When you walk into Café. Té. Ría., just 50 meters east of the Casa Amarilla in San José’s Barrio Amón, you instantly feel at home.
Rapping on the metal screen door, the waitress buzzes you into a cozy room with a songbird warbling in a cage in the corner and the occasional yap from Latte, the owner’s adorable West Highland Terrier puppy. Newspapers are in various stages of disarray on the small tables from previous guests.
After walking by the tempting selection of cakes, cookies, mousses and more and making a mental note to yourself on which you will later order, you meet your friend by the window and take a seat in the small dining room.
The tables are small with three chairs huddled around them. A low coffee table sits in front of a cozy love seat. Local artists’ works adorn the walls, and this afternoon, it’s photography from around the city.
Sandwiches are available but you’ve come for the lunch special, the plato del dÍa, that attracts office workers and savvy tourists. Starting at ₡4,000 ($8), it’s well worth it.
You choose the spinach and ricotta crepes and a glass of guanabana juice. Despite the selection of sweets on the way in, Café. Té. Ría. is an antidote to the Costa Rican sweet tooth. None of their fruit juices, or naturales, are sweetened with sugar. You sip the tart juice while you catch up with your friend and decide that maybe a little sugar wouldn’t hurt after all.
The dining room window looks out on a relaxed street that connects the Parque Nacional with Parque Morazán, one of San José’s rare green corridors. People stroll by, and the loudest sound is the cry of a Jamaican selling mango slices up the street.
The crepes come out baked and rolled, almost like French enchiladas, accompanied by the house salad, lettuce, radicchio, goat cheese, almonds and olives, slightly dressed with olive oil. One forkful tells you you’ve made the right choice. The crepe is light and lightly crunchy at the edge from the oven. The filling is surprisingly light for a dish so heavy on the cheese, and the spinach and mushrooms add a meaty texture.
Your friend orders the trout. Served lightly fried, the fish is seasoned simply to let its natural flavors shine. The trout has a unique pink color, similar to a variety of “salmon” trout raised in the hills of San Gerardo, southeast of San José.
Before, you tried the arroz con palmito, a Costa Rican comfort food, something like a cross between chicken Tetrazzini and risotto. The light acidity of the hearts of palm cuts through the rich cheese and cream of the baked rice dish. Portion control is key here, but the side salad makes you feel a little better about the decadent dish.
You quickly forgo any calorie counting though when the waitress clears the plates and asks if you’d like dessert. Not wanting to miss one of the café’s homemade sweets, you stretch your legs and again peruse the dessert display.
Torta chilena, stacks of dulce de leche sandwiched between layers of thin wafer cookies, biscotti, brownies, iced carrot and banana cakes, chocolate mousse and key lime pie line the counter and refrigerator case. You choose the carrot cake and key lime pie and an espresso. The drip coffee is a little weak for your taste but the espresso shot provides a balance to the sweets you’re about to enjoy.
The generous serving of iced carrot cake is enough to feed two. The key lime pie comes served in a small glass like trifle, with layers of lime cream and crumbly graham cracker topped with a twill of lime zest. Both desserts are plated on a long wooden tray on top of a doily.
After your lunch, drink and dessert, the bill comes out to ₡7,000 ($14).
Leaving, you realize the café’s name is a play on cafeteria and Spanish words café, té, and ría (coffee, tea and laughs). Two out of three isn’t bad, and next time you must have the tea.