When you visit Costa Rica and you want good local food, you have to eat at a soda. Trust me. You haven’t experienced real Costa Rica if you don’t eat at a soda. Oh and no I don’t mean eat next to a pop can!
Sodas are what Costa Ricans call their local Costa Rican restaurant. A Costa Rica soda are normally small, mom and pop open air restaurants that serves only traditional Costa Rican food. It’s the best place to experience eating out like a local!
Here is what you need to know about eating at a Costa Rican restaurant, or a soda.
Costa Rica Soda
Every town you visit in Costa Rica has a soda. Most of them hang a Pepsi/Coca Cola or Imperial sign outside and the name is something like “Soda Tipica.”
If you want to eat like a local, then you must eat at a Costa Rican soda. Also, if you are traveling in Costa Rica on a budget, sodas are cheaper than touristic restaurants so it’s a great way to save money on food.
Eating in a soda in Costa Rica is best and only way to get a taste of true Costa Rican food as that is all they serve. Normally they are family run and it’s a fun way to practice your Spanish and try different local Costa Rican food.
Sodas are buffet or menu style. We personally like buffet style because they will have a bunch of different choices so you can choose whatever you want. Additionally, the buffet style is a lot easier if you’re vegetarian/vegan or have food allergies. You can read this post for more information on eating vegetarian in Costa Rica.
A typical menu for a soda in Costa Rica goes like this: entradas (appetizers), platos tradicionales (traditional food) which are casados, pasta, arrozes (arroz con pollo/mariscos/camarones/calamares) and platos fuertes. Platos fuertes are usually a whole fish, steak, the special of the day or something like that. Small sodas may only offer casados which is the most typical Costa Rican lunch/dinner made of rice, beans, salad and a meat.
Another thing sodas usually have are chileras which are pickled spicy vegetables. If you like spicy food, you have to try this! Great addition to any traditional Costa Rican dish.
For drinks, they usually have sodas and natural juices like cas, watermelon, mango or soda. In Costa Rica, it is not normal to drink only water. They like to have a soda or fruit juice with their meal.
Eating at a Costa Rican soda is probably one of the best ways to get to know the locals and meet people. It’s easy to spot sodas and you can find them everywhere. Even if you’re driving on what seems to be a road into the middle of nowhere, you’ll find a soda!
If you’re staying at an Airbnb or if your hotel doesn’t include breakfast, we recommend going to a soda for a hearty cheap breakfast. All of them will have gallo pinto, the rice and beans traditional breakfast.
Here’s a fun short video we made of a soda in our hometown in Guanacaste, near Tamarindo. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area!
Our Favorite Sodas in Costa Rica
Here are some of our favorite sodas in Costa Rica. We always eat at sodas when we travel because they’re cheaper and it’s what Yeison is more used to since he is Costa Rican.
- Los Pelones: This is our favorite soda in Playas del Coco. We love their breakfast.
- Brasilito: In Brasilito. Has good rice with shrimp and seafood.
- Tipica Las Palmares: In Montezuma. Their patacones and guacamole were amazing and it has an ocean view.
- Ardilla: Near La Paz waterfall gardens. Nice little soda with good Costa Rican tacos.
- Coloso #2: Our favorite soda in La Fortuna. Soda Viquez is another good one.
- Sabor Tico: Our favorite soda in Monteverde. They have a very expansive menu with items you don’t normally see at every soda which is super nice.
- Almendros: A great soda in Uvita by the entrance of Marino Ballena National Park. Huge portions!
- Soda Sanchez: Great soda in Quepos near Manuel Antonio. We liked their breakfast.
- Rustico: The best soda in Jaco, it’s so good it’s been on the local news.
- Tapia: One of the best sodas in San Jose, Costa Rica.
- Marea Baja: Nice soda a little outside Jaco for when you need food late at night as it’s 24 hours. Super cheap too.
- La Tiquicia: Our favorite soda in Santa Teresa.
- Soda Lidia’s Place: This soda is in Puerto Viejo and they serve typical Costa Rican-Caribbean food so you will find different dishes like rice and beans, rondon and more.
If you’re in San Jose, I recommend going to the Central Market in downtown. Soda Tapia is a classic.
I would 100% write down a card in Spanish saying she has an extremely severe peanut allergy and present this to every restaurant, cafe, etc. you go to. Also I would recommend to only go to more touristic restaurants with staff that speaks English because they will understand and take more care of it but I would still 100% write down the card, carry it with you and present it to every single waiter regardless if they speak English or not so that they can fully understand. If you go to more like, local places where they don’t speak English, they most likely won’t pay too much attention to it as food allergies are not that common in Costa Rica and it is common for them to cook everything in one pan using the same oil. I would also write it as as ALL nuts – not just peanuts just in case.
In Costa Rica we have nutrition and ingredients labels for everything just like any other country but it will be in Spanish.
Hi! I am traveling to Costa Rica (La Fortuna and Manual Antonio) with my family of 6 next month. My 16 year old daughter has a peanut allergy. I am wondering if the restaurants there are careful about people with allergies, and any kind of guidance or advice you have for us. I wondered if I should make a card that states her allergy in Spanish to show if needed (although I know the majority speak English well). Do the grocery products they sell in stores list the ingredients/ allergy warnings on them? I really appreciate any advice or feedback. Thanks so much!
Do you have a favorite soda outside of the Liberia airport? We have a long day of travel next Sat and will need something before we hit Tama.
We haven’t really eaten at any sodas outside Liberia but I’ve heard Restaurante sr. Patacon is really good!
Hi Justin! Costa Rica is a very touristic country, especially the Pacific side so you will find most of the locals speak English (and many of them excellent English) since they work in the tourism industry. You can get by without knowing any Spanish but it is always helpful to know some phrases as a courtesy and for fun since the locals love to joke and teach people some COsta Rican sayings. We wrote a Spanish guide to basic but important words and phrases in Spanish, particularly Costa Rican Spanish that it helpful.
Justin L. says
Sammi, thank you so much for the very rapid response and also the educational link! I will definitely check it out and use it! I appreciate your site and again I am very impressed that you keep up with the user questions/comments so quickly! Have a great day!
Hi Justin, you are very welcome! We’re glad the blog is useful and we try to do our best to help everyone have an awesome time in Costa Rica. If there is any Spanish phrases to learn before you visit, it’s pura vida! The ultimate saying of Costa Rica, you’ll hear it everywhere and all the locals will say it to you. It directly means pure life but the connotation is like thanks, hi, or anything with good vibes 🙂
Justin L. says
Thanks for the informative article. My family and I are going to Costa Rica, (the pacific side) along with my 70 year old dad. No one in my family speaks Spanish. I spoke enough to get by in restaurants, etc, when I was younger, but haven’t practice it much in 20 years. I’m well travelled and as such I assume that most areas in the country that get a lot of tourists will likely speak at least some English. How important is it that I brush up on my Spanish before getting there? I know better than to just expect the locals to speak English to me just to accommodate my lack of Spanish ability, and I know that in many countries, attempting their language is seen as polite and humble. Is this a big deal?
Many peeps speak American, though I’m multi lingual. Sodas are fabulous. We frequented medium to upper end eateries-not a bad meal in the bunch. Went fishing, caught Rainbow Runner (similar to Grouper) , El Pelicano (in Jaco-west coast) prepared it-delish!! Visited the rain forest-all kind of wildlife. Went to soak in Volcanic Pools-unbelievable. The culture, people, nature, food—all incredible…island time mentality-very laid back & welcoming, well worth the experience!!
Pura Vida, indeed
I think you mean most people speak English, American is not a language. Glad you had a great time in Costa Rica!
Hi Allen, yes! There are plenty of taxis in Coco and you can take tours from Coco that include transportation so they will pick you up at your hotel. Let us know if you’d like recommendations for tour companies, here is a list of our favorite things to do around Coco: day trips from Playas del Coco
If I stay in coco without a car is there tours and cabs
We will be in La Fortuna in just a few days! Will keep an eye out for the Bus Stop Soda and Tico Soda…thanks for the info!
You’re welcome, hope you like it!
I am going this spring for our honeymoon. I am VERY allergic to all seafood…we are planning on eating things we fix ourselves in the condo but I would love to try some traditional food. Any tips to make sure food isn’t cooked in same pan/with same utensils/ in same oil as seafood dishes?
Hey Jill! I recommend not visiting sodas (the traditional restaurants), they usually fry everything in the same pan, use the same oil and use the same utensils even if you tell them. I would recommend going to a higher end restaurant and the waiter should speak English and you can ask them if the seafood is cooked in the same pan so you can try dishes like rice with chicken or casados. Yeison is very allergic to shrimp and most of the time he is OK, but there have been times when he got a reaction at the local restaurants because they use the same pan for everything so to be safe, avoid those and go to a restaurant in touristic towns as many of them are owned by foreigners and speak English.
i couldnt agree more
How do you say “Orders to go” in Spanish?
If you want to take your food to go, you say “para llevar”
Do these places accept the American Dollar or do we have to pay in Colones?
Most of them take USD, the exchange rate might be a little low. If you are in a rural area I would recommend you to ask first but definitely you can use USD in tourist or the main city.
Came back to California from Costa Rica and Panama. First time visit to Central America and had sodas a lot. For example in downtown La Fortuna, we kept on going to one that’s named tico soda. Beef, pork chop, and chicken are all priced the same for 2600 colones each plate. The pork chop with onions cooked fresh. Of course you get choices of many in your plate. Includes passion fruit drink, coffee, or tea. I call it a body building meal! Now I’m looking everywhere for sodas.
Ooh we have been to that one before. My favorite sodas are the ones in La Fortuna and then one in Santa Elena. The bus stop soda in La Fortuna is super good too and cheap! You should try that one next time you go back and then the one across the street and another one around the corner from the supermarket (Super Christian #4). Soo good!
That soda looks fantasticI been to CR many and have never seen one like that. Not caring what kind of food I eat I usually look for a decent place and I don’t think I have ever seen a soda that looks as nice as Los Pelones.
You have to try Sodas and the best ones are the ones where the bus drivers go. Los pelones is great you eat like a king 🙂
Los pelones is pretty nice for a buffet style soda and it’s super good! Sometimes you’ll find sodas that don’t look as good…(we’ve experienced those) and others that are super nice.
Sand In My Suitcase says
We hear Costa Rica is wonderful – but we haven’t yet visited (though we’d luv to). And when we do, we’ll be sure to check out a soda or two!
It really is an amazing country. Hope you guys make it over here soon!