San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Abundance of Flavor Infuses Restaurant Scene

As tourism and development booms in the northwestern province or Guanacaste, entrepreneurial restaurateurs aren’t missing out on the action. A visit to the sunny northern Pacific coast promises good eating, with favorite eateries drawing crowds and new restaurants popping up all the time. European flavors as well as traditional Tico favorites make up the food scene awaiting hungry travelers and residents.

Below are just a few to check out. Café de Playa Beach and Dining Club (670-1621, is a private club in Playas del Coco where guests can pay $10 ($5 after noon) to enter. Once you’re in, you have access to the private beach and pool, but those coming just for a meal need not pay the entrance fee, according to receptionist Frenith Lara.

The dining area is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and appetizers and bar fare are available all day.

The drink menu includes beach favorites such as tequila sunrises and margaritas, as well as fine Italian wines and a long list of specialty coffee and espresso beverages.

Breakfast is served up either Tico style, with gallo pinto, tortillas and eggs; U.S. style, with toast, eggs and bacon; or Italian style, with croissants and Nutella chocolate spread or jam.

A nice selection of salads and pastas, many incorporating fresh local seafood, as well as chicken and fish dishes, such as rum-sauce jumbo shrimp and Mediterranean chicken breast, make for a tasty lunch.

The menu expands for the evening hours, with seafood dishes including Pascale’s Lobster, grilled with chives and brandy sauce, and Oriental-style shrimp with vegetables cooked in sesame and olive oils.

The club’s pleasant dining area has both an outdoor terrace and indoor seating area. Most dishes range from $10-14, Lara said.

For a dose of Italian flavor, Sapori d’Italia (665-5812), in Guanacaste’s capital city of Liberia, dishes up the boot country’s pasta, pizza, seafood and meat dishes. This spot has been around for about two years, offering guests the choice of its standard dining room or larger salon that can be rented out for group events, according to cashier Randy Vargas.

A sampling of Tico cuisine is also sprinkled on the menu, such as casados at lunchtime and gallo pinto for breakfast.

Eye-catching appetizers include either beef or salmon carpaccio, and Vargas says diners will want to be sure not to miss dessert. Nutella crepes and tiramisu are sure to tempt the palate, even after a hearty main course.

Prices are reasonable, with most entrées ranging from ¢5,000-7,000 (about $10-13) and seafood running a bit more. Sapori d’Italia is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Speaking of rich Italian desserts, Heladería Italiana 0039 (897-4463) serves up silky gelatos and sorbets in Playa Potrero, and has just opened a second location in Playas del Coco.

All of the shop’s 24 flavors are concocted using an Italian ice cream machine with fresh fruit and cream ingredients, said owner Emanuela Guarnieri. Coffee, cappuccino and espresso are also available to make for a well-rounded dessert.

Continuing on the European flavor trend, Couleur Café (670-1696) on the road to Playa Ocotal, pleases Francophiles with a range of cheeses, seafood and exquisite desserts straight from the southern, Mediterranean region of France.

Appetizers to get your juices flowing include Camembert cheese in Provençal sauce with apples and fresh croutons, or a plate incorporating eggplant and slices of goat cheese, said owner Lili Bourdais.

Her husband, chef Frédéric Cornet, also gets creative with fresh seafood and fruit, whipping up treats such as marinated shrimp in orange sauce or jumbo shrimp and scallops in mango sauce.

Well-prepared crepes filled with chocolate, orange sauce and almonds make for a light and fluffy dessert, and a chocolate soufflé is available for those craving something rich.

Since it opened in November, Couleur Café’s hours have been Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., and it recently added a Sunday brunch of soft cheeses and crepes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Bourdais said. The restaurant will also serve lunch to parties of four or more upon request; call for more information. Most menu items range from $5-20.

If you’re hankering for something simpler than fine European cuisine, Big Mama’s (653-0682) in Playa Grande serves up good old Costa Rican pollo a la leña (chicken roasted over a wood fire) as well as a few Mexican and U.S. dishes, in a casual atmosphere.

Chicken fajitas, tortilla soup and chicken sandwiches and hamburgers make for tasty meals, and quarter, half or whole chickens come with a garlicky chimichurri sauce, refried beans and chips.

Meals come at a nice price, with most ranging ¢2,000-3,000 ($3.80-5.80), according to owner Grettel Solórzano. Big Mama’s is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed on Mondays.


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