been delighting Ticos and tourists since 1901 with its mind-blowing vanilla ice cream. Yes, just vanilla. A single bite of the the light, fluffy scoop with notes of cinnamon and a heavy hit of vanilla bean will reveal why Alvaro Mora stuck to one flavor. Have it with a ranizado (shaved ice) and refresco en agua (juice), or a blackberry, papaya, or banana refresco de leche (milkshake). Takeout available. [$]

15. La Vasconia

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Eladio Prado Sáenz, El Carmen
San José, Costa Rica
2223 4857

It’s always a good idea to visit a local dive bar when traveling, especially when it’s a Costa Rican karaoke bar. At Bar La Vasconia, every trago (shot) earns you a boca (small bar snack). Ditto for every cap you pop open from a baldazo de cervezas, or bucket of beers. It wouldn’t be wrong to get a shot of Old Parr, but try Costa Rican Centenario rum, Bavaria beer, or a cocktail like chiliguaro, a spicy concoction of tomato juice, lime, and rum-like guaro served in bars all over Costa Rica. Popular bocas include the ceviche, chorizo, and yuca frita, and if you plan on staying for the karaoke, there’s a full menu of typical Tico plates such as casados, gallo pinto, seafood, and vigorón (a combination of yuca, pork, cabbage, and chimichurri). Takeout available. [$]

A bar interior highlighted with disco lights
Inside La Vasconia
La Vasconia / Facebook

16. Restaurante Silvestre

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Ave. 11 Calle 3A - 955, Barrio Amón, San José Province, San José
10101, Costa Rica

Local ingredients and the regional cuisines of Costa Rica are the core of the menu at chef Santiago Fernández Benedetto’s restaurant set in an old remodeled house in Barrio Amón. His caldosa, or corn chips with ceviche, features the day’s sustainable catch delicately cooked in Rangpur lime with ginger, avocado, chives, radishes, and daikon. He finishes his version of the street snack with a sardine mayo dressing. His empanadas are stuffed with ricotta cheese, chives, and egg yolks, and the Guanacaste-style arroz guacho, a risotto-like dish of rice and chayote topped with grilled chicken and shrimp. [$$$]

A chocolate, guava, and corn dessert at Restaurante Silvestre
Restaurante Silvestre/Facebook

17. La Esquina de Buenos Aires

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Calle 11
San José, Costa Rica

The walls at this Argentine steakhouse are hung with framed photos of tango musicians, antique Italian liquor signs, and seltzer bottles, evoking all the allure of a bodegón in San Telmo, the tango district in Buenos Aires. Start with a salad dressed in a do-it-yourself dressing of vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, then move on to the grilled provoleta (Argentine provolone) and perhaps some chitterlings or sweetbreads before your steak — a bife de chorizo (New York strip), entraña (outside skirt steak), or vacío (flank steak) — with a nice malbec. [$$]

Grilled steak and potatoes at La Esquina de Buenos Aires
La Esquina de Buenos Aires/Facebook

18. Sikwa Restaurante

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avenida 1 calle 33, 100 norte del antiguo Bagelmens San jose Carmen Central, Empalme
San José, Costa Rica

Chef Pablo Bonilla has diligently studied Indigenous Costa Rican cooking to refute critics who doubt the country’s historical gastronomy is equal to its Latin American neighbors. At Sikwa and sister restaurant Francisca, he uses local ingredients and provincial techniques in a warm, casual atmosphere. The menu at Sikwa is filled with spectacular displays of Costa Rica’s ancestral Indigenous cuisine: Several dishes are prepared with native annatto seeds, tamales are filled with breadnut and pejibaye (peach palm) fruit, and fish is dressed in hoja santa oil over muaxenca (sun-dried plantain puree). Through gallina con chilate, a purple corn atole (porridge) with hen and plantains, Bonilla finds connection with pre-Hispanic maize cultures all the way north to the American Southwest too. Takeout available. [$$$]

A bowl of bright broth with slices of pork, radish, and hominy
Pozole with smoked pork
Sikwa/Facebook

1. Restaurante Freddo Fresas

Alajuela Province, Poás, Costa Rica
Restaurante Freddo Fresas
Restaurante Freddo Fresas/Facebook

Once you’ve gotten your fill of fresh strawberries, picked straight from the garden of this charming cabana in the Alajuelas Province, grab a cup of fine Costa Rican coffee and order a traditional snack. The chorreadas (corn pancakes) pair well with a glass of strawberry juice, and the soups, like olla de carne (meat soup), sopa de pozol (hulled corn and pork), and sopa de frijol (bean soup), are not to be missed. Of course, there’s gallo pinto and casados, but consider a tortilla aliñada, a Frisbee-sized tortilla made with a mixture of corn masa, cheese, and cream. [$$]

Alajuela Province
Poás, Costa Rica

2. Chubascos

712, Provincia de Alajuela, Alajuela, Costa Rica
Gallotes at Chubascos
Chubascos/Facebook

The daytime-only institution started out as a small hut in 1982. Today, the rustic wood cabin set amid the lush natural forest near the Poás Volcano is a must-visit. Enjoy a cup of Costa Rica’s world-famous coffee before embarking on a day of hiking the volcano. There are famed Tico breakfasts like gallo pinto, gallotes (large filled tortillas), gallitos (tortillas filled with savory stews), and arepas, but most come here for the casados, a “pura vida” platter of rice and beans with eggs, cheese, picadillo (chopped meat), salad, and your selection of stewed meat. Outdoor dining. Takeout available. [$$]

712, Provincia de Alajuela
Alajuela, Costa Rica

3. Bacchus

Calle 5, San José, Santa Ana, Costa Rica
Seafood pasta at Bacchus
Bacchus/Facebook

The garden terrace and huge variety of local fish are the main draws at this popular Italian restaurant. Hidden among the menu of Italian classics — ossobuco, tuna carpaccio, antipasti, the usual pastas and pizza al taglio — the restaurant touts plenty of Costa Rican products. Check out the seafood section, which highlights the bounty of local fish with dishes like sea bream cooked in lime, jumbo shrimp in a Barolo wine reduction, and a mix of corvina, shrimp, and octopus tossed with tagliolini pasta. Order online. Outdoor dining. [$$$]

Calle 5, San José
Santa Ana, Costa Rica

4. Maxi by Ricky

Calle San Rafael, Urb. Madre Selva, San José, Santa Ana, Costa Rica

People come to Ricky Barthley’s shady, homey restaurant, located in the Santa Ana neighborhood, to watch sports and to order the rondon, a coconut-milk stew found all over the Caribbean, here consisting of fish or mixed seafood, cassava, taro, yams, plantains, and chile panameño. There’s lots of other delicious afro-Costa Rican and Caribbean seafood too, like Barthley’s chunky Costa Rican ceviche, shrimp fried rice with patacones, and mariscada stew with lobster, fish, and shrimp served with gallo pinto. Order online. Outdoor dining. [$]

Calle San Rafael, Urb. Madre Selva, San José
Santa Ana, Costa Rica

5. Gallo Rojo

Del Bac 350 mts norte, contiguo a Zen Designs, Costa Rica, San José, San Rafael, Costa Rica
Korean wings at Gallo Rojo
Gallo Rojo/Facebook

Born to Costa Rican and Taiwanese parents, and with a resume that includes stints in the U.S., Spain, France, and Peru, chef Andrés Sandoval Tsao has composed a menu that reads like a biography. His pan-Asian-leaning menu features Taiwanese gua bao (pork buns), Vietnamese bo luc lac (shaking beef), pad Thai, and Peruvian chaufa. Some Costa Rican dishes and tacos are mixed in to Tsao’s relaxed tour of global street food. Order online. [$$]

Del Bac 350 mts norte, contiguo a Zen Designs, Costa Rica, San José
San Rafael, Costa Rica

6. La Divina Comida

Avenida Escazu, San José Province, San Rafael, Costa Rica
A chicken dish at La Divina Comida
La Divina Comida/Facebook

Chef Marco Antonio Ganoza’s modern Peruvian fusion restaurant is one of San Jose’s top destinations, with Nikkei-style ceviches, grilled octopus in a balsamic vinaigrette reduction, and ají chicken risotto. Try the classic lomo saltado or Costa Rican pozol acriollado (corn and pork soup) with a well-balanced pisco sour and views of trendy Avenida Escazu. Order online. [$$]    

Avenida Escazu, San José Province
San Rafael, Costa Rica

7. L'Ile de France

Malinche, San José, San Rafael, Costa Rica
Chocolate crepes at L’Ile de France
L’Ile de France/Facebook

Serving bistro classics — snails cooked in garlic butter, French onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, and duck a l’orange — and putting a Gallic spin on regional dishes, San José’s most acclaimed French restaurant has been satisfying travelers for more than 40 years. Costa Rican seafood offerings, like sea bream niçoise, seafood crepes, and jumbo shrimp cooked in lime, give this hot spot a local feel, but it’s still firmly rooted in France. Order online. [$$$]

Malinche, San José
San Rafael, Costa Rica

8. Raw Co Juicery & Food

San José, San Rafael, Costa Rica
A dragon fruit bowl at Raw Co Juicery & Food
Raw Co Juicery and Food

After stints at prestigious Spanish restaurants, including the two-Michelin-starred El Coque Restaurante and El Club Allard, chef Nene Murillo returned to her native Costa Rica to dedicate her life to the raw-food lifestyle. She opened Raw Co Juicery & Food, a takeout operation specializing in vibrant dishes that emphasize the unadulterated produce of Costa Rica. When she’s not teaching classes on raw food preparation, she’s whipping up juices with turmeric, lime, ginger, and honey; gluten-free, plant-based sushi and poke bowls; and colorful bowls of pureed dragon fruit or red banana topped with fresh berries. Takeout available. [$$]

San José
San Rafael, Costa Rica

9. La Granja

Vía 104, Alfa, San José, Costa Rica
A banana leaf topped with fried eggs, gallo pinto, a cup of sour cream, fried cheese, tortillas, and a cup of coffee
Desayuno granjero breakfast platter
La Granja/Facebook

Head to this Tico family-style restaurant in the bustling Pavas district for desayuno granjero, country breakfast with fried eggs, gallo pinto, Costa Rican sour cream, plantains, fried cheese, and tortillas. There are a trio of hearty casados, including the casado granjero that’s like your own personal Tico buffet. Many dishes are served on banana leaves, just one of the charming details about this country house, with its heavy wooden picnic benches. For a true taste of Costa Rican home cooking, go with the pozol, a sweet corn and pork rib stew, reddened by achiote and accented with notes of culantro. Order online. Outdoor (covered) seating. [$$]

Vía 104, Alfa
San José, Costa Rica

10. Furca

San José Province, San José, Costa Rica

Under the leadership of head chef Marco Leiva, this is San José’s take on the global steakhouse, with fine cuts of chateaubriand, Brazilian picanha, falda (flank steak) served with sticky rice and bok choy, and porterhouse. Local Costa Rican products are central to dishes like the green papaya salad, octopus with cassava “charcoal,” and a saute of jumbo shrimp and poppies from the garden. Choose from a variety of sides, such as grilled asparagus, blackened yucca, and sweet potato puree, to accompany your steak, all paired with wines from the Americas. [$$$]

San José Province
San José, Costa Rica

11. La Empanada

San José Province, Alajuelita, Costa Rica

Begin your journey into deep-fried empanadas costarricenses at this Tico institution located alongside the Plaza de las Garantías Sociales. Since 1948, locals have been coming here for well-browned, crispy turnovers made with corn flour filled with beans, ground meat, chicharrón, cheese, and potatoes. Stop by in the morning, when the empanadas are accompanied by coffee. In the afternoon, opt for Costa Rican horchata or a gaseosa (soda) to pair, and get your empanadas split open and dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and chilera. The other savory treats, like enyucados, deep-fried yuca balls stuffed with ground meat, are delicious, but the empanadas are a must. Takeout only. [$]

San José Province
Alajuelita, Costa Rica

12. Chicharronera Cacique Acserí

209, San José, Aserri, Costa Rica
A large plate piled with chicharrones in the center with tortillas, limes, beans, and sides
Cacique Mediano platter of chicharrones and sides
Chicharronera Cacique Acserí/Facebook

At any decent party, Ticos serve a plate of chicharrones along with limes, tortillas, and bocas (bar snacks) for topping like yucca, Costa Rican pico de gallo (aka chimichurri), culantro, and the indispensable Salsa Lizano. Since 1966, this well-known chicharronera has hosted gatherings large and small in the Aserrí district. Locals keep coming back for deep-fried chicharrones — meatier than varieties elsewhere in Latin America — served with black bean puree, rice, picadillo de papa with Salsa Lizano, and other standard bocas. Come with a group and order the Gran Cacique, which can feed four to six, or the chichafrijo grande (chicharrones with whole beans). Add on some ice-cold Imperials and enjoy the mascaradas (masked dancers) and cimarrona music. Order online. Outdoor (covered) dining. [$$]

209, San José
Aserri, Costa Rica

13. Soda Tala

San José Province, San José, Costa Rica
A crispy gallo at Soda Tala
Soda Tala/Facebook

Although you’ll want to explore all of the vendors at San José’s Central Market, be sure not to miss Costa Rica’s most famous soda (traditional food stall), founded by Natalia Cervantes, affectionately called Tala and now run by her family. The menu consists of savory antojitos (little cravings), like chorreadas, tortillas de queso, and gallos (filled tortillas). The famed Tala Pintos are combo plates with gallo pinto, egg cakes, and the option of cheese, meat, or sausage with tortillas. The filling casados combine rice and beans with your choice of meat alongside picadillo, salad, and spaghetti — all served with lots of chilera (Costa Rican hot sauce). [$]

San José Province
San José, Costa Rica

14. La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora

Mercado Central, Paso De La Vaca, San José, 10102, Costa Rica

One of the many gems in San José’s Central Market, this busy ice cream stall has been delighting Ticos and tourists since 1901 with its mind-blowing vanilla ice cream. Yes, just vanilla. A single bite of the the light, fluffy scoop with notes of cinnamon and a heavy hit of vanilla bean will reveal why Alvaro Mora stuck to one flavor. Have it with a ranizado (shaved ice) and refresco en agua (juice), or a blackberry, papaya, or banana refresco de leche (milkshake). Takeout available. [$]

Mercado Central, Paso De La Vaca, San José
10102, Costa Rica

15. La Vasconia

Eladio Prado Sáenz, El Carmen, San José, Costa Rica
A bar interior highlighted with disco lights
Inside La Vasconia
La Vasconia / Facebook

It’s always a good idea to visit a local dive bar when traveling, especially when it’s a Costa Rican karaoke bar. At Bar La Vasconia, every trago (shot) earns you a boca (small bar snack). Ditto for every cap you pop open from a baldazo de cervezas, or bucket of beers. It wouldn’t be wrong to get a shot of Old Parr, but try Costa Rican Centenario rum, Bavaria beer, or a cocktail like chiliguaro, a spicy concoction of tomato juice, lime, and rum-like guaro served in bars all over Costa Rica. Popular bocas include the ceviche, chorizo, and yuca frita, and if you plan on staying for the karaoke, there’s a full menu of typical Tico plates such as casados, gallo pinto, seafood, and vigorón (a combination of yuca, pork, cabbage, and chimichurri). Takeout available. [$]

Eladio Prado Sáenz, El Carmen
San José, Costa Rica

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16. Restaurante Silvestre

Ave. 11 Calle 3A - 955, Barrio Amón, San José Province, San José, 10101, Costa Rica
A chocolate, guava, and corn dessert at Restaurante Silvestre
Restaurante Silvestre/Facebook

Local ingredients and the regional cuisines of Costa Rica are the core of the menu at chef Santiago Fernández Benedetto’s restaurant set in an old remodeled house in Barrio Amón. His caldosa, or corn chips with ceviche, features the day’s sustainable catch delicately cooked in Rangpur lime with ginger, avocado, chives, radishes, and daikon. He finishes his version of the street snack with a sardine mayo dressing. His empanadas are stuffed with ricotta cheese, chives, and egg yolks, and the Guanacaste-style arroz guacho, a risotto-like dish of rice and chayote topped with grilled chicken and shrimp. [$$$]

Ave. 11 Calle 3A - 955, Barrio Amón, San José Province, San José
10101, Costa Rica

17. La Esquina de Buenos Aires

Calle 11, San José, Costa Rica
Grilled steak and potatoes at La Esquina de Buenos Aires
La Esquina de Buenos Aires/Facebook

The walls at this Argentine steakhouse are hung with framed photos of tango musicians, antique Italian liquor signs, and seltzer bottles, evoking all the allure of a bodegón in San Telmo, the tango district in Buenos Aires. Start with a salad dressed in a do-it-yourself dressing of vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, then move on to the grilled provoleta (Argentine provolone) and perhaps some chitterlings or sweetbreads before your steak — a bife de chorizo (New York strip), entraña (outside skirt steak), or vacío (flank steak) — with a nice malbec. [$$]

Calle 11
San José, Costa Rica

18. Sikwa Restaurante

avenida 1 calle 33, 100 norte del antiguo Bagelmens San jose Carmen Central, Empalme, San José, Costa Rica
A bowl of bright broth with slices of pork, radish, and hominy
Pozole with smoked pork
Sikwa/Facebook

Chef Pablo Bonilla has diligently studied Indigenous Costa Rican cooking to refute critics who doubt the country’s historical gastronomy is equal to its Latin American neighbors. At Sikwa and sister restaurant Francisca, he uses local ingredients and provincial techniques in a warm, casual atmosphere. The menu at Sikwa is filled with spectacular displays of Costa Rica’s ancestral Indigenous cuisine: Several dishes are prepared with native annatto seeds, tamales are filled with breadnut and pejibaye (peach palm) fruit, and fish is dressed in hoja santa oil over muaxenca (sun-dried plantain puree). Through gallina con chilate, a purple corn atole (porridge) with hen and plantains, Bonilla finds connection with pre-Hispanic maize cultures all the way north to the American Southwest too. Takeout available. [$$$]

avenida 1 calle 33, 100 norte del antiguo Bagelmens San jose Carmen Central, Empalme
San José, Costa Rica

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