5 Great Places to Dine in Costa Rica’s Capital
The city of San José, Costa Rica has a bad reputation.
Even Lonely Planet’s website admits the typical tourist opinion of San José is that the city is “a necessary evil before heading to the ‘real’ Costa Rica.” From a local perspective, San José has much more to offer its visitors in culture and cuisine than may meet the eye. With one third of the country’s population living in Greater San José, the area is replete with restaurants, bars and nightlife from the bustling downtown streets to the city’s expansive and trendy suburbs.
To gain an insider’s view on the area’s food scene while visiting the capital, I spoke with a Costa Rican couple – José Calzada and Laura Armijo – both born and raised in Greater San José. Passionate about their city and fellow foodies, they were happy to offer up info on their favorite local dining spots and must-have dishes. Although the majority of these restaurants do not serve traditional Tico (Costa Rican) cuisine, they are all popular with San José’s residents and highly recommended.
Whether you’re planning a tropical Costa Rican vacation with an overnight in San José or attending a week-long conference in the capital, visitors take note. From Laura and José, here are five foodie hotspots in Costa Rica’s capital city:
Los Anonos (San Rafael de Escazu)
This Costa Rican-style steakhouse has been dishing out delicious beef for more than 50 years. The family-run restaurant is a favorite with locals combining traditional Costa Rican flavors with a cozy, rustic environment.
What to Order: Lomito. At Los Anonos this small cut of steak is marinated in a secret house sauce made with tamarind. The cabbage salad is also a winner, “I don’t know how they make it taste so good!” says Laura. Also, don’t be afraid to eat adventurously with the Costa Rican classic dish lengua en salsa: tender beef tongue in a savory tomato-based sauce.
Antojitos Cancun (Calle Vieja, San Rafael de Escazu)
A casual Mexican restaurant chain with a slight Costa Rican spin, Antojitos serves everything from tacos and burritos to killer margaritas.
What to Order: Taco Tico. Crispy corn flautas stuffed with cabbage, beef and spicy aioli.
El Novillo Alegre (locations in Santa Ana, Escazú, Curridabat)
The restaurant’s name translates to “The Happy Calf.” This Argentinian-style steakhouse boasts three locations and is famous for a wide selection of beef imported directly from Argentina.
What to Order: Cuadril. This sirloin-style cut is served medium rare and is packed with flavor. José believes it to be one of the best steaks in San José.
L’Olivo (Sabana Norte)
According to José (who spent six months studying in Florence) L’Olivo is one of the most authentic Italian restaurants in Costa Rica. The restaurant is located inside San José’s Suites Cristina Hotel.
What to Order: Prosciutto platter. Spaghetti Carbonara.
JOSÉ AND LAURA’S TOP PICK
Product © (locations in Santa Ana and Ezcazú)
Product © is one of the area’s best seafood restaurants, said to serve up the freshest fish in San José. The restaurant’s staff make multiple trips to the coast each day, purchasing sustainable seafood from local fisherman. For residents of San Jose, dining at Product © is the closest thing to actually driving to the beach for fresh seafood.
What to order: Ceviche. Mariscada: a mix of mussels, clams, shrimp and fresh fish cooked in a tomato-based broth. Fish Wings: a unique seafood version of chicken wings where wing-like fish fins are fried crisp and served with a Thai sweet chili sauce.