West of Downtown
- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
The Restaurante Grano de Oro (Calle 30, Avenidas 2/4, tel. 506/2255-3322, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is justifiably popular with both tourists and Tico families and businesspeople for intimate breakfasts on the outdoor patio. Try the superb gringo or Tico breakfasts. The Gringo—a large bowl of granola with bananas, and thick slices of freshly baked whole-wheat toast—should see you through the day.
Chocoholics should sniff out the Taller de Chocolate (506/2231-4840, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.), 100 meters north of Torre La Sabana, on Sabana Norte. It sells delicious homemade chocolates, plus cappuccinos and espressos.
One block west, a gorgeous 1950s modernist home hosts Asís (tel. 506/2232-2657, noon–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.), a marvelously upscale venue for pastries, teas, and coffees, plus pastas, pizzas, and casado lunches ($4).
I like Sabor Nicaragüense (Calle 20, Avenidas Central/1, tel. 506/2248-2547, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. daily), a clean family diner with heaps of light and both inside and outside dining. It serves gallo pinto, enchiladas, and Nicaraguan specialties.
The Flor del Loto (Calle 46, tel. 506/2232-4652, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–11 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Sun., $7), in Sabana Norte, is the place if you like your Chinese food hot and spicy. Mouth-searing specialties include mo-shu-yock (Shi Chuen–style pork) and ma po tofu (vegetables, bamboo shoots, and tofu stir-fried in sizzling hot-pepper oil).
Another acclaimed option is King’s Garden (tel. 506/2255-3838, 11 a.m.–1 a.m. daily), adjoining the Centro Comercial Yaohan. The head chef is from Hong Kong; the menu features many favorites from the city, as well as Cantonese and Szechuan dishes.
Restaurante Pacífico (Calle 24, Paseo Colón/Avenida 2, tel. 506/2257-9523, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 5–9 p.m. Sun.) is a small family-run Japanese restaurant with a sushi bar. It has a homey atmosphere.
The streetfront News Café (tel. 506/2222-3022, 6 a.m.–11 p.m. daily) of the Hotel Presidente boasts a chic decor and is an airy place to watch the street life. Its wide-ranging menu runs from soups, salads, and sandwiches to calamari rings ($4), fajitas ($6), burgers (from $5), and even rib-eye steak ($13) and garlic tilapia ($8.50). It has lunch specials and scrumptious desserts.
Across the street, the El Patio del Balmoral (tel. 506/2222-5022, 7 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily), fronting the Hotel Balmoral, is a near carbon copy.
Jicaros del Campo (tel. 506/2520-1757, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), on Sabana Sur, re-creates a country farmhouse and serves típico cuisine, include a lunch buffet ($5). Try the tongue in tomato sauce ($12).
French and Mediterranean
The Italianate Gourmet Restaurant (Avenida 2, Calle 3, tel. 506/2221-4000, noon–3 a.m. daily, $11–28), on the ground floor of the Gran Hotel, is a lovely space for enjoying Mediterranean seafood.
The elegant L’Olivo (tel. 506/2220-9440, noon–3 p.m. and 6:30–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $4–15), next to Hotel Palma Real on Sabana Norte, serves pastas and seafood.
One of the best options is Los Antojitos (11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–midnight Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.), inexpensive yet classy and popular with Ticos. Meals start at $4 and a grilled tenderloin costs $10. It has four outlets in San José: west of Sabana Park, in Rohrmoser (tel. 506/2231-5564); east of downtown in Los Yoses (tel. 506/2225-9525); in Centro Comercial del Sur, in San Pedro (tel. 506/2227-4160); and north of town on the road to Tibas (tel. 506/2235-3961).
Don’t leave town without eating at least once at the Restaurante Grano de Oro (Calle 30, Avenidas 2/4, tel. 506/2255-3322, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), where French-born chef Francis Canal has successfully merged Costa Rican ingredients into an exciting fusion menu, heavy on surf and turf. Supremely elegant, this twin-level wood-paneled restaurant has elevated dining in San José to new levels. The menu changes regularly and features such dishes as poached mahimahi with leeks, tenderloin in green peppercorn sauce, a superb salmon soufflé, and sweet curry chicken sprinkled with coconut. Try the specialty cocktails and leave room for the delicious desserts (you must try the sublime Pie Grano de Oro). The interior has huge windows open to the shady dining patio surrounded by lush palms and stained-glass windows. You can even dine at the island bar, with high chairs on the patio side. Upstairs, elegant banquet rooms accommodate groups.
Nearby, the Iconos Café Bar (tel. 506/2247-2000, 5 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) at Hotel Parque del Lago is a chic option where the sophisticated decor is matched by gourmet Costa Rican dishes that include cream of sweet corn soup ($5.50), mahimahi with green plantain crunch ($14), and pumpkin cheesecake with honey ($5.50). It’s also a great breakfast spot.
Park Café (Calle 44, tel. 506/2290-6324, www.parkcafecostarica.blogspot.com, noon–2 p.m. and 7–9 p.m. Tue.–Sat.), off Sabana Norte, ranks among the finest restaurants in the country. Set in an antique store with courtyard garden, its contemporary styling (not to mention the setting) is bold and exciting. Michelin-starred English chef Richard Neat (with his wife Louise) conjures up divine tapas and globe-spanning dishes. Lunch might include a roasted tuna filet with ginger chutney and artichoke salad under the shade of the flowering orchid tree, while candlelit dinner might be ballotine of foie gras with grilled sweet corn.
Seafood and Steaks
For a cheap meal, check out Marisquería La Princesa Marina (tel. 506/2296-7667, www.princesamarina.com, 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun., $1–9), on Sabana Oeste. This canteen-like seafood spot is a favorite of Ticos at lunch. It serves from a wide menu and wins no gourmet prizes, but at least it will fill you up.
La Fuente de Los Mariscos (tel. 506/2231-0631, 11:15 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily, $4–12), in Centro Comercial San José adjacent to the Hotel Irazú in La Uruca, is a great spot with seafood at moderate prices.
Spanish and South American
The Café España (Calle 44, tel. 506/2296-3528, noon–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), in Edificio Casa de España, on Sabana Norte, offers tapas in an elegant bar setting. Prices are fair at $2–9.
Another of my favorite restaurants is Machu Picchu (Calle 32, Avenidas 1/3, tel. 506/2283-6679, www.restaurantemachupicchu.com, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun.), with delicious authentic Peruvian seafood and spicy sauces! Try the superb ceviches ($2.50–5) or the picante de mariscos (seafood casserole with onions, garlic, olives, and cheese), enjoyed in a suitably nautical ambience. The menu is moderately priced (some potato entrées are less than $4; garlic octopus is $6). The pisco sours are powerful. For a refreshing equivalent to lemonade, try the delicious chicha morada, made with boiled pineapple and other fruits.
The superb Restaurante Vishnu (Avenida 1, Calles 1/3, tel. 506/2223-4434, vishnu [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, 7 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.) serves health-food breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Meals are generous in size and low in price (a casado costs $4); the menu includes veggie lasagna, veggie burgers, and fruit salads. Vishnu has 10 other outlets around town, including at Calle 14, Avenida Central/2, and at Calle 1, Avenida 4.
Restaurant Eco-Shakti (Avenida 8, Calles 11/13, tel. 506/2222-4475, 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.) serves veggies dishes, from black bean soup to soy burgers and yogurt shakes.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition