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San Jose Costa Rica restaurants are experiencing a new renaissance in fine dining. The capital and largest city of Costa Rica holds a wealth of dining options for those with budgets large and small. From charming Costa Rican sodas with traditional food to exceptionally diverse culinary selections, San Jose restaurants will surprise and delight even the most seasoned travelers.
I just spent two weeks in Costa Rica and spent a lot of time wandering around the capital city of San Jose, which was a treat. The city is bustling with lively pedestrian walkways, performing arts, street dance and music, museums, and restaurants galore.
While Costa Rica is well known for its beautiful beaches, volcano, biodiversity, and lush rain forests, most people spend just a night or two in San Jose. Many travelers try to get out of the busy city as fast as possible and into nature. But for foodies among us, or those who have a few extra days to spend, you’ll find a rich array of cafes, markets, sweets shops, bakeries, and restaurants.
I’ll cover a few different price points and experience options for those on a budget and those who have a bit more to spend. Restaurants in San Jose run the gamut from cheap street food to formal sit-down restaurants, and everything in between. Here we go!
Sodas – If you’re a budget traveler, you’re going to love San Jose Costa Rica restaurants! One thing that surprised me about Costa Rica is that it is not cheap. In many (most) cases, groceries and dining out are the same cost as in the USA. So if you also have a bit of sticker shock, walk thee to the Central Market (Mercado Central). In here, you’ll find a number of shops selling handmade goods, flowers, veggies, and food stalls.
If you ask a local for a soda, you won’t get a Coke (or Diet Coke in my case). You’ll be pointed to the closest food stall. These stalls, called sodas, offer huge plates of food for just a few dollars. These hearty meals made up of traditional Costa Rican foods like hand-made tortillas, rice, beans, and meat, were originally meant for working men to keep them full throughout the day. However, locals and visitors now take advantage of the big portions and cheap price tag.
A plate of traditional Costa Rican fare will only set you back about $5, and includes a drink in most cases. Budget travelers or people seeking a local experience really can’t beat this deal!
Auto Mercado Los Yoses – one of my favorite things to do is browse around supermarkets. It’s weird, stop looking at me, whatever. But for real, it’s such a great way to sample local foods on the cheap! Auto Mercado Los Yoses is one of the larger supermarkets in San Jose, and they have an excellent selection of baked goods, fresh fruits and veggies, chocolates, coffees, and all of the staples you’ll need to prepare your own meals.
San Jose Costa Rica restaurants cater to a wide range of budgets, and there are tons of options for travelers with a mid-level budget. Again, you should expect to spend about the same amount as you would in the USA for these restaurants and cafes.
Barrio Escalante is the hippest neighborhood in San Jose, and the restaurants and nightlife don’t disappoint! The safe and cozy neighborhood boasts dozens of dining options, from Acai Bowl joints to booze infused popsicles to cafes serving foam-topped lattes, to trendy vegan options.
Some of my favorite dining options in Barrio Escalante and in the mid-range price level include:
Buenazo Acai Bowls and Smoothies – this local Acai Bowl shop in San Jose, Costa Rica is a must-visit for those who love fresh fruit and cold treats. The bowls range in size from kids to massive, and the staff really packs in the blends into the bowls.
Franco Restaurante – this cafe is top-notch for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Their coffee drinks are made fresh by their excellent baristas, and their food is locally sourced and made to order. I tried their Keto Bowl, a breakfast bowl with eggs, chorizo, and lots of fresh veggies. Their food was so good I returned a few days later to sample their excellent chicken burger. The cafe also serves a variety of flaky pastries and chocolate treats, which might cause you to return time and time again!
Cafe La Mancha – this cute cafe is located right across from the Central Market in San Jose, just outside of Barrio Escalante, so stop by after your soda lunch! They have an open air seating section in a courtyard which used to be part of an old factory building. The place is uber hip, with a tattoo studio, murals on the walls, public art, and other quaint shops. Try the pour-over (pictured) for a piping hot cup.
Dulce Junio Cafe – for a mid-afternoon pickup, you can’t beat Dulce Junio Cafe! They have the most bombastic selections of coffee drinks, topped with sky-high amounts of whipped cream. I only tried the mint-chocolate iced coffee frappe, but their menu includes sandwiches, quiche, and more.
El Jardín de Lolita – El Jardín de Lolita is a new concept in Costa Rican dining, bringing several open-air food stalls together under one roof. The adorable space has an area for public gatherings, and is charmingly lit with strings of lights. This is the perfect place to chill out with your friends and try a variety of food and drinks. You can grab burgers, pizza, vegetarian food, or some drinks and hang out for hours!
Barrio Escalante Pro Tip: those guys in bright vests on the streets will help you find a parking spot and keep an eye on your car. All they ask in return is a couple bucks for a tip when you pick up your car.
Barrio Escalante is also home to a number of Costa Rica’s finest restaurants.
Kalu Costa Rica – Kalu is one of the area’s most respected restaurants, known for their outstanding French-fusion food and delicious coffees and desserts. When I stopped in for dinner, I was seated on the outdoor patio, which is so lovely and has a spot for a musician or small band. This is a perfectly Instagrammable spot and it’s also a stellar location for a fine night out!
Jurgen’s – with praise like “best restaurant in the country,” you can’t go wrong with Jurgen’s for a special night out. The French cuisine is prepared with exquisite attention to detail, and reviewers praise the professional and attentive staff.
I hope this guide to San Jose Costa Rica restaurants for all budgets was helpful! If you try any of these places, please leave a comment or let me know on Instagram!
Before you head off into the sunset, here are the top 5 things you should pack if you’re traveling to Costa Rica! Check out my full Costa Rica packing list, coming soon, for more ideas and suggestions!
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1. Reef-Safe sunscreen appropriate for swimming and city days! I love this Alba sunscreen; it goes on smooth and the white-ness rubs in quickly.
2. Biodegradable Shampoo and Conditioner will be gentle on local water systems and won’t pollute the environment if you shower outside. I like these from The Honest Company. And check out my guide on biodegradable shampoos and soaps!
3. Mosquito Repellent will save your poor, poor skin from the swarms of biting bugs at certain times of the year. Check out this Repel with Deet version if you’re not messing around or this more natural option using essential oils by Mosquito Guard.
4. A Quick Dry Towel is a great idea to have on hand. They pack down to the size of a soda can and dry quickly. I always pack mine from RainLeaf. Make sure you get the size large which is perfect for showers.
5. A Head Lamp is essential if you’re staying somewhere without night time lights or if you’re camping. Opt for the kind with a red light, which is easier on night eyes. This one from Vitchelo is really bright and has both white and red light functionality.
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