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What To Eat And Drink In Costa Rica: Our Costa Rica Food/Beverage List And Order Tips

What To Eat And Drink In Costa Rica: Our Costa Rica Food/Beverage List And Order Tips

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on July 25th, 2017.

what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
If you have trouble identifying the item pictured above, you are unsure when you would typically eat one, and you are clueless as to what it hides inside, this blog post is for you! 🙂

WHO’S HUNGRY FOR SOME COSTA RICAN FOOD?

Deciding what to eat and drink in Costa Rica is a bit like jumping off the ledge of a rock-cliff into a dark and unfamiliar swimming hole one hundred meters below. If you’ve never done it before, you are half excited, half terrified, and wholeheartedly curious. The experience is foreign and unnerving, but it could also be a refreshing change and well worth the plunge.

If you have never been to Costa Rica, and especially if you do not speak Spanish, the plethora of unknown menu items you will encounter during your trip may overwhelm you. You may not have a clue what to eat and drink in Costa Rica, but don’t let yourself be intimidated. With a little help and a handy cheat-sheet (like the one we have put together for you below) you can cut out the confusion, appease your curiosity, and take a culinary leap without fear. Whoever said trying something new had to be so daunting anyway?

If you are a vegetarian or vegan travelling to Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post: Vegetarian And Vegan Dining In Costa Rica. If you are a gluten-free traveller, please see our related post: Gluten-Free Dining In Costa Rica.
~ Nikki & Ricky,
Costa Rica Travel Blog

If you plan to be active during your vacation, you will come across a number of the food and beverage offerings listed below via meals provided by your hotel(s), organized tours, and local restaurants. The best way to eliminate the element of surprise during travel (if your travel style is more plan and predict than go with the flow) is to prepare for your trip as much as you can in advance. For this reason, we recommend browsing through our “what to eat and drink in Costa Rica” food and beverage list below (complete with Spanish word pronunciation help) before you leave home. This way, you can identify a handful of orders that you think your taste buds and digestive system will agree with (star these dishes as comfortable go-to orders on days when you are feeling shy), as well as orders you would like to try for the first time (highlight these dishes for days when you are feeling extra adventurous).

OUR “WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK IN COSTA RICA” FOOD AND BEVERAGE LIST (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER) COMPLETE WITH DESCRIPTIONS AND SPANISH WORD PRONUNCIATION HELP

what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
Ricky; morning just isn’t complete without “gallo pinto”!

What to eat and drink in Costa Rica: dishes, sides, appetizers, and snacks

*B = typical breakfast item
*L = typical lunch item
*D = typical dinner item
*SD = typical side dish
*SK = typical snack item

  • Arroz (ah-rose) – rice (typically white, long-grain) [L/D]
  • Arroz Con “X” (ah-rose cahn “X”…) – rice with “X” (“X” referring to a type of “Carne” – meat, “Pescado” – fish, “Vegetal” – vegetable, etc.) [L/D]
  • Casado (cah-sah-doh) – rice and beans (typically black, although sometimes red) served separately and not mixed (related: “Gallo Pinto”) [L/D]
  • Ceviche (say-vee-chay) – raw fish dish, comprised of fish marinated in lemon with spices and vegetables [L/D]
  • Chorreada (chor-ee-ah-dah) – sweet corn pancake [B]
  • Empanada (ehm-pah-nah-dah) – hard corn patty, baked or fried, stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, and/or beans (or sweet and syrupy fruit blends, if served as a dessert) [L/D/SK]
  • Ensalada Rusa (ehn-sah-lah-dah roo-sa) – beat salad, often accompanied by mayonnaise, potato, and egg [L/D/SD]
  • Ensalada Verde (ehn-sah-lah-dah vair-day) – green salad, typically comprised of lettuce, tomato, and carrot (similar to a garden salad in the USA and Canada) [L/D/SD]
  • Enyucado (ehn-yoo-cah-doh) – fried yuca roll stuffed with ground beef (related: “Yuca” and “Cassava”) [SK]
  • Gallo Pinto (guy-yoh-peen-toh) – rice and beans (typically black, although sometimes red) served mixed together (related: “Casado”) [B] *pictured above*
  • Olla De Carne (oh-jah day car-nay) – soup comprised of a mild, watery broth, bone-in meat, and vegetables [L/D]
  • Pan (pah-n) – bread (including “Pan Blanco” – white bread, and “Pan Integral” – multigrain) [B/SK]
  • Patacone (pah-tah-cone-ay) – unripe (green) plantain cut into pieces, flattened to resemble discs, and fried (served hard) [SK]
  • Platano Frito (plah-tah-no free-to) – ripe (yellow, with black freckles) plantain fried in oil; slightly sweet (served soft) [L/D/SD] *pictured below*
  • Pozol (poh-zohl) – white corn and pork soup (typically including onions and peppers) [L/D]
  • Rondon (rohn-dohn) – coconut milk soup; most often comprised of fish, vegetables, and spices [L/D]
  • Sopa Negra (soh-pah nay-grah) – soup comprised of a black bean broth and egg (typically cracked in the soup, as to cook in the broth) [L/D]
  • Taco (tah-coh) – fried, meat-stuffed, rolled tortilla (related: “Taquito”) [L/D/SK]
  • Tamale (tah-mah-lay) – soft masa patty, cooked in a banana leaf, stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, and/or beans (typically served at Christmas) [L/D] *pictured at the top of this blog post*
  • Taquito (tah-kee-toh) – Costa Rican nickname for the word “Taco” (related: “Taco”) [L/D/SK]
  • Tortilla de Harina (tor-tee-yah day ahr-ee-nah) – soft (often white), wheat flour tortilla [B/L/D/SD/SK]
  • Tortilla de Maiz (tor-tee-yah day my-eez) – soft (often yellow), corn flour tortilla [B/L/D/SD/SK]
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
One of Ricky’s favourites – “platano frito”

What to eat and drink in Costa Rica: meat, poultry, eggs, and fish

  • Atun (ah-tune) – tuna
  • Bistek (bee-stake) – steak
  • Carne (car-nay) – meat (in general, not referring to a particular type)
  • Cerdo (sair-doh) – pork
  • Chicharrones (chee-char-own-ays) – fried pork rinds
  • Chuleta De Cerdo (choo-lay-tah day sair-doh) – pork chop (sometimes referred to as “Chuleta” only)
  • Guapote (wah-poh-tay) – type of a popular Costa Rican fish (Rainbow Bass)
  • Huevos (oo-way-voz) – eggs (typically brown)
  • Pavo (pah-vo) – turkey
  • Pescado (peh-scah-doh) – fish (in general, not referring to a particular type)
  • Pollo (poy-yoh) – chicken
  • Salchichon (sah-chee-chah-n) – summer sausage
  • Tilapia (tee-lah-pee-yah) – type of a popular Costa Rican fish (Tilapia)
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
At our house, there is always a bottle of Salsa Lizano on hand

What to eat and drink in Costa Rica: add-ons and condiments

  • Encurtido (ehn-cuhr-tee-doh) – vinegar-based vegetable mix (often found on restaurant tables in a jar)
  • Lizano (lee-zah-noh) – Costa Rican brand name for a popular sauce comprised of vegetables and spices (with a sharp, somewhat acidic, peppery taste) *pictured above*
  • Mayonesa (may-yoh-nay-sah) – mayonnaise
  • Pico De Gallo (pee-coh day guy-yoh) – tangy salsa typically comprised of onion, tomato, lime juice, salt, and cilantro (often found on restaurant tables in a jar)
  • Salsa De Tomate (sahl-sah day toh-mah-tay) – tomato sauce
  • Queso Americano (kay-soh ah-mair-ee-cahn-oh) – sliced cheese (typically cheddar), similar to that served on hamburgers and sandwiches in the USA and Canada
  • Queso Frito (kay-soh free-toh) – thickly sliced, block-like cheese (typically white and somewhat squishy in texture) fried in a pan or on a grill
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
Ricky; with “flan de coco”; his second love)

What to eat and drink in Costa Rica: desserts

  • Arroz Con Leche (ah-rose cahn lay-chay) – rice pudding (sometimes automatically served at the end of a meal as a complimentary dessert offered by restaurants)
  • Churro (chur-roh) – fried dough stick (with a texture and taste resembling a funnel cake, elephant ear, or beaver tale – circus/fair favourites in the USA and Canada)
  • Costilla (cah-stee-yah) – pastry (the actual word for pastry in Spanish is “Pastel”, however, in Costa Rica, “Costilla” is slang for pastry or baked good)
  • Flan (flah-n) – gelatinous cake topped with caramelized sugar (most often prepared and served in Costa Rica as “Flan De Coco” – coconut flan) *pictured above*
  • Pan Dulce (pah-n dool-say) – sweet bread
  • Tres Leches (trays lay-chays) – sweet, wet, spongy cake drenched in regular milk, evaporated milk, and condensed milk (“Tres Leches” – three milks) in addition to cream
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
Ricky; buying “mamonchinos” from a street vendor in Quepos

What to eat and drink in Costa Rica: fruits, vegetables, and herbs

  • Banano (bah-nah-noh) – banana
  • Carambola (cahr-ahm-bohl-ah) – starfruit
  • Cassava (cah-sah-vah) – starchy vegetable resembling potato in taste and texture; another word for yuca (related: “Yuca” and “Enyucado”)
  • Chayote (chai-oh-tay) – squash species; most often cooked and served as soft, light green, chunks in vegetable medleys
  • Chile Dulce (chee-lay dool-say) – mild pepper, referring to spice (not to be confused with hot peppers)
  • Chile Picante (chee-lay pee-cahn-tay) – hot pepper, referring to spice
  • Chiverre (chee-vehr-ay) – squash species; most often cooked down to a stringy and sweet filling used in dessert empanadas or to add flavour to sweet bread
  • Cilantro (cee-lahn-trow) – the most common herb found in Costa Rican food; coriander stalk/leaves (not to be confused with coriander seeds)
  • Coco (coh-coh) – coconut
  • Fresa (fray-sah) – strawberry
  • Fruta (fru-tah) – fruit (in general, not referring to a particular type)
  • Lechuga (lay-chu-gah) – lettuce
  • Maiz (my-eez) – corn
  • Mamonchino (mah-mohn-chee-noh) – rambutan fruit, with a sweet inside (resembling the texture of a peeled grape) and a spiky, inedible outside *pictured above*
  • Mango (mahn-goh) – mango
  • Manzana (mahn-zahn-ah) – apple
  • Melocoton (mel-oh-coh-ton) – peach
  • Melon (may-lohn) – melon
  • Naranja (nah-rahn-hah) – orange
  • Palmito (pahl-mee-toh) – heart of palm
  • Papa (pah-pah) – potato
  • Papaya (pah-pie-yah) – papaya
  • Pejibeye (pay-hee-bye-yay) – peach palm (cooked, and topped with “Mayonesa” – mayonnaise)
  • Pina (peen-yah) – pineapple
  • Repollo (ray-poy-yoh) – cabbage
  • Sandia (sahn-dee-yah) – watermelon
  • Tomate (toh-mah-tay) – tomato
  • Vegetal (vay-hay-tahl) – vegetable (in general, not referring to a particular type)
  • Yuca (yoo-cah) – starchy vegetable resembling a potato in taste and texture; another word for cassava (related: “Cassava” and “Enyucado”)
  • Zanahoria (zahn-ah-ohr-ee-ah) – carrot
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
My favourite beverage: a strawberry “batido”

What to eat and drink in Costa Rica: beverages

  • Agua (ah-guah) – water
  • Agua Dulce (ah-guah dool-say) – overly sweet drink comprised of boiled sugar cane (a production similar to that of maple syrup) and water (sometimes milk)
  • Batido/a (bah-tee-doh/dah) – smoothie or shake (similar to a milkshake in the USA or Canada) *pictured above*
  • Bebida Gaseosa (bay-bee-dah gah-say-oh-sah) – pop/soda beverage (in general, not referring to a particular drink); another phrase for “Refresco Gasioso” (related: “Refresco Gasioso”)
  • Bebida Natural (bay-bee-dah nah-tour-ahl) – natural fruit beverage (in general, not referring to a particular drink); another phrase for “Refresco Natural” (related: “Refresco Natural”)
  • Cacique (cah-see-kay) – Costa Rican brand name for Guaro liquor (related: “Guaro”).
  • Café (cah-fay) – coffee
  • Cas (cah-s) – tart fruit drink, referring to the fruit of the same name
  • Cerveza (sair-vay-sah) – beer
  • Chan (chah-n) – fruit drink comprised of soaked chia seeds
  • Fresco (fray-scoh) – Costa Rican slang term for drink; short form version of the word “Refresco” (related: “Refresco Gaseoso” and “Refresco Natural”)
  • Guanabana (guah-nah-bahn-nah) – sweet and tangy drink, referring to the fruit of the same name
  • Guaro (wahr-oh) – liquor produced from sugar cane (related: “Cacique”).
  • Horchata (ohr-chah-tah) – thick and creamy shake made from rice with a potent cinnamon flavour
  • Imperial (im-peer-ee-ahl) – brand name of a popular Costa Rican beer
  • Jugo (hoo-goh) – juice (available in many varieties, including “Manzana” – apple, “Naranjo” – orange, “Mango” – mango, “Pina” – pineapple, etc.)
  • Leche (lay-chay) – milk
  • Licor (lee-cohr) – liquor
  • Pilsen (peel-sehn) – brand name of a popular Costa Rican beer
  • Pipa Fria (pee-pah free-yah) – chilled coconut water (typically consumed directly from the coconut itself, via a straw inserted through a hole at the top)
  • Refresco Gaseoso (ray-fray-scoh gah-say-oh-soh) – pop/soda beverage (in general, not referring to a particular drink); another phrase for “Bebida Gasiosa” (related: “Bebida Gasiosa”) *pictured below*
  • Refresco Natural (ray-fray-scoh nah-tour-ahl) – natural fruit beverage (in general, not referring to a particular drink); another phrase for “Bebida Natural” (related: “Bebida Natural”)
  • Tamarindo (tah-mah-reen-doh) – tart drink comprised of tamarind pulp (with a somewhat acidic taste)
  • Te (tay) – tea (available in many varieties, including “Manzania” – chamomile, “Verde” – green, “Menta” – mint, “Negro” – black, etc.)
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
Ricky; with his favourite beverage (a “refresco gaseoso”)

BEFORE YOU ORDER ANY COSTA RICAN FOOD, FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE FOLLOWING IMPORTANT WORDS AND PHRASES

Order types

  • A La Plancha (ah lah plahn-chah) – grilled; of/on the grill (as opposed to baked or fried)
  • Caliente (cah-lee-ehn-tay) – hot, referring to temperature
  • Con Leche (cohn lay-chay) – with milk (as a form of coffee order)
  • Con Salsa De “X”… (cohn sahl-sah day…) – with “X” sauce (“X” referring to “Tomate” – tomato sauce, “Carne” – meat sauce, “Lizano” – lizano sauce, etc.)
  • Embotellada (ehm-bow-tay-yah-dah) – bottled (as a form of water order)
  • En El Lado (ehn ehl lah-doh) – on the side
  • Frito (free-toe) – fried (as opposed to baked or grilled)
  • Negro (nay-grow) – black (as a form of coffee order or tea variety)
  • Para Llevar (pah-rah yay-vahr) – to go, referring to take-out food
  • Picante (pee-cahn-tay) – hot, referring to spice
  • Revuelto (ray-buehl-toe) – scrambled
  • Sin (seen) – without
  • Tostado/a (toe-stah-doh/dah) – toasted
what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
Our routine coffee order: “cafe con leche”

FOOD ORDER TIPS FOR CURIOUS AND UNSUSPECTING TRAVELLERS

Spice

Costa Rican food is not, as a rule, spicy. Certain sauces and spices can give it a hearty, flavourful kick however, so if you find yourself disliking a particular dish given its “Picante” taste, learn which add-ons or toppings were included, such as the ever-potent “Cilantro” or salsa “Lizano”. If it is a spice or condiment that you do not like, ask for this to be eliminated from (or provided on the side of) your next menu order.

Peppers

Peppers in the USA and Canada are generally regarded as mild. Those nicknamed “hot peppers” or “chili peppers”, are specifically known for being hot. In Costa Rica, “Chile” (the short form use of the phrase “Chile Dulce” – sweet chili) closely resembles the taste of a “pepper” (the vegetable, not the spice) consumed in the USA and Canada (ie. they are mild). “Chile Picante” however, offers a hot and spicy kick, similar to that experienced when eating a “hot pepper” or “chili pepper” in the USA and Canada. Although the term “chili” is used in the USA and Canada to refer to a hearty bean and vegetable dish (which is, more often than not, spicy given the multitude of spices added to its sauce), the term “Chile” in Costa Rica does not imply heat. If you are not a lover of spicy food, but a menu specifies that a particular pizza, salad, or entree comes with “Chile” included, don’t panic. The pepper provided is bound to be a sweet one, and if you ever doubt the state of its “wow-za” kick, have the waiter or waitress confirm that the “Chile” is in fact “Chile Dulce” as opposed to “Chile Picante”.

Hamburgers

Not all hamburgers are created equal. To many travellers’ surprise, the term “hamburger” means different things to different restaurant chefs. In areas of the country that cater to a high volume of foreign visitors, hamburgers may resemble those provided in the USA and Canada (that is to suggest, a beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion, and other vegetables, sandwiched between two ends of a wheat bun). At other locations, ordering a hamburger could provide you with just that – a burger complete with a slice of ham (in lieu of beef). Burger toppings may vary as well, as it is not uncommon to find a cooked egg on top of your meat patty, or come across a chunk of unfamiliar-looking Turrialba or Monteverde cheese hidden beneath a piece of lettuce (if it is a slice of cheddar cheese you would prefer, be sure to place your order including a request for “Queso Americano”). Sometimes restaurants go overboard and provide you with everything at once. At one restaurant we dined at in La Fortuna (many, many years ago  and before we became vegetarians), our hamburger order surprised us with a mammoth-sized beast of a sandwich, complete with slabs of ham and beef together, an egg prepared sunny side up and oozing liquid yolk all over the place, flanks of typical Costa Rican cheese, and a stack of vegetable toppings). It was a source of protein we could have survived on for a week.

what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
Nikki; “tipico” (typical/authentic) Costa Rican restaurants (like Soda Visquez in La Fortuna, pictured above) sometimes offer buffet stands where you can try a variety of menu choices at once. My faithful go-to item? “Puré de papa” (mashed potatoes!)

Ketchup/Tomato Sauce

“Salsa De Tomate” (“tomato sauce”, in English) is, for all intents and purposes in Costa Rica, the “ketchup” substitute. Some restaurants will offer bottles of ketchup, but most will offer tomato sauce instead. In the USA and Canada, “tomato sauce” refers to a watered down form of a thick tomato paste with spices and vegetables added in; it is most often used in pizza preparations and pasta dishes. In Costa Rica, “Salsa De Tomate” closely resembles ketchup, and is regularly consumed as a condiment on hamburgers and in sandwiches. If you order a side of “Salsa De Tomate” for your french fries, the tomato sauce you will receive will give you the “ketchup”-type dip you are looking for.

Soup

Soup in Costa Rica is hearty and filling enough to be consumed as a meal on its own. Chicken or beef soup may be comprised of heaps of bone-in meat soaked in a watery broth (a la “Olla De Carne”), and it is not uncommon for vegetable soup to include oversized vegetable pieces such as whole potato chunks or half of a cob of corn. Some soups (such as “Sopa Negra”) contain a cooked egg, which provides extra protein to an already protein-packed bean puree.

Tacos

“Tacos”, as served in the USA and Canada (imagine the hard-shell type offered at Taco Bell), do not exist in Costa Rican cuisine. Ordering a “Taco” (or “Taquito”, little taco) from a menu item will get you a small tube of tightly-rolled tortilla stuffed with shredded meat and fried (normally topped with “Repollo”, “Mayonesa”, and “Salsa De Tomate”). If you are craving the Taco Bell kind of taco when in Costa Rica, search menus for a “chalupa” instead. Although not a standard Costa Rican dish, Mexican chalupas are the closest thing to Taco Bell tacos in Costa Rica, excluding the tacos you can get from an actual Taco Bell located in many Costa Rican mall food courts. Yes, there is Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Quiznos, Subway, and even Smashburger in Costa Rica, but for travellers looking to engage in the complete Costa Rican experience during their trip, stepping out of their culinary comfort zone (and fast food chains) to try local eats and treats is an easy, convenient, and inexpensive way to accomplish the task.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to Costa Rica? What food/drink did you enjoy trying for the first time?

Pura vida!

what to eat and drink in Costa Rica
“Salud!” (cheers!) 🙂

Nikki and Ricky

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