So much of the culture found in Costa Rica is unique to the country, including the language and the food offerings. Natives of Costa Rica refer to themselves as ticos and ticas, and if you want to eat like a local, you should have these 5 dishes on your must-try list while you’re here.
Whether you’re in the country for a week or a year, make sure you check off each item from our list…you won’t be sorry!
1. Gallo Pinto
While in Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto is considered the true breakfast of champions. It’s the national dish of Costa Rica, earning it the number one position on our list. You cannot leave the country without trying this hearty dish. Gallo Pinto is a delicious combination of rice, black beans, peppers, onions, and cilantro. It is often seasoned with Salsa Lizano—a lightly-seasoned sauce similar to Worcestershire—and served with eggs, plantains, and tortillas. If you are planning a day of high-adventure sightseeing, Gallo Pinto is the perfect stick-to-your-ribs breakfast to fuel your body for a long day of fun.
Stop into any restaurant in Costa Rica and you’ll likely see patacones on the appetizer or snack menu. They are, without a doubt, a staple in Costa Rican cuisine. Patacones are made from slices of green plantains that are fried, flattened, then fried a second time, creating a deliciously crispy disc that is often topped with guacamole or refried beans. Patacones can also be served alongside ceviche in place of tortilla chips. When cooked correctly, patacones are shatteringly crisp on the outside with a wonderfully soft and tender interior. We aren’t kidding when we say you cannot eat just one.
Maduros is a dish that can be considered the sweeter cousin of patacones. While it, too, is made from plantains, maduros require more mature, yellow plantains which have a much sweeter flavor. Once again, plantains are sliced and fried in oil, then sprinkled with a bit of salt to enhance the sweetness of the ripe fruit. Don’t be surprised to see plantanos maduros offered at breakfast, lunch, and dinner…it’s just that tasty.
4. Olla de Carne
The literal translation is pot of meat but olla de carne is so much more than that. In this classic Costa Rican dish, impossibly tender chunks of beef are slow cooked along with vegetables and herbs, creating an aromatic and wonderfully seasoned broth. Think of it as the ultimate beef stew. It should be noted that many locals consider olla de carne to be the perfect hangover cure, so if you find yourself moving slowly after a night on the town, consider ordering a bowl of this nourishing cure-all. It will have you feeling back to your old self in no time.
Chifrijo is likely the newest dish on our list, having been invented here in the 1990s by a local bar owner, but it is so delicious we thought it deserved a spot here. This unique dish—whose name comes from a combination of the words chicharrón (pork rind) and frijoles (beans)—is made by layering white rice, beans cooked in spices, chicharrón, pico de gallo, avocado, and tortilla chips (though some bars and restaurants prefer to leave the chips on the side). A bowl of chifrijo and an ice-cold beer make for the perfect afternoon snack.
And there you have it—five must-try dishes to sample on your next visit to Costa Rica. It will only take a few bites to have you embracing the culinary side of the pura vida lifestyle.