El Griego Friendly Phillip from Thessaloniki has a to-go Greek eatery the size of a walk-in closet in Ciudad Colon that surpasses the competition … What competition you ask? Precisely. There is none. Welcome Phillip. I am delighted that you are here. Even if the food is less than gourmet, it fills a void in the Central Valley. His moussaka layers eggplant, potato, pleasantly seasoned ground beef (I can taste cinnamon) and white sauce that firms up when baked. Nice. Add to the assortment pork or chicken souvlaki Griego, Lebanese kabobs, minced eggplant salad, Greek salad with feta, tzatziki, falafel and hummus and you have the makings for a great picnic at Ciudad Colon’s Central Park only a half block east of El Griego on 4th Ave. or a meal at home. Add tortilla Español large enough to serve 4 (₡5000) and seafood paella (₡4200) to the options. Except for the latter two, everything is ₡3500 or less and the portions do not skimp. He is about to remove pastitsio from the menu. Too bad. The standard Greek macaroni dish is one of his and my favorites, but locals never order it. The tiny front is easy to miss. It is west of the corner of 4th and Central abutting a barbershop near the large tattoo sign. Sol and Mar gift shop is across the street. Phone: 7290-5868. Hours: Open every day from noon to 9pm. Thanks to Carol for the tip.
Norman Flores is as well-liked as anyone I know in the restaurant business in all of Costa Rica. His Tex-Mex restaurant, Jalapeños Central, has satisfied a mixed clientele of Gringos and Ticos for more than a decade. He is on a first name basis with many dozens of his regulars and greets them all with a smile that radiates light. He won both first prizes at the charitable annual Chili Cook Off in Atenas for the best chili as voted by the hundreds of attendees and the best as voted blind by the panel of judges. Recently he acquired the space adjacent to his often jam-packed restaurant and opened Señor Patacón and Doña Arepa 75 meters south of the Alajuela post office. The offerings are typical Colombian street food, patacones and arepas topped with a nice variety of options. I have tasted shrimp, pork and Colombian sausage (very nice) toppings all mixed with a flavorful dice of pico de gallo atop a grilled arepa corncake or plantain disc. Hot sauce comes on the side. To accommodate groups who are divided between Tex-Mex and Colombian, he offers them the chance to sit together in either venue and order from both menus. The entrances are only a few feet apart. When I asked about thicker stuffed arepas Venezuelan style, Norman did what few among us are charitable enough to do. He told me about a competing restaurant that featured Venezuelan arepas in San Antonio de Belén. Phone: 2438-7978. Closed Mondays. Hours: Open every Tuesday through Sunday at 11:30am. Closes at 9pm except Sundays when it closes at 8pm.
Sabor Venezolano When we went at lunchtime, we sat at the last available table in this spacious very popular new restaurant. Next to us was a couple, she from Venezuela and he quite familiar with Venezuelan food. Both attested to the authenticity of the plethora of homemade offerings.
If you go there for nothing else, you must try the arepas. Thicker than Colombian corncakes, opened like an English muffin and filled with any of 14 different options then grilled crispy. They include everything from vegetarian to Paballon with well-seasoned shredded beef, beans and cheese stuffed inside the arepa and topped with a fried egg. Unfilled arepas are called viudas (widows) (₡1000). Filled large arepas are ₡2500 each.
Beginning with breakfast, they offer a typical Venezuelan plate of caraotas (beans), cheese, two small fried arepas and avocado or typical Tico gallo pinto with egg, sausage and bread for ₡2500. You can also opt for any of six lovely different empanadas for ₡800 - the classic empanada de pabellon with shredded meat, beans, cheese and tajadas (called maduros in Costa Rica- fried plantain strips) for ₡1200. Add quesadillas, sandwiches and wonderful cachapa con queso. It is similar to a sweet Tico chorreada (corn pancake), the sweetness pairing nicely with a slab of salty homemade farmer’s cheese. Many folk fold the grilled pancake over the cheese to eat it.
Among the appetizers are small fried arepas, arepitas, served with natilla (sour cream), Venezolano fried pastry fingers filled with cheese called tequeños and pastelitos, little empanada-like fried packets.
In addition to a list of Tico fast foods (e.g., burgers and fries, chifrijo, hot dogs, nachos) that could satisfy any kids in the group, they have large hot meals including chicken, pasta, lasagna, lomito and casados for timid locals. For those who want to try Venezolano favorites, try arepan, super patacon, pepito or all for less than ₡4000. Or you can order a huge parilla of beef, chicken sausage, pork riblets, patacones, plantain, salad, yuca and guasacaca, a dipping sauce for the patacones (₡5800). Finish if you are not stuffed with assorted desserts. Drink any of a large number of hot or cold offerings, including batidos and chicha Venezolano.
Hours: They open at 9am every day and close at 10pm except Friday and Saturdays when they close at 11pm. They are on the principle one-way street (heading east) on the south side of the large soccer field adjacent to the church in San Antonio de Belén.
We plan to return often. Thanks again to Norman for the tip.
The Red Door is a small white box of a building on the northwest corner of the soccer field on the main road from the Pan American Highway into Grecia. It is Route 154 which becomes one way into town only a few blocks past the Red Door. It looks like a small fish market that sells ceviche from the outside. NOT SO! It does do a large take-out business, but there are a few small tables and barstools at a counter to seat more than a dozen people. The cook spent eight years in New York and speaks better English than some of my classmates when I went to med school in Brooklyn. He is a candid food lover who won’t prepare or serve anything but the freshest quality seafood from Puntarenas. For starters, I must rave about his ceviche. The hint of sweetness is from adding Fresca to fresh-squeezed lime juice along with plenty of cilantro. I had always used ginger ale, but admittedly, his tastes better than mine. His preference is to use corvina or bill fish, but during the three-month annual moratorium on both, he uses fresh local tilapia which he makes taste great (₡2400). Fish and shrimp combo ceviche rocks (₡2500 for a generous portion). Just shrimp is ₡2600. Other choices when available include mixed seafood (₡2500), Peruvian style (₡2800) and my favorite, chucheca (called black clam, though technically not a clam, ₡3400). For less than ₡3000, you can get all of these: rice with mixed seafood or just shrimp, fish filets fried or cooked in garlic butter, fried shrimp with or without buffalo sauce, seafood soup or for those who prefer chicken, chicken with rice, six chicken wings or a Caesar salad. The are pasta dishes of which shrimp pasta Alfredo (₡3400) seems to be the star, paella, beef platters and more. Tasty fresh food served in-house or to-go with a smile at bargain prices. Hours: Noon to 10pm. Phone: 2444-0037. To park, circle the soccer field and park on the side street adjacent to the restaurant.
In the Montecillos suburb of Alajuela, the very popular Chinese eatery Restaurante Puente de la Fortuna exploded and burned when three gas tanks caught fire. Four people were injured. Incredibly efficient and pleasant employees provided large portions of good food at outstanding value to hoards of loyal customers. They will be missed. Our hearts go out to the injured.
Uncle Earl’s Fine Meats and Speciality Goods Thanks to Bill Cook for touting Uncle Earl’s. I was complaining to my friend about the lack of fresh quality Italian sausage here in Costa Rica, the kind where good ground pork exudes the flavors of fennel seeds and red chili flakes. He suggested I try Uncle Earls. Wow! What a treasure trove! Very nice hot Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, corned beef, lamb, pastrami, barbecued smoked brisket, steaks, chops, marrow bones, honey glazed smoked bacon, pulled pork and more. He avoids buying or selling any products laced with those ingredients that are potentially harmful such as dyes and preservatives. As a result, many cuts that we are accustomed to seeing dyed pink or red, appear their more natural grey at Uncle Earls. The corned beef and Canadian bacon still taste the way they should. It pays to call and order in advance because he does have a limited stock on hand at any given time. He strives for freshness and advises that his products not be frozen for long periods of time. Other cooking specialties such as coconut oil and Himalayan pink salt line his shelves.
Hours: 10am to 6pm Monday thru Friday and 10am to 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday. Phone: 2289-6105. As you exit the autopista (27) to Escazú, stay in the left lane and turn left at the first light. As soon as you cross the road, turn left again into the parking lot. If you are coming from Escazú, turn right at the last light before the autopista and cross immediately into the driveway entrance on your left. Located near the back end of the parking lot. Nice people. Healthy quality stuff!