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Within the next month or two, my latest book will be available here in Costa Rica in print; and in digital form and on the Internet (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booklocker and via your local bookseller in the US through Ingram). Feasting in Costa Rica’s Central Valley is the timely updated sequel to Feasting and Foraging in Costa Rica, which is now nearly ten years older than much of the information it contains about restaurants. There are so many new eateries that I have had to limit the reviews to Central Valley locations. For each of the next few monthly updates on this blog, I’ll post part of the more than 80 restaurants that I rated three stars or higher.
My rating system is as follows:
5 are for outstanding flavor, quality of ingredients, creativity, presentation, service and atmosphere. Clearly worthy of a special trip and special celebrations.
4 ½ miss perfection in only one area.
4 are only a minor cut less than perfection in two or more areas, but still outstanding and worth a special visit.
3 still offer quality meals worth the experience.
I have left out the top ten as a tease. Can you predict the ***** choices or the ****1/2* choices? Here is a sample dozen of the fine **** category:
FOUR STARS (Alphabetically listed)
1) Aya Sophia (new name - Sophia Mediterraneo) **** $$-$$$
2) Belle D’Italia **** $$-$$$
3) Café Lago **** $$-$$$
4) Casa Fusion Restaurant **** $$$
5) Chancay **** $$$$
6) Chez Cristophe **** $$
7) Donde Carlos **** $$$-$$$$
8) El Novillo Alegre**** $$$$
9) Factory **** $$$$
10) Fuji Restaurant **** $$$$
11) La Esquina de Buenos Aires **** $$$$
12) La Foccacia **** $$$
The rest of the 4 star restaurants will appear alphabetically next month.
Vista del Valle Plantation Inn Sometimes it’s the food. Other times it’s the experience. To visit Plantation Inn is an awesome experience particularly to share with recently arrived Gringo visitors. As you approach the eastern end of Naranjo on the Pan American highway heading west, follow the signs for Vista del Valle, exit right, go under the road through a tunnel then head past condos into a monstrous bamboo forest orchestrated by the cicada symphony. Follow signs to guest parking. Walk up the garden path to Reception and a bilingual person will direct you past the pool to the restaurant with gorgeous vistas across a lush tropical valley. Flowering trees and shrubs color every direction. The air smells sweet. Since most of the diners are tourists or expats from North America, the menu is geared toward American tastes and even lists prices in dollars. The cook does, however, use fresh local produce and tropical fruits to embellish even simple dishes.
Recently I had a tuna salad like any other, except that the mound of tuna sat on crisp fresh lettuce and tasty non-supermarket tomatoes adorned with slices of avocado, pieces of hearts of palm and rings of sweet red pepper. Nice. Appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches were all in the $ 7-8 range. Other options included grilled tenderloin ($15), spaghetti or fettuccini with your choice of sauces ($12), quesadillas, burritos, carnitas made with tenderloin, and rice dishes of meat, chicken and seafood. The eco-friendly inn receives accolades especially from first-timers and honeymooners. Lovely location with nicely prepared food. 2450-4493.
La Adelita One of the better places for Mexican food according to Mexican expats, this venue in Plaza Laureles, Escazú is festive, colorful and the flavors are pretty authentic. It ranks first or a close second to Totopos in Guadalupe for best Mexican food in the Central Valley. About 200 testimonials are hung on the walls on colorful sheets of paper. Cochinita pibil, Yucatan style slow roasted and shredded pork is my favorite. It begins by marinating baby pork in sour citrus then roasting it with annatto seeds in a banana leaf. C6500. Service can be a little slow but the food is worth the wait. The chef is from Mexico. Weekday lunch combos C3500. 2289-4059
Bao Ji This precious, dingy little dive smacks of authenticity. Roast ducks, ribs and red pork pieces hang in the window. Menus are on the wall written in Chinese. Huge woks sit atop mega Bunsen burners. The smell of star anise permeates the air. It is across the street from Hansan Market and adjacent to Cathay Bank in San Jose’s pedestrian street in Chinatown between 6th and 8th avenues. They also serve limited meals in their small tattered booths. What a pleasant surprise for any of us down and dirty South China food lovers. Are you a courageous foodie? So am I.
Captain Cook A name has fooled me so many times. 45 years ago I had Chinese food at a restaurant named Alaska in Mexico City. Last year Moby Dick in Curridabat turned out to be Korean/Japanese. So I was only a little surprised when the sign out from the restaurant on La Garita’s main road said Steak House & Seafood and the welcome mat was written in Chinese. The large fish tank inside the door sealed the identity. The cavernous two-hundred-seat Chinese restaurant was a new location for the Wong Tseng family, owners of Villa Bonita in Pavas. Unfortunately they don’t have dim sum on the menu or their many Sichuan specials, but they will gladly order the ingredients from Villa Bonita and prepare it on the premises for you if you give them two days notice. The menu is huge, but the Chinese offerings are pedestrian Costa Rican standards. On two visits, both between noon and 1 p.m. on weekdays, there were no other patrons. I did see a beer truck haul away what appeared to be about fifteen cases of empty bottles. So they are either busy at night or the beer truck only stops every several months. Closed Mondays. Tuesday through Thursday 11-10. Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 2487-5124. About 500 meters east of the soccer field, market, traffic light and turnoff to Turrúcares.
Aya Sophia is now Sophia Mediterraneo
Maya Lounge is now Maya Biergarten
La Galeria is now Restaurante Galeria Steak House