17 Creative Local Eats Worth a Trip to Costa Rica

So fresh | © Los viajes del Cangrejo/Flickr
So fresh | © Los viajes del Cangrejo/Flickr
Photo of Jenn Parker
1 September 2017

The chance to indulge in traditional Costa Rican cuisine is reason enough to plan a trip here. Costa Ricans really know what’s up when it comes to mouthwateringly delicious dishes. While you can pretty much get any type of food that you desire while in Costa Rica, especially in the main cities and towns like San Jose and Tamarindo, it is highly recommended that you get adventurous and taste the foods that the locals love. Here are 17 local eats that you should definitely seek out.

Gallo Pinto

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without having gallo pinto. It’s a staple breakfast dish, but is often served at lunch and dinner, too. It is a perfectly blended mix of rice and beans often prepared with onions, red or green peppers, cilantro, and salsa Lizano.

Gallo pinto is good at every meal | © Arvind Grover/Flickr


Chifrijol is one of the most popular bocas (appetizers) that is often consumed alongside an icy cold beer at a cantina. It is a bowl of rice and beans topped with chicharrones, avocado, pico de Gallo, chimichurri, and lime. Homemade tortilla chips or plantain chips are typically served alongside it.


Chicharrones are a highly beloved (and very unhealthy) snack. They are deep-fried pork rinds. Chicharrones are so loved in Costa Rica that there is an annual festival that celebrates this snack every year in Puriscal. As long as you don’t eat them all of the time, there’s nothing wrong with a little chicharron indulgence when in Costa Rica.

Deep-fried goodness | © David Bote Estrada/Flickr

Ceviche Tico-style

Costa Ricans really know how to make a killer ceviche. Made with the freshest local fish, locally grown limes, and often a splash of ginger ale, there are few dishes that are better on a hot afternoon when your toes are in the sand and you have a cold Pilsen in hand.

Crema de Pejibaye

Crema de pejibaye is one of the most delicious soups. This creamy soup is made from pureed pejibaye or peach palm. Pejibaye is a native fruit that resembles a tiny coconut. The fruit is a very popular and very nutritious snack; it must be boiled first and is often eaten with mayo. The soup is truly divine and is best enjoyed when visiting the mountainous or highland cloud forests where the weather is cool and soup-perfect.

First step for soup | © katiebordner/Flickr

Arroz con Palmito

Arroz con palmito is a tasty dish for lunch or dinner. It is rice mixed with hearts of palm (palmito), mozzarella cheese, minced onions, and spices. It is simple but flavorful.


Patacones are green plantains that have been sliced, fried, flattened, and fried again. They are often served with frijoles molidas (refried beans), ceviche, or pico de Gallo. This is a great sunset appetizer.

Simple and delicious | © MLbaratta/Flickr


Costa Rican empanadas are a real treat. They are far bigger than the Argentinian-style empanadas, and are usually fried. They can be stuffed with anything from beans and cheese to shredded chicken or ground beef.


Tamales are traditionally made around Christmas time. These are truly a labor a love. Costa Rican tamales generally consist of corn dough, potato, pork, chicken, or chickpeas, rice, and vegetables all wrapped in a banana leaf. If you find yourself in Costa Rica in December, you must try the Christmas tamales.


Rondon is a rich coconut soup that is traditionally made on the Caribbean coast. It consists of coconut milk, fish, corn, yucca, peppers, and potato. This soup is especially divine when eaten on a rainy afternoon.

Olla de carne

Olla de carne is a savory beef stew. This hearty stew has big chunks of beef, potato, and vegetables such as yucca, yams, and corn.

Hearty stew | © Guilhem Vellut/Flickr


Chorreadas are corn pancakes. These are typically enjoyed as an afternoon snack with coffee, but they are wonderful for breakfast too. They are traditionally eaten with sour cream or honey.

Queso palmito

Remember eating string cheese as a kid? Queso palmito is a giant ball of string cheese. This traditional cheese is a must-try and can be purchased in any supermarket, as well as at some road-side stands and farmers’ markets.

Day 2: Enjoying the tico food #cheesewhatelse #quesopalmito #roadtripfood

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Chilera are pickled vegetables. You will most always see a jar on the table when you are dining at a Costa Rican restaurant. Everyone has their own recipe, so everywhere you try chilera, it will be different. This is half the fun!


Trits is a dessert that is sure to make you smile as soon as you take your first bite. It is two cookies with ice cream and chocolate swirls on the inside. You can find Trits in the ice-cream section of most food stores, gas stations, and convenience stores throughout the country. Make sure you treat yourself to a Trit at least once during your visit.

Eat this | © dakine kane/Flickr


Granizados are a favorite beach treat in Costa Rica. There is usually a vendor with a small push cart selling granizados on or near the beach. It is basically a snow-cone layered with condensed milk, powdered milk, and the flavored syrup of your choice.

Arroz con leche

Arroz con leche is a popular dessert made with rice, condensed milk, cinnamon, and raisins. It might sound a bit strange, but the combination is unreal.

Dessert rice | © Manuel/Flickr

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