San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Restaurants Stir Up Guanacaste’s Gastronomic Scene

GUANACASTE’S tourism boom doesn’t mean only new hotels and new activities. Entrepreneurs from around Costa Rica and the world have launched new restaurants, joining the old standbys and, in some cases, bringing cuisine that their communities have never before seen. The cast of characters, in alphabetical order, and by no means exhaustive, follows:

“Walk a little more,” says the sign at Chile Dulce (across from Hotel Coco Verde, Playas del Coco, 670-0465, close Tuesdays, 12:30–10 p.m.). Chilean chef Andrés Benavente carries that health focused philosophy over into his preparation of Creole and international fare at this friendly restaurant-art gallery combo on the town’s main street. Healthy, low-fat ingredients make up the menu’s sandwiches, salads and natural drinks.

It gets warm trekking around Guanacaste’s capital, but El Café (75 meters south of Bancrédito, Liberia, 556-1660, Monday – Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.) makes for the perfect air-conditioned oasis.

Canadian owner Catherine Miller has a terrific selection of wines, French cheeses, pâtés, quiches, sandwiches, homemade tartes and gateaux, as well as on-site-roasted, export-quality Tarrazú coffee. All that, plus a book exchange with French, English, German and Spanish titles, means you won’t want to go back outside.

YOU don’t expect to see a Buddha shrine in a restaurant around here, but Dinia Matamoros of El Sueño (San Juanillo, 682-8074, daily, 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m.) says the statue is there for meditative rather than religious purposes. Take a half-century-old típico Costa Rican bar, add lots of pochote- and Guanacaste-wood decor, serve up a changing menu of light pasta, seafood and vegetarian dishes, play some world music for background, and you have a place you’d just never expect to find halfway between Junquillal and Nosara.

You’ll be tempted to ask, “Are you Ginger?” when you meet the owner of Ginger (200 m. south of Condovac, Playa Hermosa, 672-0041, Tuesday–Sunday, 5–10 p.m., TT Weekend March 26). But Cordon Bleu-trained Montreal native Anne Hegney Frey tells you it’s just the name of this fun, all-bocas restaurant. Mix, match and share plates from the Asian and Mediterranean menus. And half-way through your meal, you’ll likely gaze over at the next table and decide to order something else that catches your eye. Top your meal off with a selection from the wine, martini and dessert menus.

OSTEND, Belgium natives Danny and Katerine Sabot have brought elegant bistro dining to Guanacaste at Les Arcades (between Flamingo and Brasilito, 654-4385, daily, 6 p.m.-closing). Partake of crepes, escargot or a hearty Belgian waterzooi in the air-conditioned dining room or out on the garden-view terrace. Then move in to the comfy sitting room for an afterdinner coffee or cognac. The place oozes sophistication, but the prices are quite reasonable for what you get.

While María Bonita (next to supermarket, Playa Langosta, 653-0933, Tues.-Sun. 6 p.m.-closing) bills itself as a Caribbean place, owner Tom Peter admits there’s a bit of everything to be found at this bright, cheery patio restaurant with lots of tropical greenery. He’s lived all over, and has assembled some 45 menu items, from which he selects three to four appetizers and seven or eight main courses – you’ll find everything from lamb chops to red snapper here – that appear on the board each evening.

Asia meets Costa Rica at Perro Plano (Hotel Brasilito, Brasilito, 654-4237, Tuesday-Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.). The selection rotates at this pleasant beach-side restaurant. Breakfast tends toward the traditionally Tico. Lunch gives way to Indianstyle shrimp sandwiches and summer salads with white cheese, watermelon and marinated onion. Owners Charlie and Claire Mayne really go all out in the evening, when something as exotic as Kerala fish curry or wasabi tuna might appear on the menu.

IN a refreshing change from Costa Rica’s “tear it down” approach to construction, the owners of Un Dulce Momento (Parque Central, Nicoya, 686-4585, daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.) have refurbished the city’s historic art-deco cinema and turned it into an all-day, every-day Italian restaurant. Homemade pastas and 40 varieties of pizza, all recipes brought from their native Milan, are on the menu.


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