San Jose is typically a city which travelers fly into and leave shortly afterwards. It’s far from the sea and let’s face it, it’s not the most beautiful city to spend time in.
But over a quarter of Ticos call it home so it’s a shame to bypass the city altogether.
If you want to experience a different authentic side of Costa Rican life before hitting the beaches, it’s well worth some of your time.
And if you do spend a couple of days here at the beginning or end of your trip, there’s plenty of great places to eat.
As the capital city, there’s undoubtedly more variety than most of the smaller towns and cities so there’s bound to be something that suits you. Here are some of the best restaurants in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The place to start is the Central Market.
Located right in the center of downtown, this maze-like building gives you a real taste of Latin America. It’s a world away from the fast-food chains and discount stores which fill the streets.
Bustling with locals and travelers alike, get lost amongst the noise and stalls selling everything imaginable – fresh meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, homeware, souvenirs, live birds, herbs and spices, jewelry, fresh flowers, and everything in between.
The lively atmosphere and people-watching potential won’t disappoint. It’s a real first-hand look at the Tico way of life in the city.
This is also the best place for a budget meal – pick any one of the countless sodas for a typical casado.
All have their own take on this classic lunchtime plate, but you can guarantee you won’t be hungry after filling up on this carb-load of rice, beans, plantain and sometimes pasta too.
With most sodas charging around $5, they’re the best value meal you’re going to find.
Soda Tala is one of the most famous here and well-loved amongst locals. They’re known for their own creation, the Talapinto – a type of omelet with chives, served with the breakfast staple gallo pinto and topped with fried sausage. The market does close early evening though, so if you’re heading down here, it’s best for breakfast or lunch.
If you fancy dessert, be sure to find La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora. This famous vendor has been serving only their single flavor of vanilla ice cream with an unchanged recipe for over a century.
Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, this place is beloved by Costa Ricans and is not to be missed.
La Casona Típica
Another great budget option for local cuisine is La Casona Típica.
Located in the downtown area, it’s less frantic than the market and a casual place suitable for dinner with families. Adorned with big colorful gaudy statues of famous people, it’s a fun atmosphere with plenty to choose from.
Meals are particularly generously sized here and served on a banana leaf. It’s also very close to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced with a wonderful view of this church across the main street.
Although San Jose doesn’t offer all that much in terms of architectural interest, this is a beautiful building and one of the city’s most visited.
A 30 minute walk from downtown, you’ll find the trendy neighborhood of Barrio Escalante. Calle 33 is a lively street packed with restaurants covering a whole host of international flavors.
It’s ideal if you’re undecided and want to browse a variety of options concentrated in a small area.
Here you can find Olio, a higher-end restaurant serving Mediterranean style tapas. Whilst still reasonably priced, the tapas is fantastic with a variety of meat or vegetarian options.
As well as the Spanish classics of patatas bravas and fried calamari, there’s also a range of original dishes such as the chicken souvlaki or stuffed seafood avocado. If you prefer your own plate of food, they also serve main meals, soups and pastas.
It’s a great spot for a beer or glass of sangria in the evening.
As Costa Rican food is milder than that of their Mexican neighbors, some of you may be craving some extra spice. Indian food can be hard to find here, but Indian Palace is a family-run restaurant in Barrio Escalante serving a carefully selected menu originating from across the whole of India.
It’s a more expensive dinner option, but as Indian food is more rare here, it’s worth it.
The Palak Paneer and Prawn Masala are delicious and the Gulab Jamun dessert is a sickly sweet delight.
Jardín de Lolita
For a more casual dinner in Barrio Escalante, check out Jardín de Lolita.
It describes itself as a community of entrepreneurs based on food, art, design and fashion, and is a cool place to hang out in the evenings. Whilst travelers are a common sight here, this place generally attracts a younger crowd and is a popular spot for local students and professionals.
With a range of food stalls organized around open courtyards and balconies with simple wooden benches, it’s a laidback option for groups all wanting to choose from different menus with different budgets.
You can pick from pizza, sushi, burgers, tacos or steaks, amongst others.
If you’re planning on having a few drinks, this could be a good place to grab a sociable bite to eat.
A short walk on from Barrio Escalante is the upper-middle class neighborhood of Barrio Los Yoses.
Here you can find Sikwa.
This is the place to try Costa Rican food with a twist. Describing their food as ‘ancestral Costa Rican cuisine’, the chef and founder learnt techniques from local indigenous groups.
He uses ingredients sourced from these communities with the aim of protecting and promoting native traditions.
Menu options include green plantain flour empanadas and purple corn tamales. It’s surprisingly not as expensive as you’d imagine.
Best Restaurants in San Jose
As you can see, if you do decide to stay a few days in the capital before hitting the coast, there’s plenty of good food to be found.
There’s certainly more variety here than in other parts of the country, with a wide range of international cuisines on offer.
Whatever your budget, you’ll be sure to find a restaurant to suit.