17 Costa Rican Foods and Recipes

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Costa Rica is often picked as a travel destination due to its beautiful beaches and amazing natural landscapes. However, Costa Rican cuisine should not be underestimated, as the country offers some of the more interesting food recipes in the Central American region.

This country’s cuisine is known for delivering delicious yet smooth-tasting dishes, often including a lot of vegetables and fruits – yes, they like to keep it healthy most of the time! You’ll also find a lot of dishes with variations of rice and beans. 

People in Costa Rica are known for their friendly and welcoming vibe, so if you intend to make a food tour through Central America, the country’s definitely a contender for a starting point.

But enough talk, let’s check out some of these delicious recipes!

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Gallo Pinto

This is Costa Rica’s national dish and also the most common type of breakfast in the country. Gallo Pinto consists of rice, black or red beans, lightly fried peppers, onions, and cilantro. Some people will throw in a sunny-side-up egg on the top to make things look extra nice.

The local-favorite Lizano sauce is used in the end to add a special flavor to the dish. You can have Gallo Pinto anywhere in Costa Rica, as it’s constantly ordered by both locals and curious tourists.

Sopa Negra (Black Beans Soup)

This Black Beans Soup is very creamy and flavorful, and it’s made of simmered black beans and oregano, cilantro, black peppers, and onions. The dish carries a strong resemblance to the Brazilian Feijoada, except you won’t find any pork in this version.

The Sopa Negra is typically served as an entree, especially on cold nights, where its hot temperature and memorable flavors really stand out. It’s also typically served with tortilla chips on the side and boiled egg or cheese slices as toppings. 


If you’ve taken a look at a couple of other articles here on The Cookware Geek about Latin America’s food, you probably noticed a strong passion for Empanadas. I mean, can you blame them? It’s pretty delicious. 

In Costa Rica, the blueprint for the empanada is the usual one: the corn dough is deep-fried and can be filled with pork, chicken, beef, cheese, or beans. However, there is a typical Costa Rican version called Empanadas Arregladas, which are open empanadas filled with cabbage salad, mayo, and ketchup. 

Source: Pura Vida Moms


Another dish typically served all over Latin America, Tamales are made of a corn-based dough and wrapped in banana leaves. The dough can be mixed with vegetables, beef or chicken, cheese, or even rice.

In Costa Rican tradition, tamales are actually a holiday food, more specifically, a Christmas food. It’s common for families to gather around during Christmas holidays and make the corn-based dough themselves, making the conception of the tamales a sort of social event. I imagine that being a bit chaotic for big families but, hey, I’m sure it’s pretty fun too.


Chifrijo is one of the most traditional appetizers in Costa Rica and can be found in basically any restaurant or bar in the country. The dish is relatively young – having been created in the 90s – and reaffirms the Costa Ricans passion for beans. 

The main ingredients are chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and frijoles (purple beans). To finish off the dish you’ll need some pico de gallo on the top, which is a combination of different chopped vegetables and spices. The Chifrijo is typically served with an ice-cold beer and some tortilla chips on the side. 

Source: Foreign Fork


Another certified hit all over Latin America, the ceviche is a low-calorie fish-based appetizer that requires no cooking. The dish is similar to sushi as its main ingredient is raw fish and the creation process involves only cutting and assembling its pieces together. This is an original Peruvian dish but you can find it in other countries like Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

Ceviche is simply raw fish (typically sea bass or tilapia) marinated in lime juice with onion slices, and coriander. Ceviche is often called ceviche de pescado, but you can also find shrimp ceviche or octopus ceviche. The food is seen by many as a great combo of healthy and delicious and is typically served with crackers or beer.

Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice)

This is a simple and straight-to-the-point dish that is always pretty tasty. Although culturally an everyday meal for both lunch and dinner, the Costa Rican arroz con pollo is often served during celebrations such as birthday parties, weddings, and more.

The classic national dish consists of rice, shredded chicken, black pepper, garlic powder, onion, cilantro, and red bell peppers. The rice has a nice yellow coloring to it and is typically served with potato chips and a traditional green salad. Fresh juice or a cold Coke would also be perfect companions to this dish. 

Patacones (Fried Plantains)

Patacones are a classic Latin American appetizer, typically served at bars and restaurants in the same fashion that french fries would be served in North American establishments. They are also extremely easy to make, as they’re basically just fried plantains. In Costa Rican tradition, it’s common to double-fry it to make them extra crispy. 

The patacones are smashed to acquire a disk-like format and then deep-fried until they acquire a wonderful golden coloring. They’re typically served with different sauces or other savory options such as guacamole, sour cream, or pico de gallo. Patacones are often served with ceviche as well, offering an interesting counterpoint to the dish’s sour flavors.


The Picadillo is an old-school Costa Rican dish that consists simply of chopped meat and vegetables. This plate is very unpretentious, easy to make, and, of course, delicious if you get it right – which isn’t hard to accomplish. The Picadillo is typically served as a main course during dinner or lunch. 

The dish resembles a sort of stew although it’s not that saucy – but that’s up to the chef, really. The Picadillo is often served during cold winter days and family or social gatherings, and despite being typically served as a main dish, it can also be served as an appetizer, with some soft corn tortillas on the side. 

Source: CentralAmerica.Com

Yuca Frita (Fried Yucas)

You’ve seen fried yucas before in recipe lists from other Latin American countries. They resemble the traditional french fries, except they’re thicker and harder in consistency. Nevertheless, they’re also typically served with some salt and pepper seasoning and ketchup and/or mayonnaise-based sauces.

You’ll find these delicious appetizers almost anywhere that sells food in Costa Rica. The yuca frita is typically a side dish to many meat-based recipes and goes great with a cold beer or soda.


The Casado is perhaps – alongside the Gallo Pinto – the most traditional lunch dish in Costa Rica, although it can certainly be served at dinner as well. The dish is more of a combination of different types of food rather than an individual recipe. This food mixture consists of rice, black beans, meat or fish, and a salad. 

This is a highly flavorful yet very healthy dish – ever heard of “the more colorful the healthier”? – and maybe that’s why it’s such a hit. Some say that this used to be a traditional homemade meal back in the day, with wives serving it to their husbands all the time; and that’s where the name probably comes from, as “casado” means married in Spanish.

Source: Travel Excellent

Pejibaye Soup

The pejibaye – A.K.A. peach palm or palm fruit – is commonly found in the palm trees of Costa Rica. The fruit has quite a starchy punch to it, and some say the flavor of the fruit resembles that of green corn. In order to catch pejibaye, you won’t have to climb any palm trees; they’re commonly found in local supermarkets or street fairs. 

The pejibaye soup is a simple dish that has exotic fruit as its main ingredient. The soup is also made with chicken stock and cream, and it’s usually garnished with bits of cilantro on the top. When cooked, the pejibaye’s natural flavors get quite stronger, so you can expect a very robust but also nutritious soup. 

Palmito (Palm Heart)

Palm heart, for those who don’t know, is a vegetable harvested from the growing buds of palm trees, most notably the coconut trees (which there are many in Costa Rica). Palmitos have a juicy texture and a sour acidic flavor. They can be eaten on their own, but they’re typically used in soups, salads, picadillo, sandwiches, empanadas; the list goes on and on.

Some of the most traditional Costa Rican dishes made with a dash of palmito include the ensalada de palmito (palm heart salad), often served with the “casado” and the arroz con palmito (palm heart and rice) a delicious mixture of rice, palmito, and bechamel sauce, typically eaten for both lunch and dinner.

Source: International Cuisine

Pozole (Pork Stew) 

Pozole is essentially a delicious pork stew. It’s customary to serve the meal during religious gatherings known as “turnos”, but you can also easily find Pozole in local restaurants and bars. The dish has a vibrant reddish color to it and should make your mouth water just from taking a quick peep at it.

The stew is made from pork, hominy, cilantro, bell peppers, and achiote. If you add a little bit of hot sauce to it, you can make a Mexican pozole. All the ingredients are cooked together in a pot for quite some time until the meat gets really tender and loose. 

Olla de Carne (Beef Stew)

Another delicious Costa Rican stew, the Olla de Carne is one of the country’s most traditional dishes. This dish can be found just as easily in both local bars and restaurants as well as being sold by street vendors, or even in the famous San José Central Market. The dish has a lot of European influences although it uses mostly local ingredients. 

This stew is made of lean beef, chayote, and tacacos (which are both local vegetables), onions, cilantro, green plantains, and root vegetables. As with any other stew, the mixture can be cooked for hours on end until the meat acquires the wanted tender texture. 

Tres Leches (Sponge Cake)

This dessert is an absolute classic in Costa Rica, justifiably so. The tres leches cake is always the main option for birthday parties, office parties, and… well, any type of party you could bring a cake to, really. You can also order it in local restaurants, and any respectable bakery or coffee shop should have them too. 

The name of the cake comes from the fact that it’s soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk or cream. So, yeah, if you’re lactose intolerant, you should definitely get your hands on some lactase pills before having a taste of one of these bad boys. But it should be worth it!

Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding)

This is another classic local dessert. The Arroz con Leche is a simpler dessert when compared to the Tres Leches, and due to that, you’ll find homemade versions of it in several Costa Rican households, as well as in some local restaurants as a cheap dessert option.

You probably already figured out the main ingredients: rice and sweet milk. You’ll also need evaporated milk, condensed milk, and vanilla to boil it down in the pan with the other ingredients. Some people enjoy using cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder to garnish the dessert, which is commonly served at room temperature. 

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