Whatever your culinary desire, Tamarindo has developed a reputation as the go-to place for a wide variety of food choices. If you want sushi, take your pick of locations; pizza can practically be found rolling out onto the streets, and the other day a sandwich fight broke out between the hamburger spot and the falafel place! Kidding of course. With restaurants representing all corners of the world, rest assured you can find your favorite dish in Tamarindo. With such cosmopolitan offerings, you might wonder where all the local food went? After all, when you get a-hankerin’ for rice and beans, nothing will cure your passion like some authentic Gallo Pinto. Sticky rice just won’t do. There’s only one cure: eat where the Ticos eat. Ticos, A.K.A. Costa Ricans, don’t eat at all the fancy restaurants, not all the time anyway. They find their way to their favorite soda, and if you don’t know what a soda is, let’s start by clearing up any confusion with the sweet bubbly-beverage. Sodas are locally owned, sometimes tough to find eateries, where you can find huge plates of stick-to-your-ribs food for low-low cost, and a little bit of your time.
Where to find Sodas
Sodas can be front and center like restaurants, like Wrap Soda, which is on your left on your way into Tamarindo. This place offers a slightly altered fare from the usual soda, but at soda prices and with some soda options. If you follow the main road all the way into Tamarindo, to the rotunda, you may have to search to find the little doorway to Fiesta Del Mar. Inside you will not find fancy tables or branding but what you will find is down-home service, a mixture of plates and silverware, and really huge portions of good food. Head out of town to the crossing at Villarreal, take a right and go until you come to a very sharp left turn by the soccer field. Yes, seriously. There you will find a great soda by the name of “Las Palmas,” where they serve buffet-style meals to feed your whole family for pocket change. Practically. These are just three, there’s more around for sure, but you have to ask around and be willing to walk through some doorways you’re not sure are public.
What they serve
Sodas are famous for two dishes: casados and gallo pinto. Now the Nicaraguans will swear they were the first to cook rice in the dirty water from making frijoles, giving the rice it’s darkened color, but the Costa Ricans will swear the same thing. For you, it’s all a win. You get to try versions on both sides of the border! Gallo pinto is mostly rice and beans but has onions and spices to give it a hearty flavor. It’s also perfect for fueling a day of activities so you will typically find it served with breakfast, but Ticos eat it for almost every meal. Casados, the other typical dish, are actually served in most Latin American countries and can have a scoop of Gallo Pinto on them, but usually just white rice, meat, beans, and “plátanos,” or fried plantains.
What to expect for service
Service at typical sodas can be slow, although there are definitely exceptions in more touristy areas. Gringos tend to want it now so the locals have adapted. Most times, however, the food comes out much more slowly than you typically expect, and may even be cooked by the person taking your order. Ticos take food preparation very personally and relate differently to the food they cook, often able to recite what parts of the body a particular food will affect. They will tell you “this helps with liver function,” or “this improves vision,” advice for which I have never been able to refute or prove. If you ever get the privileged invite to eat in a Tico’s home, do it. Your plate will never be empty and you will leave stuffed full of food and stories.
Venture into a soda and go home with tales of adventure and maybe a few extra pounds. It’s okay, vacations have been about gaining travel weight since the invention of the wheel, and traveling in Costa Rica has been about dining in sodas since the first person put rice with beans to make Gallo Pinto. You can always mix things up and go back to sushi, burgers, and falafel, but don’t miss out on this true “off the beaten path” experience. And if you like to stay off the beaten path, stay tuned, as we continue down the “off the beaten path” series exploring the less touristy parts of Costa Rica.
Horizon Pacific Management & Rentals is located in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Horizon Pacific offers vacation rentals, property management, long-term rentals, as well as a complete concierge service. Providing you with a local contact during your stay, Horizon Pacific is a company you can trust, with the experience you need.