I had an office in Quepos / Manuel Antonio for almost two years. I would visit at least once a month, usually for a week or so. Sometimes with my missus, often without. I ate everywhere. The worst meal I ever had was at the “Mexican” restaurant downtown. The most reasonable was excellent ceviche at the bus station / market for under three bucks. This posting is devoted to three of my favorite restaurants, and the ones that I visit again and again.
One of the most fun nights you can have here, is a visit to “Salsipuedes.” This loosely translates as “get out if you can”. I have to admit that there have been times when we were having so much fun that it was hard to get out!
The people responsible for all these good times are the young couple who own and run the place. Mike is Costa Rican, and from this area. His dad had a commercial fishing concession in the area, and Mike grew up around fish. This has served him well in his career as a restaurant owner. His girlfriend and partner is a lovely Argentine gal named Marsala. This is a happy and fun couple. Their personalities and positive attitudes only adds to the welcoming atmosphere. Their English is perfect (Mike went to school in the US), and they are hands on owners. Mike runs the bar, and makes sure that everyone has a good time and meets the other patrons. Marsala runs the dining room, and is usually the first person to greet you when you enter.
The setting is unusual. The building was Mike’s childhood home, and it commands a great view of the ocean sunsets. To take full advantage of this fabulous view, Mike removed the entire front wall of the house. The end result is a basically a huge covered deck. This is the perfect setting to enjoy their “tapas”, or what we have been calling “small plates” in the US. This place is a great value. Nothing is over about three or four dollars, and three plates can usually more than satisfy a hungry adult.
They make some terrific ceviche, and the tuna can’t be beat. I usually over order, and get first four items on the menu. These are the ceviche, the tuna sashimi with wasabi and ginger, the seared tuna, and the spicy tuna picante. Can you tell I like tuna?
Much more upscale and romantic is the restaurant at Hotel Makanda by the Sea, The Sunspot Grill. This is where I go with my wife for a special meal. It is a little pricey by local standards, but a very good value for tourists seeking great food in a beautiful setting. The dining area is composed of colorful “tents” scattered around one end of the infinity pool. These are actually metal forms stretched with brightly colored fabric.
On a recent visit I feasted on a perfectly grilled tuna steak that was literally two inches thick. It was complimented with prosciutto wrapped asparagus and a very interesting fresh salad. Most items here are done on the grill. Since we are on the coast, the menu is dominated by fresh seafood. You will find fresh fish, lobster, huge shrimp, and of course my favorite, tuna! There is also a respectable wine list, featuring a variety of Chiliean and Argentine wines that are popular in Costa Rica. All is served up by a happy, professional staff.
Another favorite casual restaurant is at Hotel Plinio. This is an old standard, and I have been coming here since my first visit to Costa Rica twenty years ago. The original owner was a Tico. This was before the big tourism boom. This area was a little plantation backwater, and had a little bit of a wild west atmosphere. The story goes that Plinio did not like tourists very much, and kept a gun behind the bar. He would shoot it into the air when obvious tourists pulled up. It usually did the trick. He sold the bar and hotel to new owners, well before I ever even dreamed of visiting Costa Rica.
Hotel Plinio is much more welcoming now. Like so many restaurants here, it is open air. There is a very friendly bar with five or six seats. There really isn’t much of a view. So the owners have planted huge elephant ears, that reach all the way up to the second floor. So the setting here is kind of like eating in a tree house. They offer the most varied menu in the area. Steaks, pasta, seafood, pizza, even Vietnamese dipping rolls! The previous owner was German, as are the current ones. So the kitchen staff can even turn out some pretty delicious German specialties. All of the dishes are well prepared, and the prices are very reasonable. They bake their own bread too.
Because of the varied menu, I often recommend Plinio to families. The kids can get a pizza fix, and mom and dad can get some more interesting food. That is not saying that the pizza isn’t good, because it is! There is something here for everyone, and I can honestly say that I have never been served a bad meal.
I first visited Costa Rica almost two decades ago. The food choices then seemed to be beans and rice with chicken, rice and beans with beef, or beans and rice with fish. But the restaurant community has matured to the point, that even the most dedicated foodie will find something to love. You will certainly find this to be true in the Quepos / Manuel Antonio area. Buen Provecho!
On a recent visit to Monteverde, we spent our last evening in Monteverde at Johnny’s Pizza. This is one of our favorite spots, though the name is a little misleading. Sure, I have had some good pizzas there, and my wife tells me that they have the best vegetarian pizza that she has ever eaten. But they make some other very interesting dishes as well.
For starters, we shared a huge stuffed tomato with red sauce for an appetizer. I know that doesn’t sound that interesting, but you will just have to trust me on this. They also do a baked mushroom au gratin appetizer that is really good too. My favorite entree is the baked penne pasta. They have a wood fired oven. The pasta and sauce is baked in a metal bowl, the top is smothered with cheese that melts into the dish. It is already good, but the secret here is that if you ask, they will let you add some pizza ingredients. So I usually add fresh tomatoes, olives, some kind of meat, etc. Beats the heck out of rice and beans!
We also found something totally unexpected for this area. There is a new restaurant in downtown Santa Elena, the small town that is the home to most of the local businesses in the Monteverde area. “Trio” shares the same building with the supermarket. You have to look a little to find it. It is at the end of the parking lot, and not where you would expect an upscale restaurant to be. It was my wife’s birthday, and Susanna (the owner of Arco Iris Lodge) had made a passing reference to a delicious passion fruit mojito. It intrigued us, so we thought we would check it out.
We walked in and were a little confused. This place looked like something you would find in a modern European city. Very urban and hip. Gray walls and lots of metal or black accents. There were free form lamps, and hardwood floors. The wait staff was wearing the obligatory black, and fusion jazz played softly. Not at all what I thought I would find in our little Quaker / Tico / farm town!
But we figured we would take a shot. After all, there were passion fruit mojitos and we were not going to be denied! The food was actually very good, and they had some interesting twists on the usual fare. One was hamburgers with figs and sun dried tomatoes and some interesting toppings that escape me now. I love ceviche, and theirs was made with the usual sea bass, peppers, lime juice, and so on. But they included coconut milk, and some other surprises that really made it sing. They also offered a “tower” of tomato, avocado, and palmito. Everything was well presented. The prices were high by Costa Rica standards, but much cheaper than you would pay for similar fare in a similar setting in the US.
While the appearance of this place was much hipper than I will ever be, in the end it was still a little slice of Costa Rica. Ticos and Ticas can’t hide behind a facade of sophistication for long. They will never be disinterested urbanites, no matter how trendy the setting. When the waitress heard that it was my bride’s birthday, she was excited and as sweet as could be. After dinner, she surprised us with a dessert and candles. The bartender was friendly and accommodating. He remembered us, and we were warmly welcomed when we stopped by a couple of days later for lunch. And yes, the mojitos were excellent!