San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Aperitivo Time a Hit at New Italian Bistro in San José

Classic Italian specialties and treats can be found on the impressive menu at Roma Caffè. From pasta to panini to tiramisu for dessert, this new restaurant and lounge offers a wonderful array of Italian food. But to truly appreciate Roma Caffè, you need to do more than the routine lunch or dinner – you must show up at the right time.

Aperitivo time.

From 5 to 7 p.m. the newly opened bistro in downtown San José celebrates an Italian post-workday tradition.

“It’s like happy hour,” said David Eminente, one of the Italian co-owners of the restaurant. “But it’s not simply I sell you a drink. I do sell you a drink, but besides that I give you a whole bar full of bocas (snacks), appetizers. That’s here for free. You buy a drink and you get for free a lot of appetizers a lot of things that you can try, that you can taste, that’s Italian food.”

Buy a drink – we recommend a spumante (sparkling wine) or a negroni, a cocktail made of equal parts gin, bitter Campari and vermouth – and enjoy this European spin on the happy hour tradition. Drinks start at about ₡2,000 ($4). While enjoying your beverage, waiters parade out the appetizers: focaccia, fried mozzarella, mini-panini sandwiches, prosciutto and more.

In Italy, aperitivo time serves as a way to relax after work. The atmosphere aims for festive, not rowdy. The point is not to party or get sloshed on wine. Aperitivo time is more of an opportunity to socialize, with bubbly and snacks to lighten the mood.

A couple of Italian expats, neither affiliated with Roma Caffè, said they felt the café recreated an aura reminiscent of aperitivo time in Rome.

“The idea is people can come and converse, have a talk, and can socialize with an Italian focus,” said Eminente about the restaurant’s theme.

Roma Caffè

From left, Italian partners Giona Limonta, David Eminente and Maurizio Pignataro toast their new eatery, Roma Caffè, on downtown San José’s Avenida 2.

 Some of the decor also characterizes the owners’ homeland. The architecture is in a Roman style. Lamp shades display images from Italy, and the lights shine brightly inside the spacious restaurant. If you don’t get a seat at the bar or the restaurant area up front, there’s a lounge area in the back. The café can get noisy, but never so loud that it’s difficult to hear.

Diners looking for more than just appetizers and a drink will find traditional dishes including several kinds of pizzas, elaborate pastas, shrimp and mozzarella salads. Some Costa Rican items also are on the menu.

Desserts like cannoli, tarts and truffles are also spectacular; some are included at aperitivo time. The restaurant’s downtown location makes it ideal for taking a load off after work. And perfect for an aperitivo. 

  Roma Caffè

  Location: Avenida 2 in downtown San José, 75 meters west of Plaza de la Democracia. In front of the Caja de Ande

  Hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 a. m.; Sundays 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

  Prices: Appetizers, ₡4,500-5,200 ($9-10); salads and tramezzini (snack sandwiches), ₡1,700-5,500 ($3.40-11); panini, ₡2,500-3,000 ($5-6); pizza, ₡5,500-6,500 ($11-13); pasta, ₡4,500-7,700 ($9-15); desserts, ₡2,800-3,800 ($5.60-7.60); alcohol and cocktails, ₡1,500-3,350 ($3-6.70).

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