Costa Rica Restaurants
San Rafael de Escazú, San José
Tel: 506 2228 4511
When the residents of Escazú, a ritzy San José suburb, are hungry for Italian food, they go to Cerutti. The restaurant is set inside a 19th-century adobe mansion that's been restored and dressed up with contemporary decor yet retains some original features, such as a well-worn terra-cotta floor. Attentive owners Nicola and Mariarosa Papangelo prepare porcini mushroom soup served in a whole-wheat bread bowl and divine gnocchi.—Christopher P. Baker
Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 11 pm.
Playa Tamarindo , Guanacaste
Tel: 506 2653 1506
The Nicoya Peninsula beach town of Tamarindo has become known for trendy restaurants run by young American and European expats. Dragonfly, owned by California native Tish Tomlinson, is one the best. The peaked roof of the open-air dining room is held aloft by twisted wood columns laced with fairy lights and hung with modernist lanterns. The Latin–Asian menu might include wild mushroom risotto with Manchego cheese; Thai-style crispy fish cake with curried sweet corn; and honey-chile–glazed chicken breast with sticky rice and fresh mint.—Updated by Christopher P. Baker
Open Mondays through Saturdays 6 to 11 pm.
Quepos , Puntarenas
Tel: 506 2777 0395
In the center of the little port town of Quepos, the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park, El Gran Escape isn't known for its location (on a noisy corner) or its view (the Pacific ocean is obscured by a small hill). Its reputation is for fresh fish, and it doesn't disappoint. Ask about the specials right off the boat, such as whole red snapper served upright, swimming across a bed of greens. A great starter is the seafood chowder—really more of a bisque, but tasty just the same. The lively bar is packed with locals and anglers comparing notes. Occasionally, live music adds to the party ambience.—Updated by Christopher P. Baker
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 6 am to 11 pm.
Playa Hermosa , Guanacaste
Tel: 506 2672 0041
A stylish tree house is what comes to mind when you catch a glimpse of this tapas bar on cantilevered metal stilts in Playa Hermosa on the Nicoya Peninsula. The wood-and-glass platform hovers about 20 feet off the ground, just high enough to catch the ocean breezes. The only wall is painted a vivid red, the same color as the wild ginger growing in the gardens below. Canadian-born chef Anne Hegney mixes and matches flavors on her extensive menu of small dishes, so you'll find unusual offerings such as chicken satay with a macadamia nut rub and seared ahi tuna served in a crispy taco. This place is a good dinner choice if you're staying in the nearby Playas del Coco, or a convenient stop if you're headed down the coast to Playa Tamarindo.—Updated by Christopher P. Baker
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 5 to 10 pm.
Nuevo Arenal , Alajuela
Tel: 506 2694 0039
Israeli-born chef Eyal Ben-Menachem makes only a handful of dishes each day—depending on what's freshest in the local markets—at this Italian restaurant on the north shore of Lake Arenal in the Northern Lowlands. Each of the dishes comes with commentary from the gregarious chef, so you'll learn exactly how he prepares the wild mushrooms in a Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce, or the jumbo shrimp with couscous and lentils. For dessert, try the superb boca negra, a warm chocolate souffléélike cake with macadamia nuts inside; it's served with ice cream and raspberry and passion-fruit coulis. The restaurant's name refers to the fanciful wood trim on the porch, where you can dine with a view of the lake.—Updated by Christopher P. Baker
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 5 to 9 pm.
Calle 11, between avenidas 4 and 6
Tel: 506 2645 7017
La Esquina de Buenos Aires in downtown San José is run by an Argentine native who has decorated the restaurant's wood-paneled interior with historic prints and posters from his homeland. Needless to say, the menu is heavy on prime meats (churrasco steaks, chorizo, pork tenderloin), and there's a long list of malbec wines. A variety of pastas and seafood dishes such as camarones porteños (shrimp in creamy fish sauce) keep noncarnivores happy, too.—Christopher P. Baker
Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 3 pm and 6 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays noon to 10 pm.
San Pedro de Barva
Tel: 506 2269 6665
Located in a huge rustic restaurant in the hills outside Heredia (complete with a barnlike extension that houses a stage), La Lluna de Valencia is heaps of fun. Catalan owner Vicente Aguilar stirs up paella and gazpacho in the open kitchen, pours wine from a sack, and might even belt out a bolero or two. Vicente likes to drag patrons into the fun, which includes live music every Friday and Saturday night and flamenco on the first Sunday of every month.—Christopher P. Baker
Open Thursdays 7 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 10 pm, and Sundays noon to 5 pm. Closed mid-December through mid-January.
Calle 30, between avenidas 2 and 4
Tel: 506 255 3322
If you're in the capital, the formal wood-paneled restaurant of this Victorianstyle hotel is one place where you'll not only eat well but also likely observe the local elite making deals over multicourse meals. The menu, prepared by Costa Rican chef Francis Canal, merges French influences with local ingredients, such as mahimahi with leeks, tilapia sautéed in butter and finished with vermouth, or sweet curry chicken sprinkled with coconut. Leave room for either the tres leches (a rich cake infused with condensed milk) or the restaurant's trademark Pie Grano de Oro—a sugary mousselike cake that's been a staple here for two decades. This restaurant is the place for power breakfasts, but it's also enjoyed by local families and vacationers, who find the atrium patio to be a delightful spot for enjoying a traditional gallo pinto breakfast.—Updated by Christopher P. Baker
Open daily 7 am to 10 pm.
Hotel Arco Iris
Tel: 506 2653 0330
Cordon Blue–trained Israeli chef Shlomy Koren conjures up culinary magic in the kitchen of the boutique hotel Arco Iris in Tamarindo. The outdoor poolside setting appeals, but on hot days or nights, you can opt for the air-conditioned minimalist interior. Koren revises his French–Mediterranean menu frequently, depending on the availability of fresh seafood and produce. Dishes might include an appetizer of stuffed rigatoni or shrimp in a light creamy tomato sauce, followed by chicken Marsala marinated in red wine and spices or seared yellowfin tuna in a honey-chile marinade. Ahi tuna seared in sesame oil with ginger and scallions is a permanent fixture. Save room for Seasons' specialty: chocolate and almond nougat with chocolate ganache. Cash only.—Christopher P. Baker
Open Mondays through Saturdays 6 to 10 pm.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Tel: 506 645 7017
A few years ago, dining options in Monteverde were more or less limited to rice and bean. You won't find them on the menu at Sofía, a restaurant that's set the standard for fine dining in the region. Owner Karen Nielsen brings professional savvy to her preparation of Nuevo Latino fusion dishes, such as seafood chimichangas or plantain-crusted sea bass. The place attracts guests of the nearby eco-lodges, but it's also a favorite of backpackers looking to splurge.—Updated by Christopher P. Baker
Jacó , Puntarenas
Tel: 506 2643 0222
If you have time to dine at only one restaurant in Jacó, make it this small open-air spot that specializes in fish tacos but offers far more. You order your beef, chicken, or fish tacosincluding squid and smoked salmonat a counter, then pile on the fillings at a self-serve buffet. Not in a taco mood? Try the tuna sashimi or citrus-teriyaki chicken. There are a few tables on the chipped-stone patio, but preferred seating is at the high stools made of tree trunks and the swing seats along the raised wooden counters. The Taco Bar's fresh lemonade and fresh-squeezed fruit shakes are popular on hot days; locally grown organic coffee and tea also are available. Look for daily specials.—Christopher P. Baker