With nearly two years of experience tasting the menus of a great many a deal restaurants in this lovely Caribbean town, I picked my 14 favourites. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Just so you know: the order of the picks is random, with lunch first and dinner second!
Como en mi casa art cafe
This cafe in the middle of town has a wonderful selection of vegetarian and vegan food with a special on every day. All of the soft and delicious bread is homemade too, with a lot of turmeric in it as a twist. Owners Roberto and Manuela are lovely and polite, and even if it’s crazy busy they’ll try to find some time for a chat with you or explanation about the food. Though it can be a bit warm in here, it’s a nice place to hang out, read a bit and watch the day and the people go passing by. In short: I don’t think you can go wrong eating here!
De Gustibus bakery
In case you’re awake early, this bakery is a great spot to crash at. If pleasantly feels like a piece of Europe inside of Costa Rica, a home away from home. Over the counter they sell delicious fruit tarts, meringue, eclairs, tiramisu and croissant. But it’s not all ‘let them eat cake’ in here. The pain quotidien is lovely and reasonably priced too.
Puerto Pirate Deli
A health conscious, little place on the corner of a carless street. Everything on the menu is vegetarian and very filling without lacking flavour. Don’t forget to try the ‘salsa brava’, the hot sauce to top off your pita or if you’re into it: the home made kombucha. The place has a marvellous view right on the white sand beach where you can dream away about the Caribbean lifestyle.
This place is a bit of a hidden gem. Small and covered in plants, you’ll find it almost next to the bus station. The cook is super friendly and she knows how to bake, but apart from the superb brownies and cakes in here, there’s a lot more to find. My personal favourite is the Dreadnut Salad, that comes with cheese and mango – an odd yet awesome combination. Sit on the little porch or at one of the tables next to the football field across the street and enjoy the Caribbean vibe on the street.
This place usually stands high, if not leading the list, on the Tripadvisor-ranking and with reason. The British owner Roger serves the yummiest breakfast in here and his property is somewhat jungle-like and feels secluded even though it’s right in town. If you’re hungry opt the Ana Rosa Special. You’ll feel like after-Christmassy stuffed with this one. For the book-lovers; the house is basically leaning on books, so brows in here for a new reading list item. Sometimes you find an actual good one.
Dog lover? Two humongous fellows are chilling in the back of the yard, constantly reminding me about Hagrid’s dog Fang. Don’t be too late in here; Roger closes the book shack around 1pm, and often a bit before that.
Bread & Chocolate
Your perfect all day breakfast cafe: think waffles, pancakes, bagels, omelettes. In the mood for really really good coffee – little French presses? Go to this hidden place, also because of their chocolate everything. Cakes, brownies, chocolates, milkshakes; everything is home made and delicious. The portions of the meals are quite big, so probably you’re pretty good to go for a day of surfing or hiking after this one.
Lazlo’s Catch of the day
If you have an appetite for fish, this small shack is a must visit. Owner Lazlo goes fishing every day and serves today’s catch that same evening; think red snappers, tuna’s and kingfishes. Mains are served with abundant garlic, veggies and fries. Nothing more, just plain good. Don’t ask for juices in here, they prefer to serve you cocktails. By the way; don’t be surprised if the service gets a little too friendly, often you’ll get a surprise visit at your table from Lazlo’s son Robi.
The place doesn’t have a sign, nor advertising, nor are the opening hours posted somewhere. You have to be lucky to get a spot though. It’s located south of the Salsa Brava Bar. Laszlo offers fish tours as well, so you can even schedule a tour with him and catch that fish yourself.
If you look at the terrace from the outside, you’d rather think you’re in Ibiza or Goa instead of Costa Rica. Koki is the best place in town for a sunset drinks, enjoying the street scene and watching people. Located on the main street of Puerto Viejo, the colourful rocking chairs are comfortable set up towards the street so that you can watch everything and everyone walking by.
In general, they’ve spent much time in here when it comes to the design, art and upkeep of the facility. If you don’t believe me, check out the restrooms. They’re the most creative ones in town :).
Luckily not only the cocktails and appetizers are yummy, but the dishes on the menu are quite okay too. Perhaps you even see the ‘house sloth’. The tree he lives in stands in the middle of the restaurant and he often comes down when there’s a bit of rain.
If you’re with a big group, get in here early and take advantage of the 2×1 drink specials while you wait for a table.
Need a fancy break from all the rice and beans? Or do you have something to celebrate? Go the Pecora Nera: probably the best Italian restaurant in Costa Rica, or at least on the Caribbean coast. It’s a gem tucked back off the main road. with a beautiful open air atmosphere.
As often with Italian restaurant holders, the owner is a bit of a character. Just enjoy the show; he’ll take you into the wine room and helped you pick our bottle and next describe all the specials of the day for you. The food is simple, fresh (home made bread and pasta!) and the ingredients are all of good quality and rare to find in the Caribbean. In case you’re on a salt diet, you should skip this place. Apart from that, if you could, you’d probably lick your plate in the end.
It’s wise to book in advance in the weekends, as it is popular and usually quite busy. Eating here every night would bankrupt you (compared to the majority of the restaurants in the area), but as a one-off it’s definitely worth it.
In here you’ll find Caribbean fish with a French twist. Every day the cook chooses the sauce of the day, to accompany the freshly delivered fishes with some creativity. Not only the food, but also its presentation is very nice in this place right in the middle of Puerto Viejo. Not the cheapest, but all in all a cute restaurant with good dishes and a laid-back atmosphere.
El Refugio Grill
El Refugio is past Punta Uva on the main road heading towards Manzanillo. It makes for a great romantic dinner in the jungle with a private atmosphere. The chef and owner is very friendly and cares about your experience.
Everyday there are only a couple of dishes on the menu – personally I always like it when the menu is small – and he knows how to grill them to perfection. If you want to hear some howler monkeys – they’re often in the area around sunset! And since a while the cook now serves lovely lunches too!
Charming little restaurant right in the middle of town with some nice views from the upstairs open dining area. The owner is a magician when it comes to the fresh bebidas and puts a lot of effort in each and every drink. You’ll get such a big glass, you won’t need to order another one. Dishes are creative and tasty too, though you may have to wait a little while. All for a meal with a true Caribbean feel.
Stashu’s con Fushion’s
Come here if you’re in the mood for some flavour explosions. The cook knows how to perfectly blend in the Caribbean taste with the Indian spices for a very satisfying meal with a pretty presentation. The thing in here I like a lot are the free appetizers you’ll get, with a lot of veggies. The tasty mains that will follow always contain the perfect amount of food (how do they do it?). I’ve been to Stashu’s dozens of times and although the menu is always the same, it has never been disappointing.
The decorative style of the place is a little funky – with lots of paintings from local artists on display – , but actually adds to the overall wonderful atmosphere. Cocktails in here are really good too.
A bit remote, Selvin’s earns a spot on this list becomes of its ambiance: cool lights, beautiful wooden tables, chairs and decoration and a location that’s tucked away into the jungle just off the main road. If you come from Punta Uva, this is a great place to grab a beer and a simple meal or some appetizers. They are known for the rondon (fish soup) in here, so order that with a couple of patacones (deep fried banana cookies), even if it’s hot outside.