Local food in Costa Rica is served in a ‘soda’. These small restaurants can be found in many places. It’s an ideal way to eat for a reasonable price, because for 5 or 6 Dollars you often get a well filled plate. But what do you order when you eat in a Costa Rican soda? In this blog we share 5 examples.
This article is also available in Dutch: Wat bestel je in een soda in Costa Rica? + Waar eten wij graag?
Soda’s can have a menu or they have a buffet. Soda drinks will be available or you can choose a ‘fresco natural’: a fruit lemonade of, for example, pineapple or papaya.
Arroz con pollo
‘Arroz con pollo’ means ‘rice with chicken’. It is one of those typical Costa Rican dishes. The rice with chicken is mixed with herbs and vegetables and often fries and a salad are served with it. A variation on this dish is the ‘arroz con camarones’: rice with shrimps.
Fajitas de pollo
Another dish with chicken, but this time you order the chicken sliced into small strips. These are baked together with the vegetables, for example paprika and onion. Next to that you’ll get a salad and fries or patacones: smashed and fried plantains.
If you are close to the coast, order a nice ceviche. Notice how often you see a sign with the name of this dish on it. The raw fish is ‘cooked’ in lime and the dish has a sour taste. If necessary, season it with tomato sauce or the spicy chili sauce on the table.
This is a typical Costa Rican dish. Everyone in the restaurant gets the same, you can choose whether you want meat or fish with the rice, beans and vegetables. It differs per restaurant what you get on your plate, often it is rice, beans, salad, picadillo and a tortilla. Picadillo is a mix of vegetables like potato or ‘allote’ (family of the pumpkin) or banana. ‘Casado’ also means ‘being married’. The name of the dish is derived from the fact that once a man is married, he’ll gets the same food from his wife every day.
Filete de pescado empanizado
A meal like an arroz con pollo or casado can be a lot, so a breaded fish filet can be a good alternative. By the way, it’s quite normal to take the remaining food with you, so you can ask for that. The fish can be served with salad and fries or patacones.
Below you can see examples of the meals described in this blog. The ceviche, fajitas de pollo and filete de pescado are served with patacones.
Eating vegetarian and vegan in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica they like to eat meat. Period. Meat is really inseparable from Costa Rican cuisine. In most restaurants you will find some options for vegetarian dishes, but vegan is a little bit more difficult so you will have to be explicit. The funny thing is that Costa Rican dishes are very easy to make vegan. So don’t hesitate to ask and suggest some options yourself.
Traveling off the beaten path in Costa Rica
Remember that when you are planning on traveling off the beaten path the options may be limited. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not always available. The Tico’s are used to working with the products they have: what they can produce or what they can find in nature.
Eliseo and Anouk are the owners of Calathea Lodge. Read more about the lodge. Anouk also founded ‘Bestemming Pura Vida‘, the Dutch travelblog about Costa Rica. Some of the blogs are translated and published on this website.