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Foodies Guide to Costa Rican Sodas

If you ask for a soda in Costa Rica, you won't get a Coke. Instead, you'll be directed to the nearest family-run restaurant, similar to a small North American diner. Sodas are a great place to find home cooking, usually the stick-to-your-ribs variety – think rice and beans, mashed potatoes, fried empanadas and stewed chicken.

Large sodas may have written menus, but most display the day's offerings buffet-style. You can order a la carte, and pay by weight, or ask for a typical casado, the country's ubiquitous lunch special. A casado costs around $4-$6 and includes meat (your choice of beef, chicken, pork or fish in a variety of preparations), white rice, beans, salad, a vegetable side dish, and usually fried plantains. Vegetarians can ask for eggs or fresh cheese instead of meat. The plate of the day, known as the plato del dia, is an even less expensive option, and for $2-$5, you'll get a filling meal of meat, rice, beans and salad.

If you're itching to try authentic Costa Rican cuisine, eat at a soda. You'll be welcomed with a smile and treated like family, and your patronage will benefit the local community. Rock-bottom prices and large portions are just icing on the cake!

Recommended Food & Drink

  • Spotted rooster: If you breakfast at a soda, you have to try homemade gallo pinto (translation: spotted rooster). This rice-and-beans dish is Costa Rica's signature meal that not only tastes delicious, but fills you up.
  • Succulent sauces: Costa Ricans know how slow cook their meats, and chicken, beef and pork in savory sauces are absolutely delicious. If you're a beef lover, you can't miss carne mechada, a type of shredded beef. Chicken fanatics must try pollo en salsa, chicken and vegetables cooked in a thick tomato base.
  • Pure bliss: There's something about Costa Rican mashed potatoes that makes this side dish absolutely addictive. Creamy, thick and perfectly smooth, you won't even miss the gravy when you sample pure de papas.
  • Appetizing starters: Gallos are meat-and-veggie mixtures served with small corn tortillas. This appetizer can make a cheap lunch at around $2. If you can, get one with arracache, a nutty root vegetable that is like nothing you've tasted before.  
  • Sizzling seafood: Jazz up your breaded fish fillet with a squirt of citrus. Slices of sour mandarin are always on hand, and this simple combination is one of the country's best flavors.
  • Just dessert: Sweet plantains bake up into thin slices of sweet, starchy heaven. You'll get a few as part of your casado, but if you're at a by-the-weight style buffet, ask for a few extra slices.
  • Thirst quenching: Sodas offer fruit drinks in two styles: naturales that are blended with water and batidos, which are made with milk. Some fruits, like strawberries, taste great in water or milk, while others are best with water (cas, watermelon, tamarind) and some with milk (banana, blackberry and papaya).

Foodies Guide to Costa Rican Sodas in Pictures

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