costa rica’s cuisine.

by Janetha on August 6, 2012

in eating out,travel

hi! how was your weekend? mine was not long enough—story of my life. story of all of our lives, i’m sure.

for the most part, i took the weekend off from the interwebs and spent my time with family and friends. i didn’t have a chance to post on saturday, but it was my mother-in-law’s birthday and i wanted to wish her a happy birthday here on the blog! she lives out of state so it’s tough to not be able to see her, but luckily we can keep in touch through technology.

it’s hard to believe that i’ve been back from costa rica for over a week now. last week was HARD for me. adjusting back to “normal” life was more challenging than i expected. i had taken so much time off from working out and cooking meals that i kinda forgot how to do those things. i also forgot how to do my day job, but that was something i had to do, whether i remembered how to or not. rough stuff.

however, the whole cooking and working out thing? i slacked on that this past week. in seven nights, i made a total of two dinners. i hopped back on the GPP workout train, but by thursday i was so burned out that i skipped it (and went to bed at 7 pm… and slept for 12 hours straight… yes.) hopefully this week will be a little more “back to normal”. whatever that means.. right?

anyway, this post is not about me being a slacker. it’s about all the delicious food i devoured in costa rica that turned me into the “i-don’t-want-to-cook” slacker that i have become as of late. i didn’t capture every meal—in fact, i didn’t even come CLOSE. but i did capture a few tasty bites and i can also give you a list of amazing things to try if you find yourself vacationing in puerto viejo. tip: you should definitely find yourself vacationing in puerto viejo at least once in your life. it’s incredible.

it is about a four-hour drive from the san jose airport to where were stayed in puerto viejo. since we left the airport around 6 AM, we were all hungry for breakfast just a couple hours into the drive to puerto viejo.

there are several little spots to eat ALL OVER in costa rica. they are called sodas—not to be confused with diet coke.


we stopped at a soda along the way. the menu was in both spanish and english—i noticed that most menus in costa rica were this way. i was grateful for this. my junior-high-spanish-skills can only get a girl so far.


i saw huevos rancheros on the menu and immediately knew that was my pick. i love huevos rancheros!


give me a minute to reflect on how delicious that ranchero sauce was. there is no way i could ever recreate something so perfect! there were sautéed peppers and onions swimming in the authentic ranchero sauce and it was all doused over a couple of perfectly cooked eggs—super fresh and over easy. the eggs came with gallo pinto, a common costa rican side dish made of rice and beans. we were also served rich, dark coffee and fresh bread to sop up all the extra ranchero sauce. this, being my first meal in costa rica, set the bar high for my food expectations for the rest of the trip. luckily, i was never let down!

we stayed at banana azul the entire time. fortunately, their chefs were fabulous and made the most remarkable food. breakfast was included with our room fee (which, by the way, was jaw-dropping inexpensive) and was a little different each day. there was always a spread of fresh fruit, cereal, coffee, and tea. in addition to these staple items, there was a breakfast entree offered each morning that included eggs in some way: eggs benedict, breakfast burrito, fried eggs with gallo pinto (my favorite), an egg sandwich, eggs with hashbrowns and toast.. you get the idea. the breakfast was delicious each and every morning!

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banana azul also offered a large lunch menu and a limited dinner menu. these meals were not included with the room price, but they were very affordable (and very tasty!) my favorites off the lunch menu: the vegetarian quesadilla, the grilled cheese, the peppered french fries, and the guacamole with freshly fried chips. the chips served with guacamole in costa rica were not your typical tortilla chips. they were light, flaky triangles of fried heaven. i am kicking myself for not getting a photo now.. but andie happened to go there earlier this year and has a great shot in this post.

as far as dinners at banana azul went, they were equally as delicious as breakfast and lunch. it was convenient to eat dinner at the hotel simply because going to town took a lot of effort (okay, i am lying—it was a two minute cab ride but sometimes you just wanna hang out at the hotel!)

the menu for dinner always included some type of salad bar to start and then three entrees: a vegetarian option, and then two more options including fish, chicken, or beef. the entree always included a side dish and there was always a new dessert included with the meal. dinner was $13 for all three courses and you could bill it to your room. no wonder we ate in so many nights!

not many photos to share, but i did snap a couple shots of some favorite dinners: jerk chicken, stuffed avocado, and the mediterranean plate. actually, the jerk chicken and stuffed avocado were on the same night. marshall and i ordered chicken for ourselves, but nick and dave (my vegan buddies) had the stuffed avocado. when we tried it, we decided we HAD to get an order of stuffed avocado for ourselves. yep, we are pigs. yep, it was so worth it. no idea what that avocado was stuffed with, but i’m still remembering how tasty it was. i love meals that leave such a mark on my memory!

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kristen and rory had mentioned that they’d ordered pizza to the hotel when they stayed there before (in 2010) so we did decide to do that a couple of nights. the pizza was nothing short of amazing. i know, i know, i am saying that about everything we ate—but it’s true! i was NEVER let down. not even by delivery pizza.

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as far as eating out goes, we definitely were never let down. 

we visited zion cafe twice during our time in costa rica. it used to be called jammin’ jerk and juice bar (or something along those lines) but a canadian couple recently decided to quit their rat race jobs, move to costa rica, and buy a restaurant. they kept the menu the same but changed the name to zion cafe. (yes, they just stole my life dream right out from under me. where do i sign up for that life?)


the cafe offers lots of vegan and vegetarian options which was rad for my friends. i got the jerk chicken wrap my first time around and the jerk burrito the second time around. the food was awesome, but i actually think i was more in love with the array of dishes at the cafe! no two plates, bowls, or ramekins were the same. i was giddy.


another veg-friendly spot we tried was veronica’s place. looks like the spanish word for “vegan” is “vegano”. easy enough!

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they served breakfast all day which is something i can’t resist (nor can my husband.) marshall had delicious banana pancakes and i had a bowl of yogurt, fresh fruit, and veronica’s homemade granola.

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one last lunch location i have to mention is chile rojo. the menu included so many options: thai, mexican, mediterranean, american.. you name it. seriously, i was in awe with the broad selection. marshall had a chicken gyro, kristen had coconut crusted chicken, rory had a burger and fries, nick had a medeterranean plate, and dave and i had the green curry—his with tofu and mine with chicken.

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chile rojo also has a great drink menu and we happened to be there during happy hour—i took advantage of that two for one sangria!

speaking of drinks.. i definitely didn’t drink even CLOSE to enough water while on vacation. it happens. but i did drink plenty of costa rica’s signature brew: imperial.


i also developed a slight addiction to the mojitos made by the fabulous bartenders—franklin and eduardo—at banana azul. the mint was SO fresh! and they always took a good 15 minutes to make each drink. no, seriously, they lovingly peeled each lime one by one any time a mojito was ordered.

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we also enjoyed LOTS of coconut water—right out of the coconut! we’d be lounging on the beach and someone from the hotel would come by and offer us a free coconut.

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two more random foods i caught on camera…

the cero bars. my mom had told me about these ice cream bars of heaven so when i saw them at the grocery store i HAD to snag one. and then another. and then another. i think i had four or five all together,

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something that many of the restaurants had as an appetizer was “patacones”—plantains that were smashed and fried. and incredible!

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that sums up my foodie photos from the trip. however, i ate at a few more places that were SO amazing (but i didn’t take photos) and i must recommend them. so, in classic janetha style, here’s a list!

puerto viejo (and surrounding area) MUST TRY restaurants:

  • banana azul: especially good for lunch, but all meals are delicious. make sure to order a mojito!
  • veronica’s place: the menu is completely vegetarian and is also vegan friendly. they serve breakfast all day, but also have great lunch and dinner options.
  • la pecora nera: some of the best italian EVER. no, not “for costa rica”—just the best italian EVER. and i’ve been to italy. a guy from italy moved to costa rica 15-some-odd years ago and opened the restaurant. my parents went there a decade ago. kristen and rory went there in 2010. and we went there twice during our stay. i’m still thinking about the carbonara.
  • zion cafe (formerly jammin’): lots of vegan and vegetarian options, wraps, salads, sandwiches, and fresh juice. really good jerk chicken! several unique homemade sauces and dips served with the entrees.
  • chile rojo: broad menu including several different types of cuisine. tasty sangria.
  • bread and chocolate (for breakfast!): best egg sandwich ever. we ate here the last morning and we were all sad that we hadn’t discovered this place earlier. they also make lots of chocolates, cakes, truffles, etc in house. SO FLIPPING GOOD. they have a coffee ice cream float! i almost ordered it.. but refrained.
  • la botanica organica vegan cafe: a cute cafe off the side of the road between punta uva and playa cocles. delicious smoothies, fresh juice, sandwiches, and such… get the burrito. just do it.

i was in costa rica for ten days. i ate a lot of food. thank goodness i didn’t photograph it all.. because the very little that i DID take photos of took me a verrrry long time to blog about. what can i say, i’m passionate about food. i could write about it for days on end and never tire of it. hope i didn’t bore you too terribly much ;)


what’s the best thing you have EVER eaten on vacation?

xo. janetha g.

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Coco August 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm

The best thing I ever ate was the most AMAZING salmon nicoise salad in a cafe in paris. omgggg

p.s. thanks for this post–i will bookmark it for when i (hopefully, eventually, someday) take a trip to costa rica!

SweatyGirl August 6, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Oh man, I could never choose, when Joel & I go on vacation it’s for the food! So we really find the good stuff! (thanks Yelp!)

Everything in those post looks amazing!

Chloe (In Fine Feather) August 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Love this recap! I’m definitely bookmarking all of your Costa Rica posts, I definitely want to visit and since you mentioned how affordable it is I definitely have it on my radar.
Probably the best food I’ve had on vacation is poke in Hawaii – so simple and fresh, I could eat tubs of it for days!

purelymichelle August 6, 2012 at 6:53 pm

oh yum! everything looked great!! and nothing beats fresh coconut water

Rose August 6, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Hmm, best thing I ate was FRESH grilled sea bass in Cinque Terre in Italy… that or the (bottle of) pinot grigio I had along with it.. so amazing.

Michelle @ Eat Move Balance August 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

The picture that you did end up taking look like there were some excellent meals! Nice!

Best food on vacation was on my honeymoon last year. In Monterey, CA, we ordered an appetizer that was lump crab, on top of avocado, which was on top of mango. It was heaven. Amazing good.

Brittney @ Brittney Breathing August 6, 2012 at 7:39 pm

You are making me really excited for my honeymoon to Costa Rica in less than a month!!! We’re staying at Riu Guanacaste though!

Janetha August 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm

My co-worker went to that Riu on his honeymoon in 2010! We may be going there for our company trip next year, actually. Do you want me to ask him for some travel tips?

lindsay August 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm

gah! i think i could easily eat my way through costa rica. wanna go back with me? I see lots of plaintain pancakes and cero bars. Life short, lets go1

Stephanie August 6, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Have you ever been to Kauai? If not you must go there. My best vacation food came from a little hole-in-the-wall place that I can’t even remember the name of. On a whim, I got the special of the day…fresh caught fish tacos. They were divine. The fish was marlin and the tacos were full of crispy cabbage and this chili, lime, avocado dressing. Yum! I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant.

Janetha August 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Yes! I loved Kauai! It was so beautiful (and delicious!)

Jillian @ Sprinkle Massacre August 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Wow..everything is mouthwatering, but I have to say that donut looking ice cream bar really got me.

I didn’t know Marshalls entire torso was tattood! Holy crap! So cool!

Corrie Anne August 6, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I want one of those Cero bars. They have a ton of great little ice cream bars in the Dominican Republic, and I always love eating their empanadas. And their questionable street chicken kabobs. And the even more questionable street corn-on-the-cob. I can’t believe I didn’t get sick. Lol.

Katie @ Talk Less, Say More August 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Wow! It looks like you guys had some absolutely amazing meals! The best thing I ate on vacation was probably the bread while I was in Paris with my family. I ate bread every single day, all day and usually followed it up with a cafe au lait. Soooo good! :)

Emily August 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Amazing post. I am so hungry after reading it– no matter that I am actually full from dinner. Everything looks like it was fantastic!!

Jessica August 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Everything looks so good! Reading your recaps of this trip have got me wanting to go to Costa Rica someday.
I think the best, most memorable thing I have eaten on vacation was a meal at Spago at The Four Seasons on Maui. It was macadamia crusted salmon with mashed sweet potatoes with some kind of balsamic glaze. Writing that doesn’t sound that great, and I was unsure of the combination when I ordered it, but WOW was it good.
I am loving these vacation posts!

Sarah August 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I will take a stuffed avocado and a mojito, please.

Hope you are getting your groove back!

Lisa August 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Everything here looks awesome! What an amazing time you must have had, I never would have guessed there would be such a huge range of different food options.

Neil August 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I love Mexican Diet Coke. It’s different there.

Erica August 7, 2012 at 4:31 am

oh my drool! stuffed avocado? The homemade granola and yogurt? Everything looks freaking amazing

nicole @ its about the journey not the destination August 7, 2012 at 7:12 am

That all looks amazing!!! YUM especially the stuffed avocado. I think my fav food was in the Virgin islands – St John/St Thomas. I think we ate our weight in nachos…the most amazeballs nachos we’ve ever ever ever ate with fresh salsa and guac. mm.

Katie August 7, 2012 at 7:43 am

I had a dream about diet coke last night night and didn’t remember it until I read the words “diet coke” up there in the first part of your post. Too funny.

The best thing I ever ate was when on vacation was when I was pregnant and craving red meat like a caveman…it was a perfectly perfect steak in NYC.

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 10:53 am

I love it when I remember my dream!

Juliette August 7, 2012 at 8:31 am

So jealous – Costa Rica! A spot that my husband and I are talking about traveling to next year. Food looks yummy.

My fav. food on vaca has been a freshly caught red salmon in Alaska as well as a grouper fish in Key West. Fresh fish – so, so good :)

Alex @ Brain, Body, Because August 7, 2012 at 8:44 am

I loved eating patacones and gallo pinto in Costa Rica!

ali August 7, 2012 at 9:25 am

I loved ready this post! Everything sounds so delicious! I really think I need to plan a trip to Costa Rica! It sounds FABULOUS!

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 10:52 am

You guys would love it there! Family trip! Take me with, hehe. Miss youuuu! 6:30 tonight?

Calee August 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

That mojito looks magical.

Side note, I never noticed how awesomely tattooed Marshall is. Mark should get tattys. He’s got all sorts of surface area to cover. I love great body art (just not ALL over me).

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 10:51 am

I agree. I think his tattoos are beautiful, but they are not for me :)

RunEatRepeat August 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

Ben and I traveled up the Pacific side and enjoyed the exact same foods and soda places. I fell in love with Pinto de Gallo and even bought a magnet with the recipe (but never made it). We also bought some of their hot sauce.

I plan on retiring to Costa Rica. Hopefully sometime next year…

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 10:50 am

We plan on moving there, so maybe you should come visit when we do! haha

betty August 7, 2012 at 10:24 am

can i ask you some traveling tips? b and i want to take a trip in february to celebrate 4 years.. the farthest i’ve ever traveled is to key west (other than a cruise to Jamaica) and her was some inclusive resort in mexico. costa rica looks like a lot of fun, but i was wondering – if you don’t mind me asking – how much you spent on a trip like this? obviously, since the trip wouldn’t be until feb, we have some time to save and stuff like that. what kind of preparation did you take to get there and have a great time? if you could let me know, that’d be great. i just want to make the most of the trip, whether it be a cruise or resort or something like this! you can e-mail me if you want, or you don’t have to respond at all :) glad you had a great time!!

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 10:50 am

I still have your other email to reply to. I am avoiding my email inbox like the plague, FYI haha. Sorry. Anyway, I don’t mind you asking at all! Airfare was around $1200 (for both of us) into San Jose. Transportation from San Jose to Puerto Viejo was $215 each way for a shared van (there were 6 of us) so that worked out to about $145 for both of us. All these amounts will be for both of us–that makes it easy. The hotel in Puerto Viejo was for 8 nights and was $840.00 which included breakfast and then we stayed in San Jose one night for $72 (also included breakfast but we went to the airport at 3:30 AM so didn’t eat it.) So for travel and lodging, we paid about $2200 for both of us. Food was cheap–you could easily get by on $20 a day per person for lunch and dinner (except on the nights we went to the Italian restaurant, which was pricey, but we were OK with that.) If you took $1000-$1500 for spending money (food, drinks, excursions, a few souvenirs) while there (for ten days) I’d say this is more than enough. Hope that helps! xoxo

kim@hungryhealthygirl August 7, 2012 at 11:02 am

The more that I read your Costa Rica recaps, the more I want to go. I’m thinking this will be my families next big vacation…..maybe next summer. And I will definitely be getting that coffee ice cream float. Your posts will be great to refer back to, to help guide me with planning. It seems as if you had a nearly perfect vacay.

Annette@FitnessPerks August 7, 2012 at 11:17 am

Oh wow! This all sounds/looks SO delicious! I want to go to Costa Rica so bad–so many friends have gone and loved it. :)

Those smashed plantains look real good–as do the chips sound. I LOVE fresh made/authentic tortilla chips!

Kaley [Y Mucho Más] August 7, 2012 at 11:18 am

Oh man, that restaurant, “La Choza de la Negra,” the Black Woman’s Hut!

In Italy, I had the best eggplant parmesan calzone. And saltimbocca alla romana wasn’t bad. Plus limoncello. :)

Paige @ Your Trainer Paige August 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I am seriously intrigued by the patacones! And now I really want to try a Cero Grado :)

jessica @sweatescape August 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Okay, after reading this, I am in serious need of a vacation. So jealous!

Anyways, I just found your blog, and wanted to say hi and let you know that your weight loss transformation is pretty impressive!

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Thanks for the compliment, Jessica!

Amy August 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Sounds amazing!!!!

I can’t think of one individual thing but discovering the whole foods salad bar in NYC coming from Scotland was pretty amazing! We have nothing like you guys do! Well we are starting to get little salad bars popping up now but it was my first time experiencing something like that and I was all :O

Roz@weightingfor50 August 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I am now officially hungry! :) Great recap Janetha, thanks for sharing the meals with us!! I had THE best Indian food in London. I still think about it and no indian food has compared since! BTW…Marshall’s tattoos are fantastic!

Janetha August 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

YES! London has wonderful Indian cuisine!!

Rebecca August 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

It’s been a long time since I went to Costa Rica but I will never forget the amazing food and by looking at your photos I am happy to see that has not changed a bit. My favorite ice cream treat during my stay was an ice cream sandwich called Trits, vanilla ice cream w/ a chocolate swirl between two sugar/spice cookies, I think I ate at least one a day during my trip.

sophia August 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Okay, Janetha– seeing all the glorious food you ate, no wonder you’re having a hard time adjusting back into normal routine! Love the recap, but it made me very hungry.

glidingcalm August 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm

mmmmmmmmmmm! looks like a tasty trip!!! I hope to visit someday! my roomie went last year, and I was so envious after hearing all of the details when he returned!

and plantains! I WANT.

Nicole C August 8, 2012 at 8:43 am

I don’t know what the best thing I ever had on vacation was. The banana splits in Paris were memorable though.

Anyhow I have a very random fun fact about Costa Rica I learned yesterday, it is over 90% clean energy producing! Holy cow! I went to the National Clean Energy Summit and (former) President Bill Clinton spoke saying the Costa Rican President, whom he met on his last visit, wants the entire country to be 100% clean energy producing as soon as possible. They know there is oil in the ground but they aren’t interested in harming the earth. So, he told her he would help get electric cars to the country to help her reach her goals. Interesting to see how it plays out but I thought it was an amazing feat. End story. :)

Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning August 8, 2012 at 8:56 am

Wow- the food looks incredible. Especially the smashed plantains!
Hmm… best thing I’ve ever had on vacation… it would probably be the fish tacos we had in Victoria, BC last summer, We waited for almost 2 hours in line to get them from a small fish shack right in the harbor. The fish shack was the #1 reviewed “restaurant” in Victoria on Yelp! It was definitely one of the best meals of my life- Greg and I each doubled fisted two tacos while standing up and people watching in the harbor.
On my most recent trip to Colorado, the best meal was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I ate after reaching the summit of Grays and Torrey’s Peaks (both over 14,000′!)- right in the saddle. It was the most incredible lunch ever- with the best view (and it was on July 17!)

Errign August 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I am literally drooling right now.

Best food ever was definitely in Singapore – pad thai, roti, peanut pancakes – so much deliciousness!

marisa August 8, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Those avocados look amazing! I loved the food at Iguana Lodge and was addicted to hearts of palm salad. My mouth is watering just reading about your trip… I think I better get planning another trip down there!

Amanda August 11, 2012 at 11:58 am

I’m trying to figure out something to do with Andy for his 30th birthday and Costa Rica looks like a fantastic way to celebrate. I’ve been loving your recaps. Stuffed avocado? Yeah, I need that.

Janetha August 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm

You guys would LOVE it there!

Chris October 23, 2012 at 10:18 am

You missed the following great food places in Carribe de Sur – next time take a cab to check these out

La Pecora Nera – Best Italian in Central America
Jungle Love Cafe – best restaurant owners in the area- excellent food and vibe.
Maxi’s in Mnazanillo – Lobster!

Stashus Con Fusion – Indian/asian always top notch

Janetha October 23, 2012 at 11:27 am

We went to La Pecora Nera twice!

Janetha October 23, 2012 at 11:27 am

(as you can see in the post)

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