I have been twice to Costa Rica, two weeks birdwatching. The 2012 trip included a lot of forgettable hotel/lodge food. This year we ate more local food and it was reliably excellent.
In general, the more home-cooked deceptively simple Costa Rican food is, the better. I discovered how sublime it can be with Patricia's cooking at El Copal Reserve. Ice cold showers, pristine jungle beauty and incredible birds--if you are into that, go there, you can find the place through ACTUAR.
This year we stopped at a lot of places with our guide who knows his food. When you are passing through the dusty town of Canas between Liberia and the beaches, don't miss Restaurante Mimi, next to Carniceria Mimi...with the pig statues out front. Inexpensive, delicious classic dishes, served cafeteria style. This is the place to try lengua and mondongo on a heaping plate for less than $7.
In Santa Elena, Monteverde, the hype about Cafe Tico is well-deserved. You can't go wrong with their comida tipica. Any of the casados are excellent, at very low prices for a tourist town.
If you are wandering through the Caribbean slope, check out any place selling pegibaje--starchy palm fruits, served with mayonnaise, like a fried potato.
Back on the coast, fresh, simply prepared ceviche and fish dishes, huge portions, at La Fiesta del Marisco in Quebrada Ganado, just south of the Crocodile Bridge.
In Jaco, El Caribeno is a must. Andrew emigrated from NYC to open this amazing little place, serving Caribbean classics lovingly prepared. These dishes aren't easy to do well and they are pretty much perfect here, making this little place a truly hidden gem that needs to be a foodie destination in CR: Carne Guisado is marinated in spices including oregano imported from the Dominican Republic; Oxtail is slow braised in brown sugar and spices then stewed till it is falling off the bone, some of the best you will find anywhere; Pernil that would make any Puerto Rican proud; nobody eats goat in CR, so Andrew sourced baby goat from a farm in Cartago trying to promote goat cheese, etc for his Curry Goat. I need to return to Jaco for that goat! http://www.flickr.com/photos/porschei...