Get out if You Can! and other favorite Quepos restaurants

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. 

Michael&MarcelaSalsiOne 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!

Ceviche, the perfect snack!

Gaia CevicheCeviche (also spelled Cerviche) is almost as important to Costa Rica Cuisine as the ubiquitous Gallo Pinto.  It can be found all over the country.  From bus station counters to high end restaurants, you will almost always find this fish cocktail on the menu.

I live in New Orleans, and I am a gumbo junkie.  Working from essentially the same ingredients and spices, everyone here produces a different gumbo.  All local cooks have their own recipe, and all are (usually) delicious.  I almost always order a cup or bowl of gumbo when I see it on a menu.  I want to taste everyone’s individual creation.

Ceviche is the same way.  It is served throughout Latin America.  Every country, and every cook, has their own spin.  But the basic ingredients in Costa Rica are fresh fish, lime juice, minced onions, cilantro and minced peppers.  Some cooks add fresh pepper and salt as well.  There are some variations and secret ingredients, and it is always delicious.  The fish varies.  Most of the time it is either Tilapia or Corvina (Sea Bass).  I have also enjoyed excellent shrimp Ceviche.  I have even had “meatless” Ceviche, that is made with chayote (a Latin squashlike veggie) or mangos.   Ceviche is never actually cooked over heat.  The trick here is that the dish is marinated in the lime juice, and the citric acid “cooks” the fish.  It also adds a very nice astringent feeling on the palate.   This is the perfect refreshing and cool snack to enjoy at a beach side soda (small outdoor restaurant) with a cold brew. 

Some places serve it with soda crackers, and some with tortilla chips.  I prefer crackers.  I also usually prefer tilapia over corvina, because I sometimes detect a slight fishy flavor in the corvina.  But both are fine.  The spices are usually pretty mild.  So most of the time, I mix in a dash or two of hot sauce. 

I have “researched” this extensively.  In no particular order, here is a list of my favorite ceviche in Costa Rica.  So Far!

  • Orquideas Inn, Alajuela.  Served in a half a coconut shell, this tilapia ceviche gets high marks for presentation.  But presentation means nothing if the ceviche isn’t good.  This is very good.  We stay at the hotel frequently, and this is usually what I am looking for as soon as I clear customs.  I know that I have arrived in Costa Rica when I am sitting at the Marilyn Monroe bar with a Bavaria Gold and a “bowl” of this excellent ceviche.
  • Salsipuedas, Manuel Antonio.  All the fish at this tapas restaurant and friendly bar is good.  The owner’s father once held the commercial fishing concession in this area.  He grew up working with fish, and knows how to buy the freshest.  Reasonably priced and mildly spiced.  This is a great appetizer to enjoy before digging into the excellent fresh tuna (done several ways) and watching another beautiful sunset from their open terrace.
  • Hotel Gaia, also in the Manuel Antonio area.  A more upscale version, with some different ingredients.  But this restaurant serves some amazing food, and the ceviche is no different.  We like their Euro feeling and elegant open air restaurant, that feels more like seaside Italy than Costa Rica. 
  • Palenque Garabito.  Located on the Pan American highway, between Puntarenas and the turnoff to Monteverde.  This is a roadside soda, that is a slight cut above your typical soda.  Of course it is open air, casual, and inexpensive.  But the waiters wear ties, and seat you.  The ceviche here, is an always fresh corvina version.   This is a required stop for us whenever we pass by.  During football (soccer) season, all the waiters line up in the dining area to watch the game and kibbutz with the Tico clients.  True local color.

If you happen to come across really good ceviche during your travels, let me know.  I am always up for more research.  Buen Provecho!