San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

East-Side Plaza Freses Strong on Restaurants

The upscale ranch-style home stood proud and defiant against encroaching commerce in Curridabat, on the east side of San José, during the last decade.

The expansive and perfectly manicured lawn lay behind a fence of iron as pretty as protection from intruders can be. The home, owned by the prominent Jiménez Solera family, was a visual oasis in an area being claimed by new chain eateries and other commercial establishments.

The Plaza Freses commercial center has replaced that stately house, which had served for several years as home to a travel agency after the Jiménez family moved out. The five-year-old center, only a block-plus from the larger and busier Plaza del Sol on the road to Cartago, is known as a centro de conveniencia (convenience center), and it serves a specific clientele.

“We don’t try to compete with large shopping malls,” said Diego Castillo, administrator of the center, which has 14 locales and 72 parking spaces. “We cater to people who come to our stores for specific reasons and then leave, and we offer several excellent restaurants.”

Castillo added that Plaza Freses generally attracts young professionals and serious, mature customers. The exception is standalone Trío Restaurant, where the customer base includes party-seeking, beer-guzzling college students and 20-somethings taking advantage of the high-energy atmosphere and special price promotions.

The four center restaurants were part and parcel of the center from its conception, and they serve as anchors. In addition to Trío, you’ll find the more sedate Il Panino (Italian), Sensu (sushi and other Japanese cuisine) and El Novillo Alegre (Argentine grill).

Another anchor is the Banco Improsa, which fronts the busy main road to Cartago. Banking also can be done at Bancrédito a few doors south. A new addition will be the new-to-Costa Rica Banco General de Panamá, which has leased two of the three vacant spaces. That bank is set to open in August.

Rounding out the offerings at Plaza Freses are Terra Nova travel agency, a very modern and airy location decorated in clean, understated gray and white tones; a TACA airlines office; Chavarría Pharmacy; LA Weight Loss Center, where incense burns and you pierde peso, gana vida (lose weight, gain life); and sweet-smelling Skinworks, which offers a variety of skin care options, including body massages and facials. The LA Weight Loss Center has a promotion until the end of August allowing free memberships to the mothers of new clients.

It’s rare, indeed, to visit the center when the restaurants aren’t busy, as all enjoy excellent reputations and some offer special promotions, also. El Novillo Alegre this month will wrap up a promotional package with Citibank, whereby customers using the bank’s credit card receive a 30 percent discount. Manager Guillermo Lavale said his restaurant has ongoing promotions, especially on wines, and another special will begin in August (Mother’s Day month in Costa Rica).

The steakhouse, decorated in rich, warm browns and yellows, is one of three in the family-owned business, which also runs a catering service. The other two are in Escazú and Santa Ana, west of San José. El Novillo Alegre’s upstairs is reserved for special events and business meetings. It’s open all week from noon to 10 p.m. For information, see

If you’re looking for a quiet, romantic setting and fine Italian fare, check out Il Panino, especially in the evenings when the reflection of tiny tea lights on each table bounces off the floor-to-ceiling windows.

A cozy terrace corner with comfy oversized chairs is always a popular seating option, and three tall, stylish gas heaters keep patrons toasty on cool nights. Open all week from 11 a.m. to midnight, the Italian eatery has a sister restaurant in Escazú. For information, go to

Sensu Sushi Bar, decorated in red, white and black, is a minimalist’s dream. It is sandwiched between Il Panino and El Novillo Alegre, and all three restaurants share a common terrace. Here, you’ll find young sophisticates deftly wielding chopsticks as they consume sushi and other Japanese cuisine and down sake from tiny cups at small tables. Open all week from noon to 11 p.m., Sensu invites you to a 50 percent discount on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Trío is stuck on the number three in every way – it even opens daily at 12:03 p.m. and closes at 12:03 a.m. – and it sports three personalities. The restaurant has an international menu, including an executive lunch, and floor-to-ceiling windows. The Cava is a smaller, rustic area dedicated to customers looking for bocas, wines and decorative cocktails. Of course, the bar, which flows onto the terrace, is a popular hangout for the college crowd, especially during the 6 to 7 p.m. happy hour. Also, at 3 p.m., a bell chimes and customers may enjoy for free another of whatever they’re drinking. After 3, a customer who spends ¢5,000 ($8.70) on food and drink can toss in an extra ¢1,000 ($1.70) and pay half price for whatever they consume until 7 p.m. For information, visit

All of the above-mentioned restaurants offer one or more big-screen plasma TVs for their patrons’ viewing pleasure, and they’re most likely to be tuned to sports events, usually fútbol.


Plaza Freses

Location: Curridabat, main road, 200 meters east of Plaza del Sol

Built: 2004

Number of stores: 14, including four restaurants

Vacancies: One, after Banco General de Panamá takes two locations and opens in August

Rental price: $2,000 for 90 square meters (60 below, 30 upstairs), per month

Parking spaces: 72

Contact: Diego Castillo, administration, 2524-0339, 8830-1395,



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