Vegetarian food in Costa Rica is much more readily available than people think. Although much of the Costa Rican diet consists of meat as farming is a huge industry, vegetarian dishes are not hard to find.
Despite not having a great number of dedicated vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Costa Rica, there are already a few vegetarian options on the menus at sodas, or local restaurants that most people don’t realize. So don’t worry about not being able to eat delicious anything during your trip as a vegan or vegetarian. You won’t have to chow down on rice and beans for every meal.
Eating Out as a Vegetarian in Costa Rica
Here is what to expect and know when eating out as a vegetarian in Costa Rica.
Sodas are what the Costa Ricans call their local restaurants. They are usually small, open air places that have only traditional Costa Rican food and are normally cheaper than other places. This is the places to go to eat Costa Rican food.
One awesome thing about sodas is that many of them are buffet style so you can pick and choose what you want. And they usually have several different salad and veggie options.
Costa Rica Vegetarian Dishes
Most sodas don’t have a specific vegetarian section so don’t bother asking the waitress (many of them will give you a blank stare since Costa Ricans eat a hefty amount of meat) but you can turn nearly every traditional Costa Rican dish vegetarian easily.
The most popular and local food is gallo pinto, or rice and beans. They eat this for breakfast and it normally doesn’t come with meat. It usually comes with eggs, natilla (sour cream), plantains, tortillas and cheese and vegans can ask for it with just plantains and tortillas.
Then for lunch or dinner, you can try a casado. Normally this comes with meat but you can ask for a vegetarian casado even if it’s not on the menu. It’ll come with rice, beans, salad, plantains, tortilla and some sort of pico de gallo or squash/plantain mix.
Other yummy Costa Rican vegetarian dishes that you can usually find on soda menus are sopa negra (black bean soup), arroz con palmito (heart of palm rice), chorreadas (corn pancakes), crema de pejibaye (peach palm soup), chips and salsa and patacones (smashed fried plantains). And of course you will always find fries and onion rings!
If you go to a bakery, you can get enchiladas de papa (potato enchilada) which are one of my favorite things to eat in Costa Rica. Unfortunately bakeries in Costa Rica are just OK and don’t have a lot of options or variety.
Also, it’s easy to gorge on fresh fruit in Costa Rica as well as it’s very fresh and sweet. Indulge in fresh pineapple, watermelon, papaya, banana, starfruit, guava and other exotic fruit.
Higher end restaurants in touristic destinations usually have a few specific vegetarian/vegan options on their menu. For example, the La Fortuna pub has a few vegetarian options and the food was excellent.
Toro Tinto (steak restaurant) and Amy’s Restaurante in Monteverde both had veggie pasta options and several salads. So there are way more dishes (and tastier) if you go to the touristic higher end restaurants. I’ve had some of the best veggie sandwiches and pastas in Costa Rica! They are more expensive than going to a soda and ordering a vegetarian casado though so keep that in mind if you’re on a budget.
Words to Know
It is extremely helpful to know important words in Spanish so that your order is clear and there are no confusions, especially for vegans. Though most of the locals in touristic destinations speak a degree of English, some sodas in local towns do not and it is still helpful to know the key words.
You don’t have to commit them to memory but write them down just in case. Also write down any food you are allergic to as well since sometimes restaurants use the same oil and pans to cook. Here are some important words to know for vegetarians/Vegans in Spanish.
Veg Words and phrases in Spanish
- I’m vegetarian – Soy vegetariano/a
- No meat/without meat – Sin carne
- Vegan – Vegano
- No cheese – Sin queso
- In water – En agua. If you order a fruit smoothie (batido), they will ask you “en agua o leche?” (in water or milk?) and you want to say en agua.
- No milk – Sin leche
- I don’t eat meat – Yo no como carne
- I am vegetarian – Soy vegetariano/a (male or female)
- Does this have animal products? – Esto tiene productos de animales?
- I am vegan – Soy vegano/a
- No animal products – Sin productos de animales
- I am allergic to – Soy alergico a (X food)
- No gluten – Sin gluten. It will be better for you to say Sin trigo (no wheat) just in case since some locals aren’t familiar with gluten. To be even more sure, you can say Que la comida no tenga gluten o trigo (no wheat or gluten in the food).
Seasonings and Sauces
It’s very important to note that a lot of Costa Ricans outside the city in more rural areas have no idea what vegan means so you need to tell them no animal products. When you are eating in sodas, even if the ingredients don’t have meat, the stock, sauce, fat or seasoning may be of animal products.
Some places use chicken bouillon cubes or chicken stock to make their rice and soups and some salads have mayonnaise so make sure you ask first before ordering. Some places will use butter instead of oil so even though you order gallo pinto, they may have cooked it using butter (butter is mantequilla, oil is aceite). Chicken bouillon cubes in Costa Rica are called consome de pollo. Mayonnaise is mayonesa in Spanish.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Costa Rica
More veg restaurants are popping up in Costa Rica and there are certain areas in the country where you will find more than others. One very important thing to know about these restaurants is that they are usually fairly $$$.
Here are some excellent vegetarian restaurants in Costa Rica. In Tamarindo, there is even a 100% vegan hotel called Mother Earth.
Casa Planta: Plant based restaurant inside the Igloo Beach Lodge in Manuel Antonio.
Organico Fortuna in La Fortuna: Run by a Costa Rican family, they focus on organic ingredients and healthy food with vegetarian and vegan options. It’s not super cheap, salads are around $15 and they also have sandwiches.
Lands in Love between San Ramon and La Fortuna: This hotel and restaurant run by Israelis focuses solely on vegetarian and vegan food. They also have a Kosher restaurant.
Indomitos Cafe in Uvita: Vegan/Vegetarian cafe with breakfast and lunch, fruit bowls, salads, etc.
Paz y Flora Vegetariano Restaurante in Monteverde: This vegetarian restaurant has very reasonable prices compared to other vegetarian places. They also offer gluten free options.
Cafe Orchid in Santa Elena: This cafe not only has delicious coffee and dessert, but excellent food with lots of vegetarian options.
Restaurante Shakti in San Jose: Below Hostel Shakti. Has a great variety of vegetarian/vegan options.
Como en mi Casa Art Cafe in Puerto Viejo: A great place to get delicious vegan pancakes, vegetarian wraps, salads and more. Also hasg luten free options.
LuvBurger in Samara: One of the best veg restaurants in my opinion. Great mushroom burger.
The Bakery Cafe in Montezuma: Not a specific veg restaurant but has plenty of vegetarian options. Not too expensive either.
Organico in Montezuma: They have really good smoothies and lots of vegan options.
Farmer’s Market and Supermarkets in Costa Rica – What Fruits and Veggies You Can Find
If you are booking Airbnbs or staying at hostels and have access to a kitchen, you can easily cook fresh vegetarian food that you buy from the supermarket or Costa Rican farmers market. The farmer’s market, or feria is usually open only on weekends but you can also find produce markets open every day.
It’s usually pretty cheap to buy produce at the ferias and it’s all local grown. You can find basics like lettuce, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, green peppers, cabbage and garlic.
However, if you’re looking for foods such as kale, quinoa, fresh mushrooms, arugula, napa cabbage, etc. you will need to go to a higher end supermarket like Auto Mercado.These items are usually more expensive too.
Eating Pescatarian in Costa Rica
If you’re pescatarian, there are lots of seafood options in Costa Rica and good ones too. You can order ceviche, arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp), fish fingers or a fish casado.
However with fish casados, it is usually tilapia which is not great especially since they usually just fry it with garlic so the dirt flavor is very apparent. If you want to try the fish, ask first to see what kind it is. When we were in Monteverde, most of the restaurants served sea bass which is a really good fish.
If you love fish, I highly recommend trying a whole red snapper. That is my absolute favorite!
Gluten Free in Costa Rica
If you’re gluten free, you’re also in luck. The traditional dishes in Costa Rica are very gluten free friendly as their staples are rice, beans, salad and fruit. Most of the tortillas are made from corn but ask since some serve the flour ones. I have a friend who has a lot of food allergies and is gluten free and she was so happy she could eat most of the food.
Remember, no gluten in Spanish is Sin gluten o sin trigo.