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Photograph: Shutterstock Detail of the hands of a person eating ceviche with a spoon in a restaurant

The best restaurants in Costa Rica

Fresh seafood and healthy home-grown produce makes the best restaurants in Costa Rica some of the best in the world.

Written by
Anna Prendergast

Straddling the space between both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Costa Rica’s bounty of seafood – from bagre and berrugate to snapper and seabass – has long been celebrated by its fishing villages, whilst for centuries Indigenous communities inland have upheld the highest standards of seasonal, organic produce, pioneering forms of biodynamic farming before it entered mainstream lexicon. As such, fresh flavours and healthy home-grown ingredients have contributed to the Nicoya region’s ‘Blue Zone’ status, one of five places in which people live the longest, healthiest lives. Now, dynamic chefs, farmers and foodies are fine-tuning Costa Rica’s uncomplicated approach to feeding, moving the meaning of ‘costarricense’ cuisine forward, reviving lost recipes and coaxing both Ticos and travellers to their tables in droves. Check out the best restaurants in Costa Rica for proof. 

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Best restaurants in Costa Rica

1. Yoly’s


From Golfito’s public dock, take a five-minute water taxi (around $2) across the bay to a string of rustic, romantic beach shacks or ‘ranchos’, where family-run Yoly’s serves cold beers and whole red snapper that’s fresh off the boat and hot off the grill. Few feelings beat that of sandy toes and full stomachs as the sun goes down on Puntarenitas beach. Don’t forget to take cash. There's no official site, but you can text Whatsapp +506-8616-7270 to check if they’re open.

In collaboration with the indigenous Bribri community, Pablo Bonilla speaks to diners with the flavours of arracache root and cassava, lifted by sweetcorn tamales, pineapple and grilled heart of palm. The concept is as much a social enterprise as a sublime spot for dinner, DJs and cocktails (we loved the tequila-based Los Diablitos with hibiscus dust and sea salt – naughty by name, naughty by nature).



An evening at HiR is a truly one-off experience. Chef and innovator Noam plans an informal seven-course meal with individual input from her guests, using ingredients such as pickled watermelon skin, frozen chutney and fish scales. Few restaurants in the country – and beyond – bring zero-waste, home-style cooking to life with so much colour and passion.


Restaurante Exotica’s outdoor terrace has front row seats to Ojochal’s jungle – guests have spotted ocelot and coatis from their table – and a menu packed with international flavours: flambé shrimps, Tahitian carpaccio, Costa Rican ceviche. It’s a third-generation restaurant, and despite its small team of floor staff, service is fabulous, and the Duo Passion dessert is always a big hit.


San José

Dining doesn’t get finer in the capital, where Santiago Fernández Benedetto plates up polished takes on recipes inspired by his family’s own heritage. A show-stopping spherical dessert made with Talamanca cacao and cashew nut butter pays tribute to the millennia-old archaeological petrospheres found in the Osa region, but its his abuela’s olla de carne that brings customers back for more (and more…)


Book an early table at this off-piste rancho – the sun sets in Costa Rica around 6pm, and the view from here is well worth the effort spent finding it. Set on a farm overlooking the ocean and strung with paper lanterns and fairy lights, Ronny’s traditional Latin American cuisine (churrasco with chimichurri; enormous rice platters; zingy tuna ceviche) has been the locals’ well-kept secret for almost 20 years.



In Europe, anywhere that has pictures of its food on its menu is usually worth avoiding. But ditch that rule in Costa Rica, or you’ll miss out: Typical Seafood’s inexpensive, high-quality catch of the day tastes better than it looks, and comes with views of Nicoya’s mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Go on match day, where the place fills up and the country’s love of football comes to life.

San José

The capital’s main market is wall-to-wall with sodas (small, low-key eateries) selling family-style meals of gallo pinto (traditional rice and beans), punchy Costa Rican coffee and – a local favourite – chorreadas. Follow the fragrant smell of sweet milk and corn, and you’ll find these sugary flatbreads being served in a banana leaf, perfect for nibbling on as you navigate the aisles.


Santa Teresa

As close to French patisserie as you’ll get in Central America, The Bakery is a busy spot for laptop-lugging remote workers, beautiful surfers and hungover party people in Santa Teresa. Brunch and lunch are worthy contenders, but the flaky, buttery pastries steal the show, fresh from the oven and with a coffee to go. 

San José

Blink and you’ll miss this authentic Chinese hole-in-the-wall, where reservations are recommended and you must knock on the door to get in. The intimate space is home to creative, Hong Kong-style cooking and family-run service: quality is prioritised over variety, whilst the husband-and-wife duo’s signature dish, BBQ pork, is an absolute knock-out.



A cheap and cheerful Caribbean pitstop, where the party starts and ends. Grab a mouthwatering cas (guava juice) or a jugo de mora (blackberry juice) and a patty for the road, or settle in and soak up the fun, friendly atmosphere – there’s always music and chatter, and their casados portion sizes could feed a whole family.

Playa Grande

A local establishment for surfers (you can’t miss its upcycled surfboard sign), beachcombers and bikini bums, there are three simple choices for those lazy post-swim lunches: beef, veggie or a combination. In-the-know staff can also point you in the right direction for board rentals and boat trips, and you can hang out in the hammocks long after you’ve finished your food.


Puerto Viejo

Inside, walls are lined with books and hand-painted mugs you’ll want to take home. Outside, three-toed sloths hang out in the canopy. Englishman Roger runs the place, hosts tarot card readers every Sunday and serves big breakfasts in banana-leaf-lined boats. The ultimae testimony? Residents line up at 8am for Roger’s own roasted coffee.

Santa Teresa

Big pillowy flatbreads, crispy falafel fists, creamy dollops of hummus – Zula is unsurprisingly popular with both Santa Teresa’s growing Israeli community and travellers traipsing off the beach after dark to hush their growling stomachs. There are also incredible smoothies, but your favorite part might be meeting the dog that’s adopted the restaurant, who flops at your feet but is too well-behaved to beg.



With panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and a moving love story at its heart, a meal at Castillo de Lilo is as magical as it is memorable. It’s not a restaurant per se, but you can book it for private events, parties for two or special occasions, where Italian chef Marco Bedino will pair wine with squid ink risotto or seared scallops.


A lovely Italian serving handmade maritati pasta with wild shrimp, gnocchi with house-made lamb sausage and bucatini with baby back ribs ragu. They take their food seriously (red snapper prosciutto anyone?) but their service is playful and warm (limoncello shots all round), and it’s a delightfully unexpected taste of Italy a 10-minute walk from Samara Beach.


Playa Avellana

Lola’s menu is packed with energising aftersun salads and post-wave pizzas pitched perfectly at hungry surfers, and top-shelf cocktails you can personalise for evenings spent watching the sun sink into the sea. The restaurant is a big part of the community, hosting surf competitions, sponsoring lifeguard training programmes and fundraising to provide free lunches for those in need.

18. Caldosa stalls

If you’re lucky enough to spot a truck, windowsill or trestle table loaded with boxes of Picaritas packets and bottles of hot sauce on your travels, don’t pass it by. Caldosa is a Cuban-inspired staple among students, in which the vendor will chop the top off the packet and spoon in salty ceviche, crush it together, and serve with Tabasco, ketchup or salsa to your taste. You can find them all over Costa Rica.

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