Eat Like a Tico – Costa Rican Food

You might’ve stumbled across my post on what to drink in Costa Rica. It seems to be one of my most often visited posts…go figure that one…

But, hey, we gotta eat too…right?

So this post will focus on 10 common Costa Rican food varieties that will have you eating like a tico on your Costa Rica vacation…

1. Gallo Pinto – this is the signature Costa Rican dish. While it exists in other countries (Nicaragua, for instance), it is ubiquitous at the tico breakfast table. It basically consists of rice, beans (usually black), with onions, cilantro and lots of salsa lizano. It is usually eaten with eggs, either scrambled (revueltos) or fried (fritos) and a big dollop of sweet sour cream (natilla) is recommended. Ask for a slice of queso frito (fried cheese) on the side and maybe chorrizo (spiced pork sausage), to bring the whole concoction to its peak of artery blocking power.

2. Chicharrones – these are fried pork medallions. They are delicious, but deadly. Great with an ice cold Imperial (or Silver).

3. Chifrijo – a variation of chicharrones, but the dish also adds (in layers) rice, red beans, pork rinds, freshly chopped tomato and/or pico de gallo (fresh vegetables with a dash of hot sauce), and served with a fried tortilla chip.

4. Casado – in Spanish the word means marriage and that is exactly what a casado is…a marriage of food. Because in sickness or in health, till death do them part, the casado will feature a meat (chicken, beef or fish), beans (usually black), rice, usually some type of vegetable casserole (like potato or yucca) and a small salad. It is the signature dish of the countless mom and pop restaurants known as “sodas” that can be found any and everywhere in Costa Rica. A great option for good and cheap comida tipica Costarricense.

5. Ensalada de Palmito – palmito, or heart of palm, is a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees, notably the coconut palm. Costa Rica happens to be one of the primary exporters of this delicacy. A salad featuring heart of palm, or ensalada palmito, is one of the more healthy Costa Rican treats on my list.

6. Olla de Carne – this is a tipico beef stew that consists of lean beef, short ribs, potatoes, cassava, carrots, corn, green plantain and perhaps sweet potato. Pretty good…in Colombia they do something similar called sancocho, but there it is always cooked over an open fire.

7. Gallos Tipicos – these are bocas, or small dishes (like appetizers) that are often served in bars. They consist of a corn tortilla topped with an infinite variety of choices. You can have a gallo with chicharron, or frijolito molido (re-fried black beans), aguacate (avocado), a “picadillo” with potato or arracache, as well as many other things.

8. Patacones – these are flattened and fried green plantains. Served very salty and often with re-fried black beans (frijolito molido). Great with beer.

9. Empanadas – these are corn dough pastries filled with seasoned meats (pork, beef, or chicken), or cheese, beans, or cubed potato stew, and then folded and fried.

10. Arroz con Leche – finally a dessert! This is a very sweet sort of rice pudding made with, of course rice, condensed, evaporated and whole milk, lots of sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Delicious, especially if you can catch it recently prepared (and warm).

Honorable Mentions:

– Tres Leches – my favorite dessert in Costa Rica, but it also exists in many other Latin countries, so not exactly 100% tico. It is basically a vanilla sponge cake soaked in a three-milk mixture (whole, evaporated and condensed) and topped with a delicious meringue icing. It has about a gazillion calories per single bite, but man is it good!

– Pescado Entero (Pargo Rojo) – this is a whole fried fish (head to tail). Usually will be of the pargo rojo (red snapper) variety. Great choice at the beach, or anywhere, for that matter. That’s me in the photo above partaking.

– Salsa Lizano – Costa Rica’s signature sauce. Very worcestershire-like, but perhaps a bit more “mustardy.” Very good on almost anything.

I know I am missing a bunch of other things that you can eat in Costa Rica (oops, forget to mention my favorite cooling off beach treat…the “granizado” – Google it)…

If you make it a point to try each of the above, you’ll have had a good sampling of the kinds of Costa Rican food that ticos actually eat.

Pura Vida,


Scott Bowers

I’ve been a resident of Costa Rica for the past 15 years. I first arrived in 2001 to broker the deal that sold one of the country’s premier private universities to a U.S. publicly-held education company. For the past decade I’ve been arranging eco-intensive Costa Rica vacation tours to locations throughout the country, as well as Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia. I’ve also worked with many of the indigenous tribes in Costa Rica, helping them sell their arts and crafts and keep their cultures alive. My most recent project, in addition to joining the Coldwell Banker Dominical Realty team, is to bring the joy of growing your own food with hydroponic gardening to homes throughout Costa Rica. In a former life, prior to becoming an expat in Costa Rica, I practiced tax and corporate transactional law in the Carolinas. I also have extensive experience as a business valuation consultant and mergers and acquisitions advisor to companies in a wide variety of industries. My wife and I have seven grown children between us. I love exploring the nature of Costa Rica and I am a life-long surfer. I’ve been a blogger about all things Costa Rica for the past decade and I’ve published one popular eBook entitled 100 Cool Things to do in Costa Rica. Credentials… - Juris Doctor, cum laude, from Campbell University School of Law - LL.M in Taxation, with distinction, from Georgetown University School of Law - M.B.A. from University of South Carolina - Chartered Financial Analyst - Former Certified Business Appraiser from the Institute of Business Appraisers - Former Licensed Real Estate Broker in N.C. and S.C.