You might not have heard much about Costa Rican cuisine, but don’t let the lack of international fame fool you: The dining scene in San José is incredibly diverse and ever-evolving. In Costa Rica’s capital, you can eat alongside locals in a traditional soda, graze from the food stalls at farmers' markets and open-air food courts, sample both indigenous and contemporary Costa Rican cuisine, snack on late-night bites, feast on farm-to-fork fare, and even eat a multi-course “Coffee Connoisseurs” meal. Here are just 15 of the best restaurants in San José, Costa Rica.
If a meal that incorporates coffee with every course sounds like your dream, head to El Tigre Vestido. This open-air restaurant at the Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort is the only place in Costa Rica where you can eat a multiple-course, coffee-inspired meal. And what’s more, the coffee used in each dish is organic and grown on-site, so you can truly get a taste of place. If you are staying at the resort plantation, you can take a guided walk through the plantation and learn more about the history and culture of coffee in Costa Rica.
In bringing ancient flavors to the newly developing Barrio Escalante neighborhood, Chef Pablo Bonilla and his team at Sikwa are serving something new: indigenous recipes in a modern setting. You get more than a meal here; the team explains each dish as it’s delivered to the table, so you’ve got food for thought and sustenance. Try the “Cocina Ancestral” tasting menu, a chef-selected, six-course meal representing indigenous recipes that change with the seasons.
Best Comida Tipica: Soda Tala
A Costa Rican soda—a small, local-style restaurant—is the best place to sample comida típica (typical or traditional food). And the Central Market, a historic establishment in the heart of the city, is a great place to start. Eat a Tico-style breakfast of Tala Pinto, a homemade corn tortilla topped with gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans), egg, and fried cheese. Or try a casado (combo plate usually made up of rice, beans, salad, tortilla, and a meat or fish option) for lunch at Soda Tala. Food arrives quickly, prices are affordable, and, as you can see from the locals sitting beside you, this is less of a tourist spot and more of a well-loved, local institution.
Restaurante Silvestre takes great care in choosing ingredients and creating dishes with distinctly Costa Rican flavors and elegant presentation. You’ll find organic produce and sustainably-sourced seafood, queso from local farms, cacao from Talamanca, vanilla from Osa, and an evolving menu that reflects products that are available each season. If you’re looking for a taste of Costa Rica in a sophisticated yet unpretentious setting, this is the place.
Crowd-Pleaser: Feria Verde
This is not one individual restaurant: It’s a farmer's market that includes a collection of food stalls serving up organic and freshly made eats. You can choose typical Costa Rican dishes, such as gallos (corn tortillas topped with chopped ingredients, cheese, and egg or meat), or opt for international foods like falafel. There are also plenty of beverages to choose from, including kombucha, artisanal sodas with hints of hibiscus, and organic Costa Rican coffee. Whether you’re flying solo or you’ve got a group of friends with varying tastes, Feria Verde's abundant options and casual setting make it a crowd-pleaser. Open at the Sport Center in Aranjuez on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and in Ciudad Colon on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
When the owners of Calle Cimarrona, Costa Rica’s first microbrewery, wanted to meet their customers and serve them high quality, locally-sourced food paired with beer, Apotecario was born. The team here can help you choose a beer that suits your tastes and your appetite. Apotecario’s menu features artisanal bar food and salads made fresh from Apotecario’s own garden. This restaurant is popular with urban locals, so call ahead for reservations.
If food stalls are your style, you’ll love the casual vibe and quick-but-quality eats at El Jardín de Lolita. This open-air food court’s options include burgers, pizzas, and Japanese fare—some of which is prepared and served from shipping containers. Be sure to walk all the way to the back where you’ll find picnic tables, stone walkways, shrubbery, and twinkling lights strung from the trees, creating the feeling you’ve been invited to a backyard barbecue.
If you’ve had your fill of local foods, Tin Jo will transport you to a land far, far away. This popular restaurant is all about Asian flavors: Japanese miso soup, Thai papaya salad, Vietnamese spring rolls, Indian curry, and more. Let’s be honest, lack of focus on one country’s cuisine can result in mediocre food—but Tin Jo consistently delivers flavorful dishes, and also caters to vegetarians and gluten-free folks.
Traveling with food restrictions can be a challenge. Café Rojo makes it easier with simple and wholesome Vietnamese-inspired cuisine that includes a version of Costa Rican casado. Although this is not a completely dairy-free, gluten-free, or vegan environment, the staff takes care to guide diners to suitable menu items. Portions are large, prices are fair, and the food is of high quality.
When you eat in this elegant, colonial-style restaurant, you can enjoy European, French, and Latin American cuisine while contributing to a social cause. Grano de Oro supports Casa Luz, a home that supports adolescent women (and their children) during their teen years and after the age of 18. Ingredients for Restaurante Grano de Oro are sustainably-sourced and include local, aged gouda cheese, organic heart of palm, and in-house aged Costa Rican beef.
Wonder what it’s like to eat in a traditional Costa Rican home? You can get a taste of it at La Esquinita de JM. From the color palette to the mismatched chairs and Catholic décor, the owners have considered the details that make a house—or, rather, a restaurant—feel like a home. You’ll find traditional dishes on the menu such as arroz de la abuela (grandmother’s rice) and olla de carne (beef stew). Order a coffee and watch as it’s poured the Costa Rican way, through the chorreador.
Melted has mastered the grilled cheese sandwich. And they didn’t stop there: You’ll find other late-night bites such as poutine fries and S'mores on the menu as well. Each grilled cheese is served with tomato soup, pickles, and chips, and you can choose additional ingredients such as pulled pork for your sandwich. Pair your meal with a Black Margarita made with activated charcoal—it’s all about balance, right? Melted stays open until 12 a.m. on the weekends and is one of several eateries in the recently-opened Amor de Barrio.
If you arrive at an odd hour or your stomach is rumbling late at night, you may not find many restaurants open. The Market at the InterContinental Hotel welcomes diners 24 hours a day with high-quality food—including build-your-own pizzas, salads, and gourmet burgers—in a relaxed setting.
A true reflection of Chef Jose Gonzalez’s commitment to showcasing the best of Costa Rican-grown ingredients, al mercat offers a daily menu that changes depending on what ingredients are available. Favorites include sweet potato gnocchi, pork rinds with handmade corn tortillas, and papaya salad. al mercat’s farm is just six miles from the restaurant and farm tours can be arranged.
Rise above the noise and crowds of San José at Mirador Tiquicia. The hill-top location in Escazú affords unobstructed panoramic views over the city. The menu includes typical Costa Rican dishes like patacones (fried, mashed plantains), casado, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), and gallos. The décor is rustic, the food is simple and hearty, and the setting is casual and welcoming. Come on Friday or Saturday for live music.