San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Dining out: Where to feast in Heredia

Where to eat when you find yourself in Heredia? The town itself has the usual plethora of sodas, pollos a la leña and Chinese restaurants. On the east side of town, there’s a swath of fast-food student hangouts near the National University campus. To the south of downtown, monster mall Paseo de las Flores has branches of many upscale restaurants and cafes, a huge food court and some intriguing specialty kiosks selling everything from Italian gelato to French crepes to cotton candy and a dozen flavors of rice pudding. 

If you’re looking for a more memorable eating-out experience, here are a few standouts in town, along with a sprinkling of restaurants and cafés in the Heredia hills, worth driving a few more miles. 

Note: All the following restaurants include taxes in their listed menu prices, as required by law, so there are no nasty surprises when the bill arrives.

Heredia Restaurants 3

L’Antica Roma dessert pie.

Alberto Font

L’Antica Roma – The first pizzeria in Heredia with a wood-fired oven is still the foremost in town, offering more than 40 varieties of the Italian pie that has conquered the world. Their pizza list travels the globe, including a spectacular Río de Janeiro small, which is big enough for two ({5,200/$10.40), and a gigante, which serves at least six and comes with prosciutto, fresh tomatoes, crisp arugula and slivers of aged Parmesan cheese atop a paper-thin, crispy crust ({13,700/$27.40). 

Extra touches at this casual but upscale restaurant, fittingly festooned with various miscellanies of the Coliseum in Rome, include a trio of condiments: homemade hot chili, garlic sauce plus extra Parmesan. The house salad, big enough to share, includes white fava beans, corn and olives. Beyond pizza, there’s a wide range of pastas and meat and chicken dishes, with beef lomito standing in for veal ({7,200-{8,700/$14.40-$17.40). Decent Italian wines are available by the glass ({2,000/$4), half-liter ({5,500/$11) or liter ({10,000/$20), as well as by the bottle. 

Desserts are way above average – the homemade strawberry cheesecake ({2,800/$5.60) is dense and creamy, not too sweet, topped with almonds – and the espresso machine turns out excellent coffee. The service is notably professional here. There’s always a cheerful buzz, especially on weekends when family groups fill the tables and the noise levels rise accordingly.

Directions: Ca. 7 and Av. 7, across from Hotel Valladolid, the tallest building in town. 2262-9073. Open Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, noon-midnight. Phone ahead for takeout orders to pick up.

Heredia Restaurants 2

Ham and Vegetables Pizza served with Italian wine at Pane y Pizza Don Carlos.

Alberto Font

Pane y Pizza Don Carlos – Italian again! But the atmosphere at this elegant restaurant, with white tablecloths and plush drapery, is romantic enough for a special dinner date. It’s only two blocks southwest of L’Antica Roma, but culinary miles away from Rome, with a Torino-born chef who prides himself on his Piemontese roots and a lighter, more delicate cuisine than in the robust south.  Northern Italian specialties include the insalata Piemontese, a crunchy serving of celery, walnuts and aged parmesan ({4,950/$10).

Paper-thin slices of salmon carpaccio are bathed in olive oil and sprinkled with capers and red onion ({7,500/$15). The delicate, homemade ravioli del chef features artichokes, red peppers and mushrooms in a pale pink salsa rosada ({7,000/$14). There’s pizza, too of course, almost 40 versions running an alphabetical gamut from al pesto to zucchini ({3,850-{7,000/$7.70-$14). My favorite here is the Quatro Staggioni – a thin-crusted pie topped with four neat quadrants of ham, mushrooms, artichokes and olives ({6,600/$13.20 for the small).

The wines by the glass ({2,800/$5.60) and bottle here are usually Northern Italian vintages. If you didn’t order pizza as a main course, try the BonBon Dulce Piemonte desert, a cinched purse of pizza dough holding a wealth of chocolaty Nutella spread and almonds, topped with ice cream ({4,500/$9). Or dig into a bowl of homemade gelato. 

Directions: Ca. 5 y Av. 5 in Heredia, across from INA, about 300 meters north, then 300 meters east of the Central Park. 2237-2626. Open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 11-3 p.m.; Friday and Saturday all day from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-10 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. 2237-2626. Home delivery, {1,000/$2.

Heredia Restaurants 4

Delicias Caribeñas de Mami chef, Randall Reid, presents a rice and beans chicken plate.

Alberto Font

Delicias Caribeñas de MAMI – For authentic Caribbean food without driving to Cahuita, you can’t do better than this funky, casual Caribbean outpost. Every wall is painted with murals of birds and tropical foliage, and at the front door you may pass a cook scraping fresh coconut for the traditional coconut rice and red beans, or peeling plantains for the patacones (squashed, fried plantain). Both of those, plus spicy coleslaw and beet salad, accompany the enormous main plates.

The MAMI-style fish, usually red snapper, is the hit of this menu: crisply breaded and fried, it has enough taste and texture to stand up to a rich, spicy red sauce flavored with curry ({4,500/$9). The Caribbean chicken is a quarter of a large chicken, smothered in the same sauce ({4,100/$8.20).

For the brave, there is mondongo (tripe) soup ({1,400/$2.80) and on Sundays only, there is rondón, the traditional root vegetable and bacalão (dried cod) stew ({1,700/$3.40, small; {3,950/$8, large). Wash it all down with a refreshing Caribbean version of ginger ale: a mixture of tapa dulce (brown sugar) and spicy ginger. For something sweet, try Caribbean patty, filled with sweet plantain ({600/$1.20). 

Directions: On Calle 0, 125 meters north of central park in Heredia, just 50 meters south of the Red Cross. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 2261-2013.  

El Barco de los Mariscos – There aren’t many historical buildings in these Heredia hills, but a notable exception is this grand,  wooden hacienda that was hauled by oxcart from a nearby cafetal to the main crossroads of San Rafael de Heredia. Wooden tables rest on patterned tiles in the interior, illuminated by stained-glass windows by day and elegant glass chandeliers by night. There’s a large aquarium inside, but these fish are for show, not eating.

Heredia Restaurants 6

Pescado relleno de mariscada, fresh from El Barco De Los Mariscos.

Alberto Font

The best tables are outside on the wide, breezy veranda. As the name implies, fish is the main attraction here. The ceviche is excellent, especially the corvina with avocado ({2,091/$4.10, small; {3,567/$7.10, large). And the appetizer platter of patacones with molido (refried beans) and jalapeño peppers ({2,460/$5) makes a great shared snack.

Shrimp specialties are always reliable ({4,182-{6,150/$8.20-$12.30) and hearty eaters will enjoy the arroz a la marinera ({3,444/$7.10, normal size; {4,950/$10, very large plate). Executive lunch specials are the best deal: The fish casado comes with rice, beans, salad, tortilla and spaghetti, priced at {3,075/$6. The food is reliable if not spectacular; the main draw here is the antigua ambiance. 

Directions: Across from Banco de Costa Rica, in San Rafael de Heredia, 3 km northeast of the National University in Heredia. 2263-3909. Open daily, 11 p.m.-10 p.m.  

Flavors Café – Expat North Americans hungering for a taste of home can head to this cheerful, airy café, decorated with rainbow-colored tiles in the heart of picturesque San Isidro de Heredia. Friendly owner Daniel Walker, originally from Illinois, presides over the lunch menu, prepared by his Vancouver-born wife Carol Friesen. 

The menu changes weekly, but always includes an excellent soup – tortilla with morsels of chicken and chunks of avocado, or Moroccan garbanzo and lentil, for example – a hearty quiche, chicken or beef quesadillas or lasagna, and sometimes a mouthwatering Barbecue pork sandwich ({2,200–{3,400/$4.40-$6.80). Lunch is light with a touch of sophistication, but the sublime baked goods here are the pièces de résistance.

Carol bakes perfect pie pastry for divine lemon meringue with billowing clouds of coconut cream, plus fruit pies featuring traditional apple (à la mode, if you like), or tropical mango fillings. A changing assortment of dense, chocolate brownies; tart and buttery lemon bars; orange, lemon and banana cakes; plus frosted layer cakes makes dessert decisions difficult here.

There’s excellent coffee, too, which comes with a cookie and some banter with Daniel and his assistant, Pedro, who will remember your name the next time you visit. All the baked goods can be ordered to take home, and the café also offers catering services. Soon to come is a weekend “dinner table,” a chance to dine well and meet some fellow Heredianos.

Check the web site for the weekly menu:

Directions: Main street in San Isidro de Heredia, across from Banco de Costa Rica. 2268-0076. Open Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Heredia Restaurants 5

A wrap and salad from Bromelias del Río. Courtesy of Dorothy MacKinnon

Bromelias del Río – This popular Colombian-owned bakery/restaurant has just a handful of tables in a glass conservatory set in a picturesque garden by a mountain stream.

The menu is extensive, starting with hearty tipico ({3,900/$7.80) and American ({4,200/$8.40) breakfasts, and running through light lunch options of lasagnas and savory crepes ({4,300-{6,900/$8.60-$13.80), excellent soups ({2,600-{3,600/$5.20-$7.20) and huge platters of fish, lomito and chicken, along with such Colombian specialties as tortillas colombianas, thick corn tortillas topped with, for instance, pork loin in onion sauce ({5,000/$10) or shrimp in red pepper sauce ({7,300/$14.60).

The repostería here is notable for delicate, flaky pastry horns filled with custard and caramelly dulce de leche or conserved figs, and exceptional cinnamon rolls, hot out of the oven. There’s also an extensive selection of every conceivable hot and cold coffee drink. An elegant new outpost of Bromelias del Río, right on the highway, 500 meters north of the San Miguel exit, is handy for folks looking for great food and coffee to fortify them for the often perilous drive through Braulio Carrillo (open daily, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.).

The smallest branch, in the heart of San Isidro de Heredia, facing the soccer field (open 6 a.m.-7 p.m.), is a pleasant place to sit and sip a cappuccino and nibble on something from the full selection of sweets. A tiny coffee-flavored cookie comes with every cup of coffee. Menu Express delivery service is now available to homes in and around San Isidro, for {750/$1.50. Call 2236-8506 or 2236-8574 to order. 

Directions: 50 meters off the Braulio Carrillo highway at the Santa Elena exit to San Isidro. Open daily, 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. 2268-8445.

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