Want to go feasting like a local on your next adventure vacation in Costa Rica? Then get the lowdown on sodas, the most traditional eateries of all.
Indulging in a country’s culinary specialties is one of the most revered travel experiences and, when enjoying an adventure vacation in Costa Rica, you shouldn’t miss visiting the country’s best sodas. Low-key, family-owned joints, sodas are the country’s traditional restaurants, usually serving up regional fair you won’t find anywhere else. Sodas always boast plenty of authentic charm and even more authentic cuisine, offering unrivalled Costa Rica culinary experiences for very little money.
Spicy, varied and inexpensive!
Sodas do more than offer great food at great prices: they’re a genius way of tipping one’s toes into the local cuisine as many offer buffet-style meals which means you can pick and choose what entices you most and try a little of many different dishes. Ideal for families or groups of friends traveling together, sodas offer amazing variety of food. Moreover, they totally contradict the mistaken assumption that Tico food is not spicy. Taking center stage on most soda tables are jars of spicy pickled vegetables, called chileras, which complement every dish beautifully. In Costa Rica, chili is often considered a condiment, to be added (or not) to your liking, so if you wish to spice things up then chilera-away to your heart’s content!
What we also love about sodas is that they are, quite literally, on every street corner and even in the middle or roads seemingly leading nowhere, in Costa Rica. No matter where in the country you choose to enjoy your unforgettable adventure vacation…you’re bound to come across a myriad of sodas.
See a soda sign? STOP and feast away!
In contrast to average restaurants, sodas usually don’t offer menus (you get whatever the daily specials are) although the recent rise in their popularity among foreign visitors has also seen a rise in sodas offering menus or, at the very least, chalk-boards detailing the daily specials.
What kind of dishes you should expect to savor in a Costa Rica soda
Typically, Costa Rica’s sodas serve a ‘menu of the day’ consisting of an entrée (entrada), traditional plates of rice with beans (gallo pinto), rice with chicken or seafood (casados) and main courses (platos fuertes) which are usually main-course sized fish, steak, chicken or whatever special ingredient has been bought fresh on the day. Many sodas also offer buffets which tourist seem to love most, because, as said earlier, it gives them a chance to try a flurry of different dishes. Do note that these are not your usual eat-all-you-can deals: in Costa Rica, you pile your plate from a buffet and pay by weight. The typical drink offered in a soda is fruit juice, either blended with water (naturales) or milk (batido).
Hearty and inexpensive meals, cooked the traditional way that is sure to satisfy even the pickiest eater!
Don’t speak Spanish? No problem!
If you’re Spanish isn’t all that crash-hot, don’t be scared off! Ticos love their food, love their sodas and love nothing more than a tourist who wants to try them out, so you’ll find staff members always willing to help you understand the ‘menu of the day’. In a Costa Rica soda, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and treated like family and if this is the kind of culinary and cultural experience you’re after then you’re assured of much more than a sensational meal.
Gallo Pinto, the country’s national dish, is rice cooked with beans. Enjoy your Gallo Pinto the way locals do, with a serve of scrambled eggs for breakfast.
Casados are whole meals onto themselves, usually including multiple starches with chicken, beef or seafood, served with a fried egg or salad, and side serve of sweet plantains. One of these bad boys, in a typical Costa Rica Soda, will set you back just a couple of dollars.
Catering primarily to locals, sodas open early (7am) and close after the dinner rush, between 9 and 10pm.
The Best Sodas in Costa Rica
It’s literally impossible to list all of the country’s very best sodas and you will invariably find hidden gems on your travels that we’ve yet to try out. Nevertheless, give these amazing popular sodas a try if you’re in the area and come eat like a local, and get a glimpse of authentic Tico life, on your next visit to Costa Rica.
Soda Tipica Las Palmares, Montezuma – Combining sensational coastal views with mouthwatering guacamole and an impressive vegetarian casado, Las Palmares offers huge servings, great service and super yummy food. Its idyllic location atop a hill overlooking the sea really makes Las Palmares a must-try.
Soda Tapia, San Jose – Tapia is a San Jose institution and seems to have been here since time immemorial. They also never seem to close – like, ever – so whatever time of day or night you’re attacked by the munchies, you can be guaranteed a fabulous feast here. Great tamales, awesome sandwiches and friendly service translates into an excellent cheap and cheerful meal when exploring Parque La Sabana.
Soda La Perla, Playa Samara – A great alternative to the at-times overpriced touristy restaurants of Samara, La Perla is, as the name suggests, an absolute pearl. The outdoor eating area makes you feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s private garden and that really epitomizes the Costa Rica soda experience. Huge portions of delectable local specialties, lots of seafood delights and arguably the best fruit smoothies around. A fantastic choice either before (or after) a long day enjoying the stunning beach of Samara.
Soda Ranchito Dona Maria, Uvita – One of the peskiest sodas to find, Dona Maria is a hidden gem in Uvita and rates as one of the best sodas in the region. Traditional and super tasty meals, a variety of options and an incredibly charming joint to top it off. Homemade food, huge servings and that ubiquitous friendly service that makes this a beloved local delight.
Soda el Buen Comer, Tamarindo – Being one of Costa Rica’s most touristed destinations means that Tamarindo is certainly not short of food options. Great restaurants and trendy cafés abound as does an array of international cuisines. For amazing local meals that won’t cost a fortune, however, you can’t walk past Buen Comer. Offering superb local food, friendly service and inarguably the best value for money in town, Buen Comer is a great option if you want to indulge in traditional Tico fare downtown. The menu is not overly extensive but what’s served is, hands-down, always delicious!
Want to explore more of Costa Rica’s culinary side? Then go ahead and peruse our selection of culinary blogs.
Our Costa Rica adventure vacations serve up the best Tico experiences of all…traditional food included! So come indulge your taste buds and enjoy superlative action-packed adventures in Costa Rica with us. We specialize in multi-adventure tours for families, honeymooning couples and solo travelers and can tailor-design an itinerary to suit your tastes and budget. We always endeavor to offer more than just a lot of incredible fun experiences and aim to give you a taste of true Tico life, combining authentic cultural and culinary experiences that showcase the uniqueness of our beloved home.