Costa Rican cuisine does not have a distinct or original style to call its own. It is a combination of Spanish, Mexican, American, Caribbean and South American influences. Day-to-day Costa Rican food is characterized by simplicity; most menus are built on the basic staples of rice and beans. Fresh cilantro and garlic are widely used to add flavor, but sophisticated cooking with exotic spices and sauces is uncommon. With the exception of the Caribbean coast, where flavors and aromas are a little more intense and dishes tend to be spicier, do not expect much in the way of flavor when eating out in inexpensive places, such as Sodas, small restaurants where comida tipica (typical food) is served at extremely affordable prices. Reasonable prices aside, eating out in Costa Rica also has the advantage that hygienic standard is strictly enforced by law and all eateries, including tiny sodas, tend to be spotlessly clean.
So what to order if you find yourself in a soda? For a cultural experience sample some of the traditional day-to-day fare that fuels the bulk of the population; for or breakfast, order a Gallo Pinto, rice fried with beans served with tortillas, eggs, white cheese and sour cream. At lunch time, go for a casado, or the special casado of the day, usually called the plato del dia, plate of the day, a combination dish with rice, beans, cooked veggies and shredded cabbage salad, accompanied by chicken, fish or meat. To enjoy a filling dinner, start with ceviche as an appetizer, which is fresh fish or seafood marinated in lime juice with onions and fresh cilantro, followed by a sopa de marisco, seafood soup, and for the main course, have a whole fried fish, pescado entero, or arroz con pollo, seasoned rice with chicken, and if you still have space for a desert, finish off with a queque de tres leches, sponge cake drenched in milk and cream, a national favorite;
Moving up from the sodas, restaurants cover a wider range of tastes, atmosphere and prices. As a tourist you will find that Costa Rica offers plenty of culinary sophistication; the influx of nationalities from around the globe in recent times has brought an increasing variety of international cuisines. A tour of the restaurant scene in San Jose and some popular locations such as Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio reveal multi-ethnic themes including French, Italian, Asian (mainly Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Thai), Pacific fusion, Brazilian, Lebanese, Indian, Mexican, Peruvian and more. The best and most popular restaurants, especially those geared to tourists, are advertised in newspapers and tourism publications. However, the best places to dine for excellent food and value for money are restaurants that are frequented by well-to-do Costa Ricans, and are perhaps located in out-of-the-way places in the outskirts of the cities; the best way to discover them is by asking the Ticos you meet, like the hotel manager, your lodging host, the owner of the souvenir shop, or business owners in general.
On the other hand, the influx of tourists and increasing Americanism among the locals have propelled the popularity of fastfood, with more and more fastfood franchises opening around the country: MacDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Denny’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and Taco Bell to name a few.