A Guide to Plant-Based Food in Costa Rica

Lola Méndez shares her tips

Costa Rica isn’t exactly known for its vegan cuisine but the main staples are rice, black beans, and plantains. These plant-based foods lack diversity but are nutritious and will energize you for your trip exploring the tropical Latin American country. Plant-based traveler Miss Filatelista spent 6 weeks in the country–here’s her guide to plant-based food in Costa Rica.

Vegan travelers have to do a bit of research before they arrive in a destination to search for plant-based eateries and learn the local lingo to ensure they don’t have any meat contamination in their food. These are the terms to keep stored in a note in your phone for whenever you’re ordering vegan food in Costa Rica. ‘Vegano’ isn’t a word in the Spanish language, you may use it but you’re better off detailing exactly what you can’t eat.

  • I’m vegetarian – Soy vegetariano/a (male or female)
  • No meat – Sin carne
  • No cheese – Sin queso
  • No milk – Sin leche
  • No butter – Sin mantequilla
  • No mayonnaise – Sin mayonesa
  • I don’t eat meat – Yo no como carne
  • I don’t eat fish – Yo no como pescado

Gallo pinto is the most beloved Costa Rican dish and is usually enjoyed for breakfast. The dish is white rice and black beans seasoned with Salsa Lizano which is plant-based. It’s usually served with eggs, plantains, corn tortilla, cheese, sour cream, and pico de gallo. Ask if you can swap the animal products for slices of avocado or tomato and request that your plantains are cooked in oil. My favorite gallo pinto was at Better Places Travel’s favorite eco-resort, Finca Rosa Blanca. On the Carribean side of Costa Rica rice and beans are prepared with coconut milk. Another great vegan-friendly breakfast dish is corn pancakes called chorreadas.

Coffee is consumed with most meals but if you don’t like the beloved caffeinated beverage you can enjoy a naturale with your vegan meals. Naturales are smoothies made with water. Be sure to ask if the fruit is fresca (fresh) or from a sugary syrup. Try aqua de sapo which means toad water but don’t worry it’s just a ginger lemonade.

Lunch in Costa Rica is typically a casado which comes with white rice, black beans, salad (make sure to ask for no mayonnaise on your salad), corn tortillas, plantains, and an animal protein. A veg option may not be on the menu so ask for sauteed veggies instead of meat. Most sodas, the name for local restaurants, will have cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots available. The best vegan casado I had was at Cafe Macadamia.

Snacking while vegan in Costa Rica is possible. My favorite guilty pleasure is patacones–smashed and fried plantains served with black bean dip, pico de gallo, and guacamole. Fresh fruit is sold in abundance in Costa Rica so you’ll have the chance to try some exotic fruits such as starfruit, guava, and mangosteen.

For dinner try the delicious arroz con palmito (rice with heart of palm). If you order sopa negra, (black bean soup) ask whether it’s cooked with lard or butter. Be prepared to eat a lot of rice and beans while you’re in Costa Rica!

If you’re in the mood for a bit of variety, seek out a vegan restaurant for some western plant-based specialties. My favorite places are LuvBurger in Samara and Mantras in San Jose; or check out @MissFilatelista on Instagram for a highlight of my vegan meals in Costa Rica.


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