When Wendy’s closed all its branches and left Costa Rica, management noted that there was too much competition. Perhaps the restaurant population has outgrown its customer base after all. What a dramatic change in just a decade. The entire Bagelman’s chain and Schwarma King have joined the departed. Among my favorites, Cilantro Café in Grecia closed while they look to find a new location with a larger kitchen
Cesar shared that his three kids liked Bambai Mongolian Grill, a new-to-Costa-Rica chain with locations in Curridabat, San Pedro Antares and Santa Ana Momentum Lindora. It is a do-it-yourself variation where you pick ingredients from a buffet and they are stir-fried on a griddle for you. Some folks, particularly youngsters, love the hands on approach. Cesar asked if the food was really Mongolian.
I have not been to Mongolia, but I met a Mongolian cook a year or so ago who laughed when I asked about Mongolian hot pot. “Chinese,” he giggled.
“How about the chain of restaurants called Mongolian Grills?”
“Not even remotely Mongolian. An Asian stir-fry fad. A salad, rice and pasta bar with flat-top cooking surface. Strictly American. Without mutton, horse meat, goat, dumplings or a bunch of yak milk products, they are about as Mongolian as Outback is Australian.”
At Bambai, bowls come in two sizes, $11 and $13. For pork, beef, chicken or shrimp that look like plastic-wrapped quarter pounders, add another $5. The sauces are not bad. Younger people seem to enjoy the novelty. I guess I’m getting too old for sharing space with Cesar’s kids. From what I hear, service has been a problem at the oldest venue in Curridabat, but not in the newest in Santa Ana. Phone: 2234-3191 Hours: Noon to 9 PM
Randy asked, “What ever happened to one of the original gringo hangouts, Rock ‘n Roll Pollo?” After a handful of unsuccessful restarts it finally morphed into Cabaña Don Manuel Restaurant/Bar. The new menu is once again loaded with bar-style bocas and a handful of main course dishes. Prices are very affordable like the other sports bars farther up the hill heading east on the old road from Santa Ana to Escazú (Yakkis, Killer Beez, Cebolla Verde). Of the four, Cabañas Don Manuel is probably my favorite despite the similarities among them. Good service. Comfortable seats. Very nice ribs, burgers, fajitas, chifrijo, fish, etc. Six of us whiney old farts ate there recently with nary a complaint. Unusual for these often demanding curmudgeons. The pizza oven should be repaired by mid February. The next week, five of us again ate without complaint. A rarity. As you head east on the main road out of Santa Ana, the road changes from two-way to one-way. After the change, the restaurant is up about 150 meters on the left. It is open daily 11AM to11:45 PM. Phone: 2203- 1600.
The very next week, the invading horde of ten old farts ate at Old West and by consensus agreed that food was even better than the above mentioned four places. I heard happy remarks about everything from burgers, to fish and chips, to olla de carne (Sunday and Monday only), to chifrijo, to ribs. I had a huge plate of fresh shrimp that still had their pop, lightly crusted and fried to perfection. Their quality was akin to expensive seafood places and the dish with mashed potatoes and nice chopped salad was ₡4500. Good service. A bit loud from the busy large bar, hard seats and neither bright nor lovely. Just good food at good prices. The fried fish boca with fries and chopped tomato and lettuce salad for ₡2000 is well prepared and large enough to satisfy most diners as a meal. It may be the best value lunch anywhere. The fish has nice texture, but is a little lacking in flavor. It is open every day from 11am to 1am. Location: 200 meters east of Cruz Roja in Santa Ana on the one way road that runs east to west.
Mocapan is a delightful addition to the San Rafael de Escazú scene. It is a modern two story immaculate bakery/café. The baked goods have a European flare with excellent soft pretzels and pretzel rolls (brezn) and very tasty croissants and muffins. Add hearty peasant breads, pastries and yummy seeded rolls to the mix. Freshness is never a question. The inventory changes every morning. They serve reasonably priced breakfasts, especially when compared to their upscale neighbors, including a spinach, tomato and cheese omelet; pancakes and a nice pretzel roll sandwich of scrambled egg, cream cheese, lettuce and tomato and all the standard coffee options. For lunch the choices include salads and sandwiches. Joan’s favorite is the Mediterranean sandwich made with Serrano ham, tasty aged parmesan cheese and arugula. One day at one p.m. we grabbed the tenth and final available table. After just a few months, Mocapan has become deservedly popular. Katrin from central Germany and Simon from Munich deserve credit for creating a nice niche in only their first year in Costa Rica. Katrin charms all and speaks perfect English. They are located on the main road at the western end of the cobblestone crescent that runs west from Mall Las Laureles and includes Saúl Bistro. Their wall along the main road reads “From Germany With Love” and they live up to the promise. Hours: Monday to Saturday from 7am to 7pm, and Sundays from 8am to 6pm. Closed Tuesdays.
A Taste of India is a tiny place that seats only twelve at five small tables and parks only four cars out front. But if you love the aroma and sounds of spices popping in a hot skillet, releasing their perfume, seek this jewel and be amazed. The intersection that abuts Scotia Bank in Escazu is called el cruce, the cross, by locals. If you take the uphill or southern branch in the road about 200 meters, the restaurant is immediately past Mil Sabores on the left.
Kamal is a bright, young enthusiastic Punjabi charmer. A client of his Indian take out restaurant in Glasgow convinced him that Costa Rica could really use an emporium of full-flavored robust Indian food at reasonable prices. So he took his main cook with him and brought their combined culinary skills to Escazú. They decided to start small and expand as needed. Well, fortunately for us, they have fared well enough so that expansion is about to happen. The food, WOW! Best lamb masala I have had in many a decade. Joan said the same about her butter chicken. Good naan. Ground hot chili peppers on the salad. The all-inclusive menu boasts 16 appetizers, about 30 main courses, about a dozen executive lunch specials including basmati rice and salad for an average of about ₡4500, about ₡1000 more for lamb or prawns. Add lassi (yogurt based spiced cold drink) and ginger/cardamom flavored hot chai to the drink options and an enormous bowl of not too sweet kir (rice pudding with ground cardamom) that can easily satisfy two or three people. To assure that you can park easily and find a table, consider that they offer a 10% total menu discount from 3 to 7p.m. Arriving closer to 11:45 a.m. is another good weekday option. They open at 11a.m. every day and close at 9 p.m. on Sunday, 9:30 p.m. Monday thru Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Nice people, friendly efficient service, unpretentious, good prices, great flavors. Phone: 2289-9123
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