Costa Rica Food – What Locals Eat

Curious about Costa Rica food? Embark on a culinary exploration of this lush Central American country’s favorites, from the staple Gallo Pinto to the revitalizing jugos naturales. This guide serves up the essentials of Costa Rican cuisine that showcase local flavors and traditions without fuss or frills.

Cuisine Native to Costa Ricans

  • Costa Rican cuisine is deeply rooted in its agricultural heritage, offering a variety of flavorful dishes that symbolize the country’s culture, such as the rice and beans of Gallo Pinto for breakfast and the versatile Casado for lunch.
  • Evening meals and appetizers in Costa Rica feature a mix of textures and flavors, with popular dishes like Chifrijo, Ceviche, and Patacones providing a perfect accompaniment to the vibrant nightlife.
  • Traditional Costa Rican snacks and street foods such as Empanadas, Tamales, and Vigorón offer a delightful taste experience, while desserts like Tres Leches, Arroz con Leche, and Flan satisfyingly conclude the sweet side of the meal.

Typical Costa Rican Breakfast Options

A plate of gallo pinto, homemade tortillas, and fresh tropical fruits, representing traditional Costa Rican breakfast delights

At the break of dawn, the lush terrains of Costa Rica are bathed in sunlight and greet the day with enticing scents of customary morning meals. Embracing their agrarian heritage and embodying a spirited approach to living, Costa Ricans consider a robust breakfast essential.

Embark on a culinary journey into the heart of a classic Costa Rican morning meal. It skillfully merges sustenance with taste, ensuring that each new day begins with an appetizing beginning.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto stands as a hallmark of breakfast fare in Costa Rica, representing much more than just a meal—it’s an emblem of cultural identity and encapsulates the essence of the ‘Tico’ lifestyle. Comprising a flavorful mix of rice and beans with dashes of cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper finely minced throughout, it is this concoction that energizes citizens every morning. The moniker “Gallo Pinto” or “spotted rooster” aptly describes its mottled look.

Accompanied by either scrambled or fried eggs, Gallo Pinto provides not only a robust beginning to one’s day, but also an authentic slice of the ‘Pura Vida’ experience.

Homemade Tortillas

Freshly made homemade tortillas, a staple in Costa Rican breakfasts

Warm, freshly prepared corn tortillas are an essential component of Costa Rican breakfasts. These homemade treasures complement a range of main dishes and typically have their own spot on the dining table. Used for making ‘Tortillas de Queso’ when topped with cheese or serving as the foundation for traditional offerings such as gallos and chorreadas—Costa Rican-style corn pancakes—the versatility of these tortillas contributes to their appeal.

To craft these gluten-free golden-brown treats, one mixes together ingredients including corn flour, grated cheese, sour cream, milk, and salt. This combination results in a mouthwatering creation that enhances any meal it accompanies.

Fresh Fruit Plate

Colorful plate of fresh tropical fruits, a common part of Costa Rican breakfasts

Without a selection of fresh, tropical fruits, no Costa Rican breakfast is truly complete. The array of colorful fruits such as luscious mangoes, ripe papayas, bananas, melons and pineapples serves as an ode to the abundant produce available in Costa Rica. Seasonal availability may introduce you to more unique varieties including:

  • pitahaya (also known as dragon fruit)
  • granadillas (a type of passion fruit)
  • rambutans
  • guabas

Every bite from this assortment promises an explosion of flavors true to the tropics. Whether it’s diving into the sweet taste reminiscent of kiwi found in pitahaya or indulging in the vanilla ice cream-like flavor present within guabas—the fresh fruit experience enlivens your palate with every mouthful.

What People Eat for Lunch in Costa Rica

When the afternoon arrives, Costa Ricans gather to indulge in their principal meal – lunch. This midday meal provides a chance to recharge and take a pause from daily activities, frequently spent among family or coworkers. The traditional casado sits alongside dishes like the heartwarming arroz con pollo and the hearty olla de carne on tables across Costa Rica during this time, each dish tastefully showcasing the country’s culinary legacy.


Casado, a fundamental dish in Costa Rican culture, is the embodiment of the traditional midday meal. In Spanish, ‘casado’ translates to ‘married’, which aptly describes the union of various components combined on one plate for this quintessential dish. A standard serving of casado generously offers:

  • White rice
  • Beans
  • An option among meats including fish, beef, pork or chicken
  • Side dishes that typically include salad, picadillo (a type of hash), fried plantains and avocado

This platter serves as an emblematic representation of ‘comida tipica’, providing a wholesome and nutrient-rich experience that reflects Costa Rica’s agrarian customs.

The inherent adaptability of casado means it can cater to vegetarian or vegan preferences without difficulty by substituting meat with gallo pinto (rice and beans) or a vegetable-based version like vegan picadillo de vainica.

Arroz con Pollo

In Costa Rica, arroz con pollo is a beloved dish that offers the soothing combination of rice and chicken. This savory meal incorporates:

  • Chicken
  • Rice
  • A mix of vegetables including carrots, peas, onions, garlic, and notably bell peppers
  • An array of spices such as paprika, coriander, and cumin

This appetizing concoction is simmered in a rich broth to enhance its flavors. Typically served with fried plantains or sometimes complemented by a fresh side salad.

Renowned for providing both comfort and satisfaction to those who partake in it, arroz con pollo holds an esteemed status among the culinary favorites of Costa Rica.

Arroz Campesino

Eaten for lunch or dinner, Arroz Campesino is similar to arroz con pollo, and translates to “farmers rice.”    A simple yet very authentic meal of Costa Rica, the recipe is a blend of the following ingredients which all come together to make a flavorful meal.

  • rice
  • meat
  • a variety of vegetables
  • seasonings

Olla de Carne

Explore the culinary delight that is Olla de Carne, a cornerstone of Costa Rican cuisine renowned for its hearty blend of tender beef with an assortment of native vegetables. Among them are:

  • chayote
  • tacacos
  • carrots
  • onions
  • cilantro
  • green plantains
  • various root vegetables

Accompanying this savory beef stew, you’ll typically find it served alongside white rice, tortillas and complemented by a fresh natural juice – offering a complete and gratifying dining experience.

Olla de Carne stands out as not only a testament to Costa Rica’s vibrant cooking customs, but also as the preferred weekend feast in numerous Costa Rican households due to its wholesome goodness.

Costa Rican Dinner and Appetizers

When the evening descends and Costa Rica’s lively night scene awakens, culinary explorations shift towards sumptuous dinners and starters. The nocturnal hours in Costa Rica are moments for unwinding, friendship building, and undoubtedly savoring delectable cuisine. Some favored options for dinner and starters include:

  • Chifrijo: a flavorful concoction of rice, beans, pork topped with pico de gallo
  • Ceviche: zesty seafood steeped in tangy citrus juice blends
  • Patacones: golden crispy fried plantains

This time of day unveils an enchanting blend of tastes and textures within the country’s epicurean landscape.


Chifrijo, a beloved traditional Costa Rican dish found in both bars and eateries, boasts an enticing mix of ingredients that hallmark traditional Costa Rican culinary practices. These include:

  • beans
  • white rice
  • chicharron (fried pork skins)
  • chimichurri sauce
  • crunchy corn chips
  • succulent avocado cubes

This dish pairs perfectly with an ice-cold beer, making it the quintessential snack for a relaxed evening.

The flavor profile of Chifrijo is marked by:

  • The smoothness of well-cooked beans
  • The satisfying crispiness of chicharron

-The sharp zestiness of chimichurri sauce

-The cool creaminess fresh avocado provides

Such a combination creates an irresistible gastronomic experience that captivates one’s taste buds.


Should you crave a seafood delicacy, consider indulging in the Costa Rican specialty known as ceviche. This cherished starter often features sea bass or shrimp left to cure in an invigorating blend of lime juice, combined with red pepper, onion, and cilantro. Its zesty and revivifying taste makes it perfect for an evening nibble alongside a chilled drink.

Experiencing this dish either within the convivial atmosphere of a restaurant or amidst nature at a seaside gathering will bring forth visions of Costa Rica’s stunning shorelines.


In Costa Rica, patacones, also known as fried plantains, are a popular snack enjoyed in the evening. The process of making these delicious treats involves several steps.

  1. Slicing green plantains into chunks.
  2. Deep-frying them until they attain a golden hue.
  3. Pressing them flat.
  4. Frying once more for extra crispiness.

The end product is a crunchy and delightful treat that’s ideal for snacking on at night.

Whether served plain or topped with accompaniments like ceviche, pulled beef or chicken, patacones highlight Costa Ricans’ appreciation for plantains and offer a flexible and hearty snack option.

Sweet Indulgences: Must-Try Costa Rican Desserts

Embarking on a culinary exploration? Make sure to indulge in the sweet treats of Costa Rica. Delight in the lush creaminess of Tres Leches, relish the cozy warmth of Arroz con Leche, and savor each silky bite of traditional flan. These Costa Rican desserts offer an exquisite fusion of sugary delights that cater to every flavor preference.

Get ready for a delectable experience designed to appease your dessert cravings with these quintessential Costa Rican confections.

Tres Leches

Tres leches cake, a popular and indulgent Costa Rican dessert

A delight for those with a penchant for sweets, the Tres Leches cake embodies indulgence. Its rich texture arises from being drenched in a trio of milks – specifically condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream – throughout an entire night before it’s finished off with a luxurious layer of chantilly cream. The result is an exquisitely tender and lush dessert that fulfills every craving for sweetness.

The Tres Leches cake has captivated culinary affections across Latin America and particularly among Costa Ricans who often feature this beloved treat at various celebratory events and special gatherings.

Arroz con Leche

Arroz con leche, known in English as rice pudding, holds a cherished place in traditional Costa Rican cuisine, endearing itself to both residents and tourists. By gently cooking rice in milk and infusing it with the sweetness of sugar along with a hint of cinnamon, this classic dessert takes on a creamy consistency that’s both soothing and indulgent. It is often garnished with raisins, which provide an appealing textural contrast to the tender grains.

As a heartwarming delight perfect for cooler weather or as part of celebratory fare during important festivities like Christmas or Easter, Arroz con Leche consistently delivers comfort and joy to those who savor it.


A serving of flan, a velvety custard dessert, a traditional treat in Costa Rica

The Costa Rican flan stands as a shining example of the country’s gastronomic excellence. This smooth and silky custard is usually enjoyed cold, topped with a dollop of whipped cream or adorned with vibrant tropical fruits. Its luxurious consistency and subtly sweet flavor render it a beloved indulgence for celebratory events such as birthdays and festive holidays.

Whether enjoyed as an after-dinner delight or cherished during a warm afternoon treat, this dessert from Costa Rica ensures an unforgettable experience for anyone who tastes it.

Traditional Tico Treats: Snacks and Street Food Favorites

Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of San José, Costa Rica, and be enchanted by the rich scents of traditional Costa Rican cuisine. The streets are a feast for the senses with popular street food favorites like succulent empanadas, robust tamales, and scrumptious vigorón that collectively offer a symphony of tastes sure to captivate any culinary enthusiast.


In Costa Rica, empanadas are a beloved treat renowned for their delightful flavor and adaptable nature. These savory pastries come with an assortment of fillings that cater to different tastes such as:

  • meat
  • cheese
  • beans
  • potatoes
  • fish

Craving a savory snack or hankering for something sweet? The Costa Rican empanada has you covered, from the hearty goodness of one stuffed with meat to the dessert-ready pat packed with sweet plantains and pineapple. One bite, and it’s clear why these treats are irresistible.


In Costa Rica, tamales hold a special place in the heart of culinary traditions, particularly during the Christmas season. The preparation involves seasoned meat and vegetables neatly enveloped in banana leaves before being expertly steamed.

Indulging in a tamale offers an exquisite fusion of tastes and consistencies that is sure to tantalize your taste buds, whether as a treat or within the scope of celebratory cuisine. Should you find yourself in Costa Rica over the holidays, ensure to experience the joy of sampling a traditional Costa Rican tamale!


Vigorón, originating from the port town of Puntarenas on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, is a scrumptious mix that includes boiled yucca, crispy fried pork belly, and tangy chimichurri. This savory delight is customarily served in a plantain or banana leaf wrapper. It’s especially enjoyable when eaten chilled – an ideal treat for leisurely summer days spent along Costa Rican shores.

When you savor Vigorón at one of the coastal eateries or beachfront stands in Costa Rica, it promises to create lasting impressions of the country’s rich gastronomic culture.

Refreshing Costa Rican Beverages

Embarking on a gastronomic adventure entails savoring the indigenous drinks, and Costa Rica offers an array of such delights. The spectrum of Costa Rican libations encompasses everything from freshly concocted fruit juices and smoothies to time-honored warm beverages and domestic brews, each as rich and varied as the nation’s culinary offerings.

Get ready to invigorate your taste buds with an exploration into the realm of beverages that hail from Costa Rica.

Homemade Juice (Naturales)

In the tropical paradise of Costa Rica, ‘jugos naturales’—which translates to natural homemade juices—are a favored refreshment. These delicious drinks are made using an array of fruits, including:

  • tamarind
  • soursop (guayabana)
  • mora (blackberry)
  • chan seed
  • mango
  • orange
  • pineapple
  • passion fruit
  • carambola (star fruit)
  • guava

And they even feature freshly squeezed lemonade.

This assortment provides a delightful and full-flavored variety. Whether you’re quenching your thirst with a jugo natural on the sandy shores or pairing it with a meal, these artisanal beverages offer an enjoyable method to cool down in Costa Rica’s warm climate.

Smoothies (Batidos)

Indulge in the luxurious taste of a Costa Rican batido, which offers the versatility to be crafted with either a juice or milk foundation, featuring options like rich coconut milk. These beverages come in an array of flavors from fruity and invigorating batidos to sumptuous shakes made creamy with milk, showcasing the plentiful harvests of Costa Rica. Vegan alternatives are easily accessible for all to relish in these delightful drinks!

Agua Dulce

Agua dulce, also known as ‘sweet water,’ serves as a delightful warm beverage from Costa Rica that is ideal for cool nights. This cozy drink is prepared by simmering water with a chunk of caramelized cane sugar to produce a comforting and sweet concoction.

Whether unwinding beside a crackling fire or enjoying the tranquility of an evening beneath the celestial sky, Agua Dulce provides an excellent addition to your moments of relaxation.

Local Beers

After spending the day delving into the gastronomic delights of Costa Rica, there is no finer way to relax than by savoring a chilled beer from the local selection. Among these beloved beverages are:

  • Imperial
  • Pilsen
  • Bavaria
  • Lake Arenal Brewery

The variety in Costa Rica’s brewing landscape is as rich and varied as its culinary offerings.

Thus, to cap off a memorable journey through Costa Rican cuisine, why not toast with an ice-cold brew within this picturesque land?


Costa Rican cuisine offers a symphony of tastes and customs, from the fulfilling morning meals and sustaining midday feasts to the sumptuous evening fare and sweet treats. Enjoying homemade juices, savoring richly filled empanadas, or delighting in a piece of tres leches cake is not just about satisfying hunger, but also about experiencing Costa Rica’s profound cultural legacy through its culinary achievements. In essence, as you reach the conclusion of this gastronomic voyage through Costa Rican flavors, it becomes evident that their food truly embodies celebration—echoing Costa Rica’s ‘Pura Vida’ ethos at every bite.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is traditional Costa Rican food?

Traditional Costa Rican cuisine showcases a range of hearty staples, such as rice and beans, along with meats including chicken, fish, and beef. It also features fried plantains prominently and creatively uses the nation’s abundant fresh produce in innovative dishes.

What does Costa Rica eat for lunch?

Usually, a casado is what Costa Ricans have for lunch. This meal includes rice and beans accompanied by a choice of protein—chicken, pork, beef or fish—as well as salad and sweet plantains. It often comes with extra sides such as tortillas, yucca, avocado, pico de gallo salsa and cheese.

Seize the opportunity to indulge in this dish when you can!

What are 3 breakfast foods in Costa Rica?

In the culinary traditions of Costa Rica, a typical breakfast—Desayuno Tpico—includes a Gallo Pinto made with onions, red peppers, and cilantro. Accompanying this dish are scrambled eggs prepared with butter and bread that’s freshly baked served alongside butter and an array of jams sourced from local farmer’s markets.

Bon appétit!

What are some must-try Costa Rican desserts?

You must try Tres Leches, Arroz con Leche, and Flan when visiting Costa Rica for some delicious traditional desserts.

What are some popular Costa Rican street foods?

When visiting Costa Rica, make sure to sample favored local street food such as empanadas, tamales, and Vigorón for an authentic flavor experience of the regional culinary delights!