Costa Rica is not often known as a foodie destination. However, there are some famous dishes in Costa Rica that definitely deserve a try. Food is a central part of the culture in Costa Rica. One that is deeply tied to family and celebration, which we have been able to see first hand since calling Costa Rica “home” in between our travels.
Planning a Trip in the time of COVID?Keep in mind that information found in this article may have been impacted by travel restrictions and other closures. Double check opening hours, tour providers and hotel status before you go. And don't leave your home without travel insurance! If you are looking for an insurance provider that covers COVID-19, we recommend Safety Wing. Get Medical and Travel Insurance starting at just $40/month and you can sign up even if your trip has already started!
We have come to love these Costa Rica traditional foods so much that they even make their way onto our plates when we are abroad.
Whether you are visiting the country and wondering what famous Costa Rica dishes you should try or are looking to mix it up and try something new at home. Don’t miss these famous Costa Rican recipes and dishes.
Best Food in Costa Rica
Although some Costa Rican food recipes get a bad rap for being all about rice and beans, there is more diversity to Costa Rican cuisine then you might realize. Whether you like salty, savoury, or sweet, if you are a vegetarian, vegan, or a carnivore there are foods of Costa Rica to appease any taste buds.
The Costa Rica national dish is without a doubt Gallo Pinto. You’ll find Costa Rican Gallo Pinto all over the country on the plates of locals and visitors alike. Gallo Pinto is the traditional Costa Rican breakfast food that consists of rice and beans served with egg, sausage and slathered with the local favourite, Lizano sauce.
There is a fierce rivalry between Nicaragua (who also calls Gallo Pinto – their national dish) and Costa Rica over its origins. Costa Rica claims the dish was created in the early 1900s in a suburb of San Jose whereas Nicaragua believes Gallo Pinto was created on its Caribbean shores. Either way, the predominantly rice and beans dish is a staple of each country’s respective diets.
Costa Rica Gallo Pinto is a mix of white rice, black beans, red bell peppers, cilantro, and onion all fried up together. It is a relatively simple dish to make but oh-so-delicious!
Find the complete Gallo Pinto Costa Rica Recipe here.
You will find tamales all over Latin America but in Costa Rica, they do tamales a little bit differently. As the most popular food in Costa Rica during Christmas, this dish conjures up images of the holiday season for most Costa Ricans rather than a roadside snack.
Tamales are made of a starchy corn-based dough called masa, wrapped in a banana leaf. The dough is mixed with vegetables, meats or cheese and then steamed or boiled in the prepared leaves.
It’s no easy feat to create this Costa Rica main dish, either, especially since some Costa Rica food recipes call for creating the corn dough yourself. So the process usually involves getting everyone together to create this Costa Rican food over the holidays when everyone has a little more time on their hands. It’s a fun social affair to create this Christmas staple of Costa Rica local cuisine somewhat similar to how families in North America gather to make Christmas cookies and treats.
Find the Costa Rican Tamale Recipe here.
Casado is one of the most popular foods in Costa Rica. You will find this simple but delicious meal on every menu in local sodas or in restaurants specializing in Costa Rican cuisine. The dish consists of a medley of rice, beans, meat/fish and a simple salad. It is typically eaten for lunch or at dinner.
Funny enough, in Spanish “casado” means “married man”. There are a couple of theories as to why one of the most famous Costa Rican dishes is likened to a married man but the most prevalent is that since a casado recipe was traditionally served at home, when restaurant customers would request to be treated like a “married man” they would be served a casado.
When preparing Casado, locals always cook more rice and beans than they need for the meal and use leftovers to whip up a perfect Gallo Pinto the next morning. Yes to delicious leftovers as a Costa Rica breakfast food!
Find the Casado Costa Rica Recipe here
Typically served in bars and canteens around the country, Chifrijo is one of the most famous appetizers in Costa Rica but can also be eaten as a main meal.
This traditional Costa Rican dish only started gaining popularity in the 1990s and got its name from combining the names of two of its main ingredients: chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and frijoles (beans).
Besides pork and beans, the dish includes chef’s choice of pico de gallo, chillies, tortillas, and vegetables like avocado and cabbage. As a bar specialty, this dish is frequently accompanied by an ice-cold Costa Rican beer!
Find the Costa Rican Chifrijo Recipe here
If you think ceviche is best done by the likes of South American countries like Peru, we would have to disagree. Costa Rican style ceviche is just as good (if not better), in part, due to its secret ingredients: ginger ale and club soda. It gives the dish a certain sweetness you won’t find elsewhere.
Costa Rica ceviche is typically served with crackers or tortillas and is one of those Costa Rica food dishes that can be eaten as a meal but also falls under the Costa Rican appetizers category.
Ceviche is usually made with raw white fish or but variations with shrimp or clams are also possible. The fish is marinated in lime juice for at least an hour or so and is served with crackers or patacones (see below).
Find the Costa Rica Ceviche Recipe here
One of our favourite and very common foods in Costa Rica is patacones, otherwise known as fried plantains. Costa Rican plantains come in 2 varieties: green and yellow. But, patacones can only be made from very young green patacones.
Patacones can be served on their own topped with meat, pico de gallo, vegetables or as an accompaniment to many Costa Rican meals. They are especially good alongside ceviche.
Patacones would be considered one of the easy Costa Rican recipes. But, if you want to get them extra crispy and Costa Rican style, ensure you are double frying your plantations.
Find the Costa Rica Patacones Recipe here
Arroz con Pollo
Arroz con pollo translates simply to chicken and rice. So, as you can imagine, it’s not the most vegetarian-friendly Costa Rican food. It’s one of the typical dishes in Costa Rica that you will find on the menu of almost every soda restaurant. Also, it is a dish that’s usually served for lunch or dinner. However, it is also a popular dish at fiestas and is often made for birthday parties and other family gatherings.
It’s a simple dish and Costa Rican comfort food whose two ingredients are obviously rice and chicken and with roots going back to Spanish paella. Other spices and vegetables are added to taste.
Find the Costa Rica Arroz con Pollo Recipe here
Empanada is the go-to Costa Rica street food. The half-moon snacks date back to medieval times in Europe and were brought to the nation by Spanish colonists.
Today, you will find empanada’s with a variety of fillings. Some contain meat, others are filled with cheese and are suitable for vegetarians. Also, some are vegan friendly and filled with potato. They are a super flexible and versatile Costa Rican food staple and delicious to boot.
Find the Costa Rica Street Food Empanada Recipe here
Costa Rican picadillo is a potato dish served with a medley of vegetables and meat. However, what sets a Costa Rican picadillo apart from other Latin American picadillos is the inclusion of Costa Rican squash known as chayote.
It is a very versatile and non-pretentious dish which is served at home or in a restaurant for lunch or dinner. We especially like it on brisk winter evenings or while spending time in the cooler mountain areas of Costa Rica. Just don’t forget a dollop of Lizano with it.
Find the Costa Rica Picadillo Recipe here
Yuca potatoes are high in fibre, protein and are one of the primary sources of carbohydrates for people living in Central America (besides rice and beans!). When fried, they made a great addition to any meal and a great alternative to regular old potato fries. You’ll find them served in sodas and restaurants all over the country alongside meals or as a snack on their own. Plus, they are one of the traditional Costa Rican recipes which are super easy to cook at home!
Find the Costa Rica Yuca Fries Recipe here
Black Bean Soup
As delicious as black bean soup is one of the few Costa Rican dishes you won’t find all over the country. It is popular in the Central Valley and is almost unheard of on the beaches of Guanacaste. This dish is ideal for cooler days.
Often referred to as just “black soup”, this dish is also popular in other countries in Latin America. It is made of black beans, eggs, onion, bell pepper, and garlic and garnished with cilantro.
Find the Black Soup Costa Rica Recipe here
Desserts from Costa Rica
Costa Rica is not a country with a whole lot of dessert options. Yet the couple of desserts available in Costa Rica will keep sweet tooths coming back for more.
The history of tres leches cakes can be traced back to Mexico. However, over the past century, the unique sponge cake has made its way into Costa Rica. Today, this Costa Rica cake is a crowd favourite. Tres Leches is often served as a dessert in restaurants but it is also popular at local parties and fiestas.
The name “tres leche” means “three milks”. This name comes from the fact that the sponge cake is soaked in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk or cream. It’s sweet and delicious, no doubt about it!
Find the Costa Rica Tres Leches Recipe here
Rice Pudding or Arroz con Leche
Another one of the classic Costa Rican dessert recipes is rice pudding. Costa Rica households will eat this with their family as a quick and simple dessert. But, you can also sometimes find it on the menus at local sodas.
Rice pudding or Arroz con Leche is a hearty, versatile dessert that consists of rice and sweet milk. It’s often flavoured with cinnamon, vanilla and sometimes raisins. This desert is not limited to one region of the country. So, you can find this famous food in most parts of Costa Rica.
Find the Costa Rica Rice Pudding Recipe here
Costa Ricans have a diversity of food that should not be discounted as seemingly bland at first glance. Often the ingredients are incredibly fresh and there is more variety than what you might think!
If you want to kick things up a notch in the kitchen then whip up one of these traditional Costa Rican recipes. Or, sample them first hand if you are visiting the country. We hope you’ll fall in love with these famous dishes in Costa Rica, as we did.