Waves of new restaurants and cafés come and go each high season in the northern Pacific beach town of Tamarindo. This year, there’s a marked trend toward carving out early-morning and latenight niches, with neat, new breakfast nooks and hip, late-night lounges. After all, when you’re at the beach, you don’t want to waste time eating during precious sunlight hours.
To start your day off right, here are a few cheerful places where, along with excellent food, a lot of personality is served with that first cup of coffee. They’re all within a few hundred meters of each other, forming a breakfast-club cluster on the dusty road between Tamarindo and Playa Langosta.
Breakfast Grinds. It’s just a shack on the edge of the run-down Tamarindo Resort, but the young, energetic owner and chefs here have a hit on their hands. A constant stream of residents and visitors plant themselves at plastic tables and chairs to order off the breakfast-only menu chalked across a surfboard.
Appropriately, there’s the “Shortboard” breakfast: two eggs any way you like them, meat (real Virginia ham or sausage), diced and spiced potatoes, toast and a short stack of pancakes (¢2,000/$4). The “Longboard” lengthens the short stack to a tall stack (¢2,300/$4.60). Now, these are real pancakes, big and fluffy, studded with caramelized apples or bananas or whatever strikes the chef’s fancy.
The French toast here is a revelation: thick slabs of dense, cinnamon-raisin bread. For a southern touch, there are biscuits and gravy (¢2,000/$4) and the Meadow Muffin, a toasted English muffin topped with ham, a fried egg and smothered in gravy (¢2,200/$4.40). The huge plates come loaded with slabs of fresh fruit and, in true diner style, the coffee cups are bottomless.
Chefs Luke Levitt and Scott Kadowaki emerge from the kitchen to sit and chat with the customers. It’s a great place to greet the day. Open 6 a.m.-noon, closed Mondays, the restaurant is 25 meters west (toward the beach) of Iguana Surf, on the road to Langosta. For information, call 653-1707.
Olga’s Café. You won’t find a brighter goodmorning smile in all of Tamarindo than on the radiant face of Olga Yuryeva. Her Russian-accented voice is another reason to wake up early and pull up a chair at her informal café, under a moss-festooned fig tree, next to the giant satellite dish on the road to Langosta.
But Yuryeva isn’t just a pretty face. She has lots of restaurant experience, and the lure here lies in her magical breakfast potions. She whips up frozen, Indian-style lassis, made with homemade yogurt and fresh mango, papaya, strawberry and oranges (¢1,200-1,500/$2.40-3). They’re a long, cool meal in themselves.
For a refreshing change from coffee, she offers iced soy chai lattes and an energizing green tea with a shot of ginseng (both ¢1,000/$2). There are fruit smoothies and fresh-squeezed lemonades laced with ginger, mint, strawberry or green tea (¢500-1,000/$1-2). Along with liquids, she offers homemade banana bread, brownies and granola.
Of course, there’s coffee, any way you want it: iced, frothed, steamed or espressoed. And Yuryeva sells organic, hand-roasted coffee beans from Heredia, north of San José, attractively packaged in jute bags to take home with you.
Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Sundays, Olga’s is at the curve of the road from Tamarindo to Playa Langosta, across from the High Tide Surf Shop.
Gil’s Place. If sunny smiles are more than you can take first thing in the morning, come to Gil’s, next door to Iguana Surf. Your goodmorning greeting, by New Yorker Gil Sanchez, the eponymous owner, may be a little sardonic but always entertaining. He’s been serving up burritos, flavored with his Borschtbelt humor, in Tamarindo for more than four years now. You have to love a guy who has the nerve to print this slogan on his menu:
No shoes, no shirt – we don’t care,
Come on in and grab a chair.
Eat it here or take it out,
We’ll fill you up without a doubt.
The poetry may elicit begrudging groans – especially first thing in the morning – but the breakfast burritos here are worthy of a poet laureate. Hand-rolled, paper-thin flour tortillas that taste good all by themselves are the magic wrap for hearty combinations of scrambled eggs, cheese, vegetables and breakfast meats (¢1,700-2,600/$3.40-5.20). Sanchez won’t give away the secret of these tortillas other than to say he learned how to make them in California. They’re served with a mild homemade salsa; if you want to fire it up, ask for the hot sauce kept under the counter.
At lunch, there are Killer Gorilla (say it with a Howard Cosell accent and it rhymes) burritos (¢2,400/$4.80), taco salads (¢1,800-2,000/$3.60-4) and Tremendous Tostadas (¢2,500/$5). Come. Eat. You won’t be sorry.
Breakfast is served 8-10:30 a.m.; lunch, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The restaurant is beside Iguana Surf, on the road between Tamarindo and Playa Langosta.
Maybe it’s a healthy trend toward lighter eating at night, or maybe restaurant owners have figured out that more money can be made serving small but intriguing appetizers than big dinners. Whatever the case, these new lounges are the epitome of cool places to hang out, sip cocktails and create an instant party with some shared bocas.
Lazy Wave Lounge. High on atmosphere, this lounge spreads out over a jungly garden and a tented deck, with softly draped, low lounging furniture and floor cushions. The whole space is shot through with hot, red lighting and shimmering votive candles, and backed by an eclectic soundtrack. (It’s the same location as the former Lazy Wave Food Company, but there is no culinary connection.)
Costa Rican owner Alan Blanco is at the bar, mixing luscious, tropical cocktails, including his signature Lichee Rum Blast ($6) – mamón chino, coconut cream, rum, mint and a secret ingredient he won’t reveal. Chef Marion Ceccarini from France runs the kitchen, creating imaginative, artistic and complicated appetizer-sized plates such as cold lasagna with salmon, avocado and arugula ($8) or coconut pancakes with minted chicken ($6). There are also more substantial “mini platos” such as duck breast with rosemary ($16). It ain’t cheap, but it’s amazing how many times you hear “Let’s order more” from the groups of 20- and 30-somethings that gather here and make friends quickly.
Lazy Wave is behind storefronts, 100 meters west of Hotel Pasatiempo, just before the road turns to Playa Langosta. The kitchen is open 6-10 p.m.; the bar, from 6 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; closed Thursdays.
Sunset Lounge Balcony Restaurant & Bar.
For an elegant, early evening with front-rowcenter seats for the sunset over Tamarindo Bay, come on weekends only to the Sunset Lounge, atop Nogui’s, a Tamarindo seafood institution right on the beach. Christina Spillsbury and Richard Macsherry, formerly of California and Washington, D.C., respectively, have created a truly relaxed atmosphere, with comfortable banquettes all around the cool, open space framed by jewel-colored diamonds of glass at either end.
Ceiling fans whir, star lamps twinkle and the sun sets as you sip cocktails and peruse the menu of exotic bocas.
If you want just a bite, try the Vietnamese summer rolls filled with mango, avocado and herbs (¢500/$4 each before sunset). If you’re hungrier or can’t make a choice, order the shareable Taste of Sunset platter, piled with spring and summer rolls, Asian slaw, jumbo shrimp and chicken kebabs served with a spicy Thai sauce (¢4,500-5,500/$9-11). Among the usual tropical cocktails, there’s a special Tamarindo Margarita, flavored with tamarind fruit.
After sunset, if you find you’re just too comfortable to move on and you’re still hungry, you can order heartier dishes (¢3,500-6,000/$7-12), including Thai curries, New Zealand lamb with garlic potato pancakes, or lobster ravioli in tomato and basil cream sauce. The world-music soundtrack often mirrors the night’s cuisine theme – say, Middle Eastern, Cuban or Brazilian.
With music, cocktails and bocas, it’s a relaxing but sophisticated way to wind down after a day at the beach.
Open Friday to Sunday, 5-9 p.m., Sunset is above Nogui’s Restaurant, on the south side of
. For information, call 653-0289.