The U.S. city of Fort Worth, Texas, stands on the old Chisholm Trail, used in the late 1800s to drive cattle overland from ranches in Texas to Kansas railheads. Nicknamed Cow Town, it embraces Old West heritage with a distinctive mix of cowboy culture and traditional food.
The cattle drives never reached Costa Rica, but a culinary trail did, and if you mosey on out to Santa Ana, southwest of San José, you’ll find another Cow Town: a groovy bar and restaurant overflowing with Texan hospitality and offering great food at reasonable prices.
The second-floor eatery is handicapped-accessible with a noisy elevator to transport those who can’t do stairs. The large, semicircular bar is a friendly place to perch on a stool, and the balcony is pleasant and breezy, if noisy because of the busy street below; inside tables offer a comfortable alternative.
Gregarious owner Josh Moore hails from Fort Worth, and Cow Town has become a popular hangout for expats and Ticos alike. On my visit, I didn’t see any dyed-in-the-wool cowboys, but if there had been, I’m sure they would have approved of the chow.
Moore and his “ladies in the kitchen,” as he calls them, strive to perfect traditional Texan recipes. The Tica cooks, all local Santa Ana residents, have no problems with the typical Tico appetizers and main courses offered on the menu. However, the Texan specials presented a challenge at first, and trial and error was the name of the game.
“Until the ladies got it right, I ate countless plates of Texas chili – no beans, of course – ribs, chicken-fried steak and never-ending samples of traditional creamy gravy,” Moore says with a laugh.
This dedication to perfection has certainly paid off.
The King Ranch chicken casserole made with smoked chicken, tortillas, olives and pimientos and bound together with creamy gravy – a Texan variety of béchamel sauce – definitely falls in the comfort-food category and was satisfying and tasty. It came with a salad of lettuce, red onion and outstanding sliced mushrooms. The Texas-style pork ribs were huge, juicy and finger-licking good.
No Texan menu is complete without chicken-fried steak. For the uninitiated, this king of Texan cuisine is made with steak, not
chicken. The Cow Town version is a fried breaded tenderloin smothered in creamy gravy and served with mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables.
Other Texan specialties include chicken with dumplings and Karla’s fried chicken, both served with the inevitable creamy gravy, plus hamburgers, barbecue sandwiches and sizzling chicken, beef and shrimp fajitas served on an iron skillet, accompanied by guacamole, pico de gallo, a fresh tomato salsa, and sour cream. These were both very good indeed, as was the corvina florentina. The garlic fillet of corvina and the surf and turf, the most expensive item on the menu at ₡7,500 ($15), have also been recommended. Appetizers, soups and salads range from ₡2,500 to ₡3,500 ($5 to $7), while Tico plates and Texan specials run about ₡3,500 to ₡6,000 ($7 to $12). All menu prices include taxes.
We finished our meal with a delicious cheesecake made by a 16-year-old who lives close by, Moore said. The young man has the potential to become an extremely talented pastry chef.
For diners or barhoppers looking for nicely presented, home-style cooking at great prices, Cow Town is an excellent choice.
Location: Santa Ana, 150 m east of the Red Cross on the south side, next to Atitlán language school.
Hours: Noon to 2 a.m. daily.