The soda – a small mom-and-pop restaurant serving traditional Tico fare – is a Costa Rican institution that offers a true taste of Tiquicia at budget prices. Here are two of our contributors’ favorites on the west side of San José.
La Cafetería: Comida Sana y Natural
San Rafael de Escazú, 25 meters east of Scotiabank. Open Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone: 2228-1140, 8302-5252.
A truly local, natural, healthy soda that hasn’t left behind its Tico roots, this mom-and-sons business is owned by Cristina Villalobos and her two sons, Juan and Adrián Rodríguez. The small, charming eatery in the western San José suburb of San Rafael de Escazú offers a warm, friendly atmosphere, stringent attention to freshness and hygiene, and spectacular smoothies.
A good portion of the fresh fruits and vegetables served here are organic and come from the proprietors’ small farm in nearby Guachipelín. They do not fry anything, use low-oil and low-salt recipes and opt for less-processed brown sugar and whole wheat, yet still deliver hearty, satisfying meals.
The menu offers healthy takes on traditional soda fare as well as more contemporary sandwiches, fruit and vegetable salads and soups. The casado (₡2,800/$5.60) varies from day to day but generally includes rice, black beans, fried plantain, green salad, vegetable picadillo and a portion of meat, such as chicken fajitas, glazed pork chops or beefsteak in onion sauce. The specialty is grilled chicken topped with tomato, melted mozzarella cheese and oregano.
For breakfast, you can go traditional with the desayuno campesino (₡1,800/$3.60), which includes the quintessential Tico rice-and-beans dish of gallo pinto, eggs any style, cheese and bread or tortillas. I always opt for the pancake breakfast: two whole-wheat pancakes with a choice of homemade natural blackberry syrup or honey, house butter, eggs any style, breakfast sausage and juice or coffee (₡2,400/$4.80).
Lunch options, aside from the casado, include a selection of 12 sandwiches, ranging from a BLT to gallo pinto on whole wheat bread, and soup, sandwich and drink combos (₡2,800/$5.60). On Wednesdays they offer olla de carne, the traditional Costa Rican meat stew (₡2,900/$5.80).
The smoothies are made from a range of 12 different fresh fruits, including pineapple, papaya, strawberry, mango and plum, which you can mix and match in either water, milk, natural yogurt or soy milk (₡700-1,200/$1.40-2.40). My staple is a mango-strawberry mix in yogurt. They also offer fresh-squeezed orange, beet and carrot juice blended on the spot.
Because it seats only 20 people, La Cafetería has a popular delivery service; the brothers Rodríguez zip packed meals to clients in the area by motorbike.