Whether your stay in the central Pacific region takes you ziplining across treetops, boating through mangrove swamps, hiking in national parks or just lying on the beach, one thing is certain: you must eat. Unlike some of the aforementioned activities, finding a great restaurant requires no level of difficulty; from Jacó to Manuel Antonio, a bounty of yummy cuisine awaits hungry travelers’ bellies.
Seafood is logically a focus of many menus in these beachside towns, but creative vegetarian cuisine, savory steaks and gourmet sandwiches are a few of the other delights available. Here are some surefire favorites:
Caliche’s Wishbone (643-3406) is a surfer hub and haven of hefty portions anyone in the Jacó area should be sure to check out. Owner couple Caliche and Kirsten Alfaro bring their passion for fresh ingredients and Caliche’s vegetarian tastes to their extensive menu, which includes hearty salads, pizzas, seafood and pitas made with homemade pita bread. Stuffed with your choice of eight different fillings including fish, shrimp, barbecue or veggies, these fresh pita pockets make for a great lunch or dinner, and they’re big enough to split or save for leftovers.
Another item that has put Caliche’s Wishbone “on the map” is the stuffed potatoes, Kirsten Alfaro said. They’re baked potatoes with the insides scooped out and mixed with the fixing of your choice, such as broccoli, cheese, chicken, bacon or ham, and reheated into a goey treat. One loyal customer recently ordered more than 37 potatoes to take with him on a sailing trip to Mexico, Alfaro said.
Great margaritas and bocas such as nachos and homemade focaccia bread make for a tasty happy hour. Seafood specialties include a Hawaiian-style sashimi tuna, mahi-mahi and jumbo shrimp with lemon, garlic and hot pepper sauce.
Caliche’s Wishbone is open for lunch and dinner every day except Wednesdays. A ways down the road in Playa Hermosa, The Backyard (643-7041) is another crowdpleaser.
Housed on the beachside deck of the hotel by the same name, this restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
Breakfast is served up buffet-style for the hotel’s guests, with gallo pinto, pancakes, French toast, bagels and more, but it’s open to the public as well.
Fresh wraps with mahi-mahi or tuna, along with burgers and sandwiches, are favorites for lunch, and happy hour features bocas such as nachos and chicken wings, complimentary as long as you’re drinking ¢400 ($0.80) beers from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
For dinner, The Backyard fires up a grill and prepares fresh jumbo shrimp, New York steak and lobster accompanied by baked potatoes and Caesar salad. A barbecue promotion is held every Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m.; guests can walk up to the grill and order steaming hot kabobs with chicken, steak or fish.
If you’re looking for a more elegant oceanside meal, Mirador Restaurant (637-0505, ext. 209 or 203) inside the well-known Villa Caletas hotel, just north of Jacó, offers gourmet cuisine and breathtaking views above the water.
French chef Vincent Boutinaud called the menu “French-based, with a tropical touch.” His trademark “lomito de mi corazón” (“steak from my heart”) is a juicy fillet with a coffee and wine sauce. Its French-Costa Rican fusion is a tribute to his and his Tica wife’s love, he said.
Other standouts on the menu include salmon roasted without ever touching a flame, fish in a white wine and basil reduction sauce and corvina on a bed of leeks and onion.
For dessert, Boutinaud artfully uses tropical fruits to create treats such as fruit sushi with sorbet and arroz con leche topped with mango and pineapple.
Reservations at Mirador are recommended. Manuel Antonio, known for its national park and beaches, is also home to some exceptional eateries. La Hacienda (777-3473, www.lahaciendacr.com) is open nightly for dinner, serving up “Mediterranean-Asian Fusion” in a lovely covered courtyard filled with birds-of-paradise, said owner Bill Maue.
Pork tenderloin glazed with a honey mustard rum sauce and chicken breast with brandy tarragon cream sauce are popular dishes. Nightly specials play up fresh catches such as mahimahi and shrimp with tropical sauces and coconut curry. Fresh herbs are the key to these and other tasty meals, which can be punctuated with desserts such as chocolate fondue with fresh fruit and chocolate ganache with blackberry coulis.
Sunset Grill (777-1234), inside Manuel Antonio’s Hotel California, offers an international menu with traditional Tico touches. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Sunset Grill serves up traditional Costa Rican favorites such as gallo pinto and casados (plates of the day), alongside gourmet sandwiches, steak, fish, pasta and surf-and-turf combinations. An open-air dining room with ocean views makes for a dining experience that pleases all the senses.
A longtime staple, Café Milagro has establishments in Manuel Antonio and in the adjoining town of Quepos. The restaurant in downtown Quepos, El Patio de Café Milagro (777-4982), cooks up Latin fusion cuisine with fresh local ingredients, said owner Adrienne Pellizzari.
Calamari with chorizo and spicy flatbread are among the palate-pleasing appetizers, and for the main dish, dorado served in a banana leaf with smoky plantain sauce and pork tenderloin with onion mojo exemplify the chef ’s creativity.
Up the hill in the heart of Manuel Antonio, Café Milagro (777-0794) takes a lighter approach to gourmet with a variety of coffee drinks, fresh baked goods, smoothies and an inspired lunch menu with great sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads.
For breakfast, Café Milagro’s breakfast burritos stuffed with eggs, rice and beans and topped with fresh salsa and sour cream have a loyal following, and country-style French toast and banana pancakes are other delicious ways to start your day.
For more on restaurants in the central Pacific region and around the country, see The Tico Times’ “Restaurant Guide to Costa Rica,” on sale at ticotimes.net, Librería Internacional and points of sale around the country.