Our destination for this update is a cluster of three small towns including my hometown of La Guácima and its satellite neighbors Las Vueltas and Ciruelas. This formerly sleepy area lost its main attraction when the Butterfly Farm closed a few years ago but has had a resurgence since its own exit off Route 27 opened and the Autodromo transformed into the new theater complex and Coca Cola concert hall in Parque Viva. These are an alphabetical scorecard of the local dining options:
Anthony Probably the busiest bar in the area and also an old reliable place for typical food from burgers to steaks to corvina to lobster tails. The lunchtime buffet has gained popularity with locals in the past year or so. Less than a block north of the town center just past the church and opposite the soccer field. ** $$
Burger Garage My favorite sports bar, burger and beer joint newly opened in Plaza Alicante less then a block from the La Guácima center on the south side of the road going west. Nice people with nicely presented upscale bar food. ** $$
Boqueria Palmeras On the eastern edge of town just before the San Rafael border. Great variety of nicely prepared bocas at bargain prices in a venue that is quite nice and a bar that that is comfortable and peaceful even for groups of Costa Rican women whom I know. Was built originally for a fancier restaurant that failed, thus the décor that surpasses most boquerias. Pristine. Good service. Nice people. ** $
Chicharronera Oviedo Probably my favorite chicharrón spot in the entire country. Always freshly cooked in its own bath of rendered pork fat in a caldron over a classic wood fire to the proper crispness with a mildly smoky undertone. Very nice people. Not fancy. Buffet style service. Closed Monday thru Wednesday. Across the street from Auto Mercado. *** $$
Donde George Shortly after this cevicheria and fish café opened late last year, it outgrew its space and closed to add a second floor. Packed and popular it is a local favorite for low cost tilapia and/or shrimp ceviche, fish and chips, seafood soup or pasta and a limited assortment of burgers, etc. Tilapia is not my favorite fish for ceviche, but they offer mahi mahi fillets fried or in a garlic butter sauce. Basic Tico style preparations of fresh ingredients. Nice people. It is about halfway between La Guácima town center and Auto Mercado. ** $
Guácima Country Inn Old friends Clara and Manuel have owned this gorgeous property forever. I attended Rancho Español there 14 years ago to begin to speak the language. The former student dorms have become very nice guest rooms and there is a brand new restaurant now open to the public. The outdoor part of the restaurant is gorgeous. I have yet to dine there because I had to travel as they were opening, but the menu includes authentic Tico fare prepared by an amiable young chef from Heredia. People who have stayed at the hotel have commented favorably about the food. Prices are midrange and choices include salads, chicken, fish, beef and seafood plus desserts. Just east of the town center, turn north at Bar Venus and follow the S curves until they head east. You will see the signs on the left. The entrance is on the nearest side. Please call first particularly in the evening, at 855-201-7819. $$
Hotel Robledal This charming B&B on the west side of the road (124) in Ciruelas near El Roble offers executive lunches from noon to two Monday through Friday at its open air Restaurante Lenchos. It attracts a nice group of upscale workers from neighboring Dos Pinos. The covered patio is surrounded by lush vegetation. The service is excellent. The food, classic Costa Rican, includes daily specials and fairly standard casados. The ingredients are always great, plating attractive and seasoning spot on. I had chifrio there once, the daily special. As the name suggests, chicharrones and frijoles are the basics in this traditional plate atop rice and itself topped with a dice of tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Surrounded by fresh crisp corn chips, it came with lemonade and a piece of moist tres leches cake for dessert. The chicharrones included both kinds, the meaty chunks with a rim of skin and the crunchy cracklings. You pay a little more than you would at a soda, but the quality and ambiance are well worth it. You dine. You don’t just chow down. 2442-5129 *** $$
Marisqueria Les Tough to park in the center of Ciruelas. The food is inexpensive and unremarkable. Local working men seem to like lunch with a beer there. The service can be inattentive. * $
MEStizo Gastronomia Y Café or MEStizo for short. That’s the way they write the name. I love this little café. It is in Plaza Guácima near Los Reyes. The chef husband, Manuel, is Chilean. His charming wife and hostess, Alejandra, is Tica. They both studied in a French culinary institute in Chile. She is the baker, pastry chef and hostess and he mans the kitchen. Breakfast starts at 8am every day but Monday. How about omelets, Belgian waffles, croque madame, granola and yogurt or the Patagonia special of toast, cream cheese, artisanal jelly, ham and avocado? The croquet madame rivals Parisian versions and is a great alternative to eggs Benedict. For lunch you can choose from three elegant salads or four gourmet sandwiches on artisanal breads and rolls. My favorite? Roasted lamb, marinated onions, greens and mild goat cheese on an herbal flat roll. I am not a lover of very sweet things, but if you have ever wanted to try a beautiful sweet multi-layered torta Chilena like they serve in Santiago, try a slice here for dessert if you have room. Their other dessert options all made in house are very good. Batidos, juices, fancy coffees and teas. So ---- fusion, creativity, great ingredients, charming people in a small simple tastefully appointed pristine café at prices that are moderate but a bargain for the quality. ***(*) $$ Hard to give a fourth star to a small simple café, but what they do, they do very well.
Pizzeria Alloro In the new Plaza Guácima across the road from Los Reyes gated community and golf course, Pizzeria Alloro offers pizzas and pastas that may fulfill a need for convenience, but is at best average. Nice people that also own a favorite sports bar and cafe of mine, Burger Garage. Alloro * $$
Pizzeria Calin 1&2 The locations are in La Guácima just north of the church on the east side of the road (124) and in Ciruelas on the west side of the same road across from the soccer field. They are spawns of the original local favorite under new ownership but they remain true to quality, style and pricing that made the original such a local favorite. ** $$
Restaurante Chalito’s You are not likely to pass it by chance. The paved road through the hamlet of Las Vueltas turns to gravel a few hundred meters farther west. The bar and restaurant, open only from Friday dinner through Sunday afternoon, is a happening place catering to people from La Guácima, Los Reyes and Las Vueltas. Typical of a hundred other small town Costa Rican restaurants, there are no outer walls except on the side of the kitchen and bar. The parking lot is basically the adjacent lawn. Until 2006, there was not even a sign out front. Why venture off the beaten path for Chalito’s? For the essence of authenticity, for the kind of Tico warmth and hospitality that upscale foreign ethnic restaurants often lack, for huge portions of delicious food and for prices geared to local working people. In addition to the usual mix of fish, shrimp, steak, chicken and pork dishes, there are a handful of Peruvian specialties – two soups (chupe, cazuela), three or four potato based appetizers (causas) and four chaufa rice dishes. Chaufa is the descriptive word for Peruvian style Chinese food. Favorites include pasta with mushrooms or shrimp in cream sauce, steak smothered in onions, seafood mariscada, fish fillets in a variety of nice sauces, fried chicken wings and chalupas. There is even a play area for kids. The bar prices are also well within even modest budgets. To get there, go west from the La Guácima turn off on the Pista del Sol (27), straight past the turnoff to Los Reyes and Auto Mercado past horse ranches and condos, through a cluster of tiny businesses and the school, and it will appear on the right side of the road. If you reach the end of the paved road, you have gone too far. Telephone: 2439-1029 *** $$
Restaurante Tayta The most upscale, refined eatery in La Guácima, Tayta features quality ingredients, artistically plated, nicely seasoned with a Peruvian bent and an international stretch. The eclectic menu even offers respectable tapas and sushi. On weekdays, an executive lunch of appetizer, main course and beverage costs ₡4950 from noon to three *** $$$
Shang Xing The only Chinese option in this area is actually not bad. It is better than most of the economical Tico style Chinese restaurants. The chef and owners are Chinese. Beef sao fan and wonton soup are decent choices. The egg foo yung is the only dish that I have ever tried at Shang Xing that was not at least OK. On the east side of the road that runs from Ciruelas to El Roble (124). * $
Soda Isabel, Soda Doña Kata & Soda Viqui all provide standard Tico breakfast and lunch. The first two offer fried chicken as well. Isabel serves quintessential gallo pinto thought by many to the best anywhere. She is an icon and so loved and respected that she would get my vote for mayor if we had one. Kata is less flamboyant but kindly and genteel. She serves casados from a steam table and the usual burgers, fries etc. The newcomer for the past few years seems to attract every 18-wheeler that drives through town. Viqui attracts locals as well as passing truckers because of quick service, rock bottom prices, friendly local folk in the kitchen and unadorned standard Tico type food. All offer value.