Whether its ceviche, fish tacos, shrimp, or lobster you crave, Costa Rica’s seafood scene has it all. Should you stop by the side of the road at a random beach town soda and order the pescado entero (whole fish), chances are you will not be disappointed. But for some of the freshest and most expertly prepared seafood in the country, there are a few very specific places to hit.
Some have annoying signage all up and down the highway on the way to Jacó (ahem, Tacobar) and other tiny, nondescript places you’d walk by without a chance of noticing they have the best shrimp and lobster in the country. Good sushi is surprisingly hard to find in the Central Valley but readily available in beach towns. Still, you’ll sometimes have to pay dearly for the best stuff. Perhaps the cheapest delicious fish dinner you can find involves catching the damn thing yourself.
In the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo, this place is basically a tent stretched over a few tree trunks and a small kitchen. But everybody knows it and there is a good reason for that—the seafood is mouthwateringly good, and in particular the shrimp and the local lobster. Order it with butter and garlic and Caribe sauce, and be sure to get the biggest one possible.
Pangas Beach Club
Enjoy an alfresco seafood meal on the beach where the river meets the ocean. Wooden tables at this restaurant surround a giant ficus tree aglow with lamps.
Yes, the signage is obnoxious. But this small chain of fish taco bars is actually super-delish. The ordering is half the fun, as you choose from a few different kinds of fish, cooking styles, and sauces. Then you take your enormous plate of tacos over to the salad bar, and load up on all the goodies.
El Gran Escape
This restaurant and “fish head bar” in Quepos is sport fisherman’s dream. Fresh delicious fish is served right off the boats that dock in the Quepos marina, and the place is also adorned with hundreds of fishing hats and mounted billfish. “You Hook ‘Em, We Cook ‘Em,” reads a sign in the dining room, and in many cases, people do bring in their own catch.
This place started in the beach town of Malpais, but soon the owners expanded the restaurant to the well-heeled suburb of Santa Ana the upscale Avenida Escazú plaza west of San José, where it became a flourishing urban fish market. Recommended fresh seafood dishes include small but flavorful oysters, blackened snapper, and Thai mackerel. Note: The hours of the restaurant are a bit odd. Make sure you call ahead.