Costa Rica’s dining scene is as laid-back as the people who call this Central American country home. But that doesn’t mean the food lacks for zip or flavour. 

The region’s tropical climate and oceanside location mean produce and seafood are fresh and plentiful. Most roadside mom-and-pop eateries, called “sodas,” serve delicious and filling dishes that combine rice and beans with some kind of meat, topped off with buttery fried plantains and shredded lettuce. Venture into tourist towns and the offerings turn upscale, but still local: panko coconut-crusted sea bass, for example. Wash it all down with fresh papaya juice or an Imperial, a popular local beer. 

No matter where you go, try these national specialties.

Guaro This national spirit is a cane liquor called an aguardiente (translation: fire water) that’s similar to rum and can be mixed with tonic or fruit juice. Most cocktail menus feature the Cacique brand of guaro shaken into either a Guaro Sour (with lime juice and sugar) or a Pura Vida cocktail with mixed fruit juice and grenadine

Casados Casado is Spanish for “married,” and it’s a great word to describe the interplay between fluffy rice and spiced beans in this prevalent dish. Order the steak casado at Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort’s Ave del Paraiso Restaurant near La Fortuna de San Carlos. The tender meat comes topped with fried onions and is nestled against a poached egg, chorizo hash, savoury black beans and corn tortillas to wrap everything up. 

Mahi mahi ceviche Fresh-caught mahi mahi is often served as a ceviche appetizer, where the diced raw fish is marinated with citrus and mixed with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The Rip Jack Inn Hotel in Playa Grande, just north of Tamarindo on the Pacific coast, makes its version with the juice of the mandarino (a cross between a lime and a mandarin orange), plus sweet chili, salt and a splash of ginger ale.  

Chips and Ice cream Costa Ricans love their snacks, and none more so than the ubiquitous store-bought plantain chips. Plantains are like a starchier banana, and the sweet, yet savoury fruit is cut into thin strips and then fried up in vegetable oil and salt, resulting in an addictive treat. You also shouldn’t leave without trying a Trits, a frozen treat consisting of rich vanilla ice cream between two graham cracker crust patties.