Costa Rica Food: Top 25 Costa Rican Dishes
Costa Rica is a stunning Central American country known for its diverse landscapes and delectable cuisine. It has rainforests, tall volcanoes, and pretty beaches, making it a nature lover’s paradise.
In terms of food, Costa Rican cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors, often featuring staples like rice, beans, and plantains. Mouthwatering dishes such as “Gallo pinto” (rice and beans), “Casado” (traditional plate with rice, beans, vegetables, and meat), and fresh seafood are beloved by both locals and visitors.
Here’s a wonderful compilation of the top 25 foods in Costa Rica that are guaranteed to brighten anyone’s day!
1. Gallo Pinto
Most Costa Ricans refuse to start their day without this signature breakfast. Gallo Pinto is a mix of rice and beans (either black or red), garlic, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, and most importantly “Lizano sauce”.
This sauce is what makes Gallo Pinto so unique, it is a typical vegetable-based tangy sauce that has been in the pantry of Costa Ricans since 1920. The end product is a relatively dry dish composed of savory rice and beans. Gallo Pinto is usually served with cooked eggs, cheese, sour cream, and sweet plantains (plantains are cooked bananas).
2. Olla de Carne (Beef and Vegetable Stew)
This traditional Costa Rican dish is usually eaten at lunchtime, especially on cold days. It is a beef stew of bone-in meat and a variety of cut vegetables; typically: corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cassava, chayote (type of squash), and yam, to name a few. All the vegetables and meat create a flavorful and rich soup.
Olla de Carne is typically served with white rice and some people squeeze lemon over it for the final touch.
This popular dish is a signature lunch in Costa Rica, almost every restaurant has it on its menu. It is very filling, as it comes with two or three side dishes that vary from place to place. The base of the dish is white rice, black or red beans (unlike Gallo Pinto, which are served separately), and meat (either fish, beef, pork, or chicken).
As stated before, the side dishes vary, but common options include salad (such as green, pasta, or Russian- this one will be explained below), picadillo (cut-up vegetables), fried plantains, french fries, eggs, avocado, or tortillas.
4. Sopa Negra (Black Bean Soup)
Sopa Negra is a dense, rich soup with a base of cooked black beans. Some of the beans are blended to give this dish the thickness it is known for.
It also has finely chopped cilantro, bell pepper, oregano, celery, garlic, onion, and salt and pepper. This amazing soup is served with slices of boiled eggs and white rice.
5. Tamal de Maicena (Cornstarch Tamale)
Tamal de Maicena is like a wobbly jelly cake with the consistency of firm custard. Some people think of it as a dessert because of its sweetness, but most prefer it as a coffee snack. It is made of milk, sugar, freshly grated coconut, butter, cornstarch, and vanilla.
6. Patacones (Fried Green Plantains)
Patacones are very popular snacks or appetizers in Costa Rica. They are sliced fried green plantains (starchy green bananas used for cooking), crunchy on the outside, and fleshy on the inside.
Patacones are topped with salt and served with either guacamole, mashed beans, chimichurri (chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and lemon juice), shredded or ground beef, chicken or pork, tomato sauce or pink sauce (a mix of tomato sauce and mayonnaise).
7. Tártaras Cocadas
Tártaras Cocadas are the preferred sweet treat for coconut lovers. They are baked with a circular base of flour, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg, with a chewy filling made of coconut, tapa dulce (raw cane sugar), cinnamon, and nutmeg. Tártaras cicadas are usually sold in packages of four or six units. A sure sign of how difficult it is to eat just one.
Churchill is a dessert typical of Puntarenas, a province located on Costa Rica’s Pacific Ocean coastline.
It is a type of ice slush. The difference between a regular slush and a Churchill is that the Churchill consists of the usual shaved ice and syrup, plus condensed milk, milk powder, ice cream, and rolled wafers on top.
This refreshing hot weather treat has been in Costa Rica since the 1940s. It originated when a trader from Puntarenas used to buy a normal slush and requested all these extra ingredients. Merchants of the area began replicating it and named it “Churchill”, due to the very particular customer’s resemblance to Winston Churchill.
9. Ensalada Rusa (Costa Rican style Russian Potatoe Salad)
Being semisweet, filling, and containing carbohydrates, vegetables, and protein all in one, this Costa Rican version of a Russian Salad is versatile. Ensalada Rusa combines cooked potatoes, beets and carrots, finely chopped onion, celery, bell pepper, boiled eggs, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.
This salad is usually eaten on picnics and special occasions, mainly because it takes a while to prepare compared to a regular salad.
10. Palmito Cheese
Produced in rural areas such as San Carlos and Zarcero, Palmito Cheese is a traditional, Costa Rican cheese. It looks like a ball of string and is eaten in a very fun manner, as you have to pull the ball of cheese strands apart. The flavor and fat percentage are similar to mozzarella cheese, however, Palmito Cheese is denser and saltier.
Even though you can use Palmito Cheese in a variety of recipes, it is considered a fun-gourmet snack to be enjoyed by itself.
11. Chorreadas (Sweet Corn Pancakes)
Thinking of Chorreadas results in a watering mouth for anyone who has ever tried them; especially delicious with a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
These typically Costa Rican sweet corn pancakes don’t need any syrup as they are sweet enough by themselves. Sweet corn, sugar, flour, eggs, butter, milk, and vanilla are beautifully combined to create this delightful dish commonly eaten for breakfast or during an afternoon coffee break. To counterbalance the sweetness, some Costa Ricans put a spoonful of sour cream on top.
Chifrijo is a famous dish people tend to order with a beer in a bar when they want something more satisfying than a regular snack. The name Chifrijo refers to the ingredients that make up the dish. “Chi” stands for both chicharron (fried pork belly or fried pork rinds) and chimichurri and “fri” stands for frijoles (beans).
Chifrijo is served in a medium-sized bowl with beans and some of their broth as the base, followed by white rice on top, chicharron is spread over the rice and the chimichurri is placed on the very top at the end. It is served with corn chips surrounding the bowl and avocado cubes as the last garnish.
13. Tamal Asado
This other type of tamal is also a favorite among Costa Ricans to enjoy with coffee, either for breakfast or a cozy afternoon. It is a sweet delicacy made with sour milk, sugar, grated rubbery white cheese (known locally as Turrialba Cheese), eggs, sour cream, butter, cinnamon, and cornflour.
The secret behind the amazing flavor of tamal asado is the use of freshly ground corn instead of commercial corn flour.
Pozole is a popular soup, particularly popular during festive celebrations, but always welcome at lunch or dinner. The primary ingredients are corn and pork flavored with pepper, cumin, garlic, and oregano.
15. Pastel de Yuca (Cassava Pie)
Pastel de Yuca is similar to lasagna, which makes it a great dish for lunch or dinner. Instead of pasta sheets, a cream cheese mashed cassava mix is used. It is built in layers alternating between ground or shredded meat (beef, pork, chicken), homemade tomato sauce, and cheese.
The following foods are not native to Costa Rica, they originated in other parts of the world, however, with a few modifications, they have been embraced by Costa Ricans for hundreds of years, and have become part of their traditional cuisine.
Christmas without tamales in Costa Rica would be like Christmas without a Christmas tree. Costa Ricans wait all year long to enjoy this delicious tradition that is kept alive and strong by most Costa Rican families at this festive time of year. Tamales consist of well-seasoned pork meat rolled in a combination of cornmeal, sweet peas, finely cut carrots, and bell peppers.
All this is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed above huge pots of boiling water. Any time is a good time to enjoy tamales, they are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any time in between – particularly with some good Costa Rican coffee.
Picadillo is made with ground or shredded meat (pork, beef, or chicken), onion, bell pepper, and cut-up vegetables. In Costa Rica, the most common Picadillo are made of chayote, potato, green plantain, or arracacha (a root vegetable resembling fat short carrots, brown on the outside and white on the inside).
Picadillo is usually served with corn tortillas, white rice, casados, and as a stuffing for empanadas.
18. Empanadas (Fried/Baked Turnovers)
Empanadas have been a part of Costa Ricans’ diet for centuries. They are cheap, savory, and filling. Empanadas are half-moon-shaped corn patties, baked or fried. They can be found with a variety of salty fillings such as picadillo, cheese, meat, cabbage and carrot, and beans.
They can also be made of pastry and filled with both salty and sweet fillings such as jam, fruit, custard, caramel, etcetera.
19. Arroz con Leche (Rice pudding)
Arroz con Leche could be one of the most commonly found desserts in Costa Rica and has been for generations. The original recipe only has rice, sugar, condensed and evaporated milk, and cinnamon.
However, many Costa Ricans have incorporated ingredients such as raisins, grated apples, nuts, and spices, like nutmeg, clove, and ginger.
20. Rondón (Jamaican Style Soup)
The Rondón is a very popular dish on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. It is a soup made from fish or shellfish, cassava, yam, green plantain, onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, curry, spicy chile, bay leaves, and coconut milk. Any lover of Caribbean cuisine, cannot miss this succulent dish.
21. Arroz con Pollo (Chicken Rice)
The most typical dish for an informal family gathering is, without a doubt, Arroz con Pollo. This dish contains shredded chicken breast, garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, green peas, carrots, and rice.
The usual side dishes served with Arroz con Pollo are mashed beans, green salad, ensalada rusa, and potato chips.
Originally from Peru, Ceviche is a very popular Costa Rican appetizer. It consists of raw fish cut into cubes and soaked in lemon juice for a minimum of three hours. Added to this are chopped onion, cilantro, bell pepper, celery, salt, and pepper. It is served with salty crackers and avocado cubes.
The secret to good ceviche is fresh fish and the best ceviche is found on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. However, due to its simplicity, many Costa Ricans make it at home. The most commonly used fish for ceviche is corvina (croaker), but octopus and prawns are also common. As is a mix of all three.
Vigorón is a popular street food that consists of chicharrón, grated cabbage, chimichurri, boiled cassava, and green plantains. This dish is commonly found in the province of Puntarenas, on the Pacific Coast. Traditional vigorón is served in plantain leaves, giving it an earthy flavor.
24. Corn Tortillas
Corn tortillas are highly popular in Costa Rica. They accompany typical dishes, from breakfast to lunch, dinner, and any time in between. Tortillas are also eaten by themselves, as “Stuffed Tortillas”.
This is a large tortilla, the size of a dinner plate, filled with cheese that stretches out like mozzarella with every bite.
25. Tres Leches
Tres leches is one of the favorite desserts in Costa Rica. It is a vanilla sponge cake, soaked in three different types of milk: condensed, evaporated, and regular. This gives it a sweet flavor, a moist texture, and its name – Tres Leches – Three Milks. The best way to enjoy this dessert is cold after it has been refrigerated for at least a couple of hours.
Trying any of the dishes described here will take you on a fulfilling culinary journey where different flavors and consistencies will captivate your palate. Next time you find yourself in Costa Rica, make sure you indulge yourself in any or all of them. It will make your experience in this beautiful country more genuine.
Related: Most Popular Costa Rican Desserts
Related: Most Popular Costa Rican Drinks