Along with hotels and high-rise condos, the Central Pacific development wave has washed up a slew of new restaurants out to fill the bellies of hungry tourists and residents. If you’ll be in the area, fear not, you’re guaranteed to eat well.
There’s something out there for everyone in the Jacó and Manuel Antonio areas, and surprising finds await travelers along the entire stretch in between. Below are a few spots that are definitely worth checking out.
One of the most unique eateries in the area offers an equestrian show while you dine. Horses and riders perform tricks while diners enjoy the fine Spanish fare served at El Caballo Rey (824-3360), on the old road to Punta Leona.
The dinner show takes place Thursday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30 p.m., and $69 per adult covers the entertainment as well as the meal. The price for kids 5-11 is $34.50 (free under 5), and special rates are available for groups, according to Dominique Trigo, from France, who runs the show along with her husband, Spanish horse master Manuel Trigo.
Spanish and Costa Rican-bred horses wow the audience with high-stepping, handshaking and other tricks, led by experts both on horseback and on the ground.
The food is served in a covered dining room with views of the ring where all the equine action takes place. Horses not performing wait in stalls surrounding the dining room, so you can watch them munch on hay as you enjoy specialties such as filet mignon in peach sauce. An appetizer and dessert provide culinary parentheses to the main course.
Riding lessons and horse boarding are also available at El Caballo Rey.
Down the coast in Jacó, Restaurante La Fonte (643 3890), inside Hotel Amapola, has been pleasing diners with authentic Italian cuisine for about two months.
“The concept is totally Italian,” explained food and beverage manager Ronald Mora.
“Clients come with high expectations and they find reasonable prices.”
Pastas, including ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, are authentically crafted inhouse.
Risotto frutti di mari (with seafood) and steak with porcini mushroom sauce are other hits whipped up by Italian chef Alberto Castiglioni.
Antipasti (appetizers) include beef carpaccio, di mari – a sampling of fish and seafood flavored in olive oil and lemon – and an oddly delicious Italian favorite, prosciuttowrapped cantaloupe.
La Fonte is open from noon to 10 p.m. and offers an executive menu at lunch; ¢2,900 ($5.60) gets you a fruit drink, a choice of one of the daily main dishes and dessert.
Most of the regular menu’s main dishes won’t set you back too much, either; diners can expect to spend about $20 on dinner, Mora said.
For those craving fresh lobster, La Fonte is hard to beat. A tank full of the live crustaceans greets guests as they enter the door, and the non-squeamish can choose their own to be cooked up al gusto – on the grill, in butter and garlic sauce or in seafood sauce. Lobster costs ¢200 ($0.40) per gram and is served with fresh vegetables. Reservations are recommended. The restaurant can also be reserved for special events or groups.
If you thought authentic Mexican food was impossible to find here, you haven’t eaten at Jacó Taco (643-1313), the crowded town’s new hot spot.
Mexican chef and part owner Abraham Hernández takes care of the authentic part by creating chile sauces, carne asada, fish dishes and more.
Tacos and burritos are stuffed with a choice of chicken, beef, fried shrimp or chicharrón (fried pork chunks – perhaps the lone Tico influence), said manager Jennifer Sierer.
Other specialties include Monte Carlo shrimp, or jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese, and Vera Cruz-style fish, a grilled fillet with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and ranchero sauce.
Jacó Taco is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making late-night a good time to come, as well as happy hour, when beer is ¢700 ($1.30), well drinks are ¢1,000 ($1.90) and bocas are free, Sierer said.
If yoga and salads are more your speed, Fogón Sano (643-7108) in Playa Hermosa, just south of Jacó, should please your palate.
Located inside the Vida Asana Yoga Center, this spot serves up “natural food” with a zing, such as fish in a ginger-coconut sauce, pad thai, vegetarian curry and, yes, lots of salads, according to owner Alejandro Galluccio, from Argentina. Most dishes cost from $10 to $12.
The restaurant’s been open for about four months now, serving dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Yoga retreats are ongoing at Vida Asana, so on any given night, most guests are likely to be attending yogis and yoginis. Yoga classes open to the public are also available.
Farther south, those in the Manuel Antonio area looking for a chill spot with superb food might try The Lounge (777-5143).
The only place in town open until 2 a.m., this spot gets busy late-night, when tables are cleared out and a DJ takes the stage.
The menu has “a little bit of everything,” such as mango and goat cheese quesadillas, carrot-ginger soup, shrimp salad, casados (plates of the day) and the popular “buffalito,” basically a wrap of chicken fingers with spicy sauce, said owner Lorraine Rodríguez.
The Lounge offers a mean happy hour with your basic bar-food staples such as chicken wings, guacamole and nachos, and two-for-one Imperial and Pilsen beers and margaritas.
Ladies drink for free on Tuesday nights, and Wednesday is reggae night. Big portions and reasonable prices (most bar food is about ¢2,000/$3.80) are sure to please partiers, and during the U.S. National Football League (NFL) season, three big screens and a special brunch menu satisfy fans’ cravings.