Top 10 Traditional Foods In Costa Rica

Gallo pinto is Costa Rica’s staple, traditional food. It’s a rice and bean dish served at breakfast, and Lizano sauce is delicious on it. The country’s three most famous dishes are casado, gallo pinto, and arroz con pollo.

It’s one thing to be a travel enthusiast, and it’s another thing to be a foodie who loves to travel. I’m with the latter. And so far that I’ve been in Costa Rica, I can safely conclude that this place isn’t a culinary destination. 

The food here is generally bland and repetitive. Even Wikipedia recognizes the Gallo Pinto as the national, repetitive dish of Costa Rica. 

However, you can find some awesome restaurants that serve Costa Rican native foods. Or maybe you want to try preparing the local dishes from scratch.

In this article, we will go over the top ten traditional foods in Costa Rica. Most of these dishes are served in local sodas. You will learn which recipes are the most delicious and get tips on the best places to experience authentic Costa Rican cuisine.

Key Takeaways

  • The best and most enjoyed Costa Rican breakfast is Chorreadas or Gallo Pinto—Costa Rican rice and beans made with leftovers, with plenty of great toppings added in. Serve it best with salchicha (sausages) or plantains.
  • The best and most enjoyed Costa Rican lunch is casado, a general mix of simply prepared vegetables with protein. We recommend Restaurante Lukas and Soda Viquez (Tabacon, Costa Rica) for this.
  • Flan and Tres Leches are the best and most enjoyed Costa Rican desserts, especially in La Fortuna. For the best Costa Rican dessert experience, visit Jalapas Restaurant and Restaurante El Corral de Garra-Pa, among others. 
  • There is no typical dinner among Costa Rican locals. But arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and seafood are usually the choices in many dinner restaurants. 
  • Pineapples and bananas are really fantastic fruits enjoyed in Costa Rica.
  • Chirulitos, Soldanza Chips, Tapita, Crema Pozuelo, Tosh, Chiky, Campechanas, and Kronchitos are among the best Costa Rican snacks.

The Top 10 Traditional Foods in Costa Rica

In no particular order, here’s a list of the top ten traditional foods you can enjoy in Costa Rica, along with their ingredients, how they are best enjoyed, and places where you can try them. 

1. Gallo Pinto

  • Food type: breakfast
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: rice, beans, diced vegetables, and salsa lizano.

You can’t go a day in Costa Rica without trying gallo pinto, which is their national dish made of rice and beans mixed with spices, peppers, onions, and plenty of cilantro. 

Typically, “desayuno tpico” includes this type of gallo pinto. They serve it with fried or scrambled eggs, fried plantains, and avocado. People also enjoy gallo pinto as a typical side dish throughout the day.

This video demonstrates how traditional Costa Rican gallo pinto is prepared:

2. Casado

  • Food type: mid-day meal
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: white rice, beans, some sort of green or pasta salad.
  • Best enjoyed: fish, chicken, or a pork chop, and a variety of sides.
  • Where to find it in Costa Rica: On many lunchtime menus, especially at Costa Rica’s open-air cafés known as “sodas.”

Another dish that goes great with gallo pinto is casado, a traditional meal. It usually comes with a choice of fish, chicken, or pork chop, along with a mix of sides like fried plantains, picadillo (a vegetable hash), salad, and sometimes corn tortillas.

This video demonstrates how traditional Costa Rican casado is prepared:

3. Chifrijo

  • Food type: snack food
  • The ingredients needed to prepare it are rice, beans, pork, pico de gallo, tortilla chips, and sliced avocado are required to make it.

If you want some tasty bar food in Costa Rica, try chifrijo. It’s like a Costa Rican version of a taco salad. This dish usually has rice, beans, a slice of fried meat (often pork), and a local type of pico de gallo, all served in a bowl with tortilla chips and sliced avocado. 

The following video demonstrates the preparation of traditional Costa Rican Chifrijo:

4. Arroz con leche

  • Food type: Dessert
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes raisins.

Arroz con leche is a yummy dessert that’s very common in Costa Rican cooking. Essentially, it involves cooking rice in milk, adding sugar, cinnamon, and occasionally raisins. Usually served cold, this dessert resembles thick pudding in texture.

The following video shows how to prepare traditional Costa Rican Arroz con Leche:

5. Chorreadas

  • Food type: breakfast
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: fresh corn kernels, milk, eggs, and a touch of sugar. 
  • Best enjoyed: served hot with a side of sour cream and cheese.
  • Where to find it in Costa Rica: street markets and small food stalls along the roadsides, especially in the mornings or as a snack during the day.

Fresh corn kernels, milk, eggs, and a bit of sugar combine to create a pancake-like texture. Cook this mixture on a hot griddle until it reaches the desired consistency.

Both Costa Ricans and tourists love chorreadas because they taste so good and have a unique texture. You can enjoy the satisfying meal of sweet corn batter and tangy sour cream at any time.

The following video demonstrates the preparation of traditional Costa Rican Chorreadas:

6. Sopa de Pejibaye

  • Food type: soup
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: the fruit of the pejibaye palm tree, vegetables such as onions, garlic, and celery, chicken or vegetable broth, and coconut milk.
  • Best enjoyed: Served with bread or crackers
  • Where to Find It in Costa Rica: It’s popular in the southern region of Costa Rica.

Sopa de Pejibaye is a creamy soup from Costa Rica made with the fruit of the Pejibaye palm tree. We first boil the tropical fruit to soften its tough outer layer, then peel and mash it with veggies like onions, garlic, and celery.

We cook this mixture with veggie broth and coconut milk until it’s smooth and creamy.

This video demonstrates the preparation of traditional Costa Rican Sopa de Pejibaye.

7. Flan

  • Food type: Dessert
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: milk, vanilla, sugar, caramel, and eggs
  • Best enjoyed: Chilled
  • Where to find it in Costa Rica: Sodas.

Mixing milk, vanilla, sugar, and eggs creates a delicious custard, known as flan! Before serving, cook it in a pan with a caramel lining and chill it.

This video demonstrates how traditional Costa Rican flan is prepared: 


8. Tacos Ticos

  • Food type: street food
  • The ingredients needed to prepare it are soft corn tortillas, a variety of meats, and fresh toppings such as lettuce, tomato, cheese, and cilantro are all required to prepare it.

Tacos Ticos are a popular type of street food in Costa Rica. They’re like a different version of the tacos you might know from Mexico. Instead of hard shells, they use soft corn tortillas. Costa Ricans and tourists really enjoy Tacos Ticos. 

This video demonstrates how traditional Costa Rican Tacos Ticos are prepared: 

9. Tres Leches

  • Food type: Dessert
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: sugar, flour, eggs, and vanilla, plus three types of milk.

Like many of Costa Rica’s favorite desserts, this one comes from Mexico. But Costa Ricans who love sweets go crazy for it! 

Its uniqueness lies in its soak in three distinct types of milk: evaporated milk, heavy cream, and sweetened condensed milk. Fluffy whipped cream then tops it off.

This video demonstrates how traditional Costa Rican Tres Leches are prepared: 

10. Patacones

  • Food type: snacks
  • Ingredients needed to prepare it: plantains, frying oil.
  • Best enjoyed: Served with pico de gallo or mashed black beans
  • Where to find it in Costa Rica: easily found everywhere.

Patacones are a popular traditional snack in Costa Rica. To make them, flatten plantains and fry them twice until they turn golden and crunchy.

Many natives prepare them and sprinkle them with sea salt. Some even serve it with pico de gallo. 

However served or presented, patacones are perfect for starting a meal or as a tasty snack.

This video demonstrates how traditional Costa Rican patacones are prepared: 


Costa Rica Food Culture: What I’ve Realized So Far

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but the food culture on the Pacific side of Costa Rica isn’t all that exciting or fancy. 

You can usually find the same old “casado” dish in most local eateries, but honestly, I found it to be pretty basic and not very interesting, even though it’s made with fresh ingredients. It’s nowhere near as diverse as the food you’d find in Mexico, where each region has its own unique flavors.

The tastiest food in Costa Rica is on the Caribbean side. There, you’ll find dishes that reflect Caribbean culinary traditions with spicy flavors and twists on Jamaican classics.

I haven’t encountered many mind-blowing dishes in Costa Rica, but most of what I’ve tried, which I reviewed in this post, has been made with really fresh and delicious ingredients. 

The fruit here is absolutely incredible, and some say the pineapples are even better than those in Hawaii. 

Plus, there’s a hint of French influence in some dishes.

I enjoy Costa Rican cuisine because it’s simple and easy. It’s more about practicality than obsession, unlike in the US, where everyone’s always searching for the “best meal in town.” 

Most local eateries serve quick, tasty meals, which are perfect for those who are more concerned about exploring and enjoying life here.

What Not to Eat in Costa Rica

There aren’t too many “bad” foods to avoid eating in Costa Rica because many of their local dishes are prepared with fresh, healthy ingredients. But some meals have the worst rating among tourists, which hints at how bad they taste. 

  • For example, according to TasteAtlas, a food ranking platform, the Olla de carne stew has the worst rating so far. 
  • Sopa Negra vegetable soup and Chilera pickling are also some of the Costa Rican foods that have been badly rated above others. 

While I’ve not personally tasted any of these dishes to determine how “bad” they are, I’d generally recommend avoiding them since most food critics and tourists say so. Unless you like to be daring and try new things,. 

Traditional Costa Rican Foods: My Final Take

Among all other Costa Rican traditional foods, the tasty gallo pinto or arroz con camarones is easily enjoyable. 

Gallo pinto is pretty straightforward, but everyone has their own special way of making it. The best one I ever had was at a place called Bijagua. 

Arroz con calamares is one of my all-time favorite dishes. I first tried it at a small hotel in Junquillal many years ago, and I instantly fell in love. 

The bottom line is that Costa Rica isn’t a culinary destination by any means, but their simple traditional food, when done right, can be excellent.

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Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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