Simplicity is key when dealing with food in Costa Rica. Rice and beans are the primary ingredients in nearly every meal, from breakfast to dinner. If they've been fried in oil and mixed with onions, then you know it's breakfast time - this traditional plate is called gallo pinto and is one of the common and popular foods in Costa Rica. Nothing much changes for lunch and dinner - gallo pinto is now served along side fried plantains, a cut of meat and a small salad. Though you would have to be pretty liberal with what defines a salad, as this version is 90% cabbage, with a couple tomatoes thrown in if you're lucky. Purveyors of food in Costa Rica seem to think that if something is tasty, then frying it up in heavy oil will make it even tastier - and they are often correct in this assumption. For the most part the food of Costa Rica is utilitarian and of the snack variety, relying primarily on traditional grains, light seasoning and fresh fruit thrown in for color.
Much of the country's spacious rainforest land doubles as grazing pastures for cattle. Thus, another ubiquitous menu item is beef. Served in a wide assortment of styles, beef is prepared in much the same way as in the United States, and can be considered somewhat of a safety choice when sampling food from Costa Rica. Another of the most popular foods of Costa Rica is called Olla de Carne, combining ambitious chunks of meat, tubers and corn in a thick beef broth, often found in one of the many "sodas" of the country - the Costa Rican equivalent to an American diner. Adventurous eaters can sample a traditional, though perhaps not the most appetizing, dish in Costa Rica by ordering Mondongo - beef stomach soup.
You'd think with the thousands of miles of coastline available and the country's heavy exportation of shrimp and lobster that these items would be amongst the most inexpensive when considering food from Costa Rica. But you'd be wrong. Pick either of these delicacies on the menu with caution, since they are often pricy and prepared listlessly.
If you visit soon, you may still be able to take advantage of the free appetizers still offered in some Costa Rican bars. Once found in nearly every location, the opportunity to get some free food (with drink order, of course) is diminishing, with many bars now charging normal prices for items such as fried plantains, minced pear with corn, tamales and fried yuca. But any budget traveler can expound on the beauty of a free meal - so ask around, most locals are happy to point you in the right direction.
Food from Costa Rica is not for the health conscious, obviously, but there are still a few things for those who shun large portions of meat or fried foods. Untold amounts of wealth have been derived from the country's banana and coffee exports, and for good reason. The bananas here are nothing like you've had before, and none of the other abundant tropical fruits found here are likely to disappoint. Mangoes are one of the most popular foods in Costa Rica, along with pineapples, papayas and a variety of melons.
The coffee, however, is served extremely haphazardly throughout the country. Since the highest quality coffee is usually set aside for export, this beverage is all over the map in terms of taste and preparation. If the cafe you're in serves their coffee weak and sugary, go down a few blocks and you will likely find the exact opposite. The finest drink to go along with Costa Rica foods is called Horchata, a rice drink mixed with cinnamon and sugar, with emphasis on the cinnamon. Wildly popular throughout all of Central America, one taste and you'll know exactly why.