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From Arreglados to Casado: What to Eat on a Family Trip to Costa Rica

family trip to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is truly a land of abundance. Its jungles swirl with mind-boggling biodiversity and its coastal regions boast stunning beaches with marine life teeming in the coral reefs just beyond the shore. It’s also a land of plenty when it comes to food, from its tasty coffees to its cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The land of pura vida, the Costa Rican celebration of the simple joys in life translates into a variety of tasty treats that you and your kids will love. Here’s our rundown of what to eat in Costa Rica.


Arreglados, traditional Costa Rican sandwiches, are unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before. Nonetheless, they’re quite delicious and an iconic Costa Rica menu item. What’s more, even picky eaters are usually willing to give this yummy sandwich a try. Instead of bread, each arreglado is encased in a puff pastry-like outer shell made with masa (corn) flour.

Stuffed within this crusty, golden goodness is always cheese. Then, depending on the establishment, you’ll enjoy different meats, lettuce, tomatoes, and usually a type of sweet mustard as your condiment. Served with chan, a healthy beverage made from chia seeds, you’ve got a satisfying meal that any Tico or Tica would give their seal of approval.


Casado literally translates to “married” and proves a fitting name for this full meal, which is founded in a perfect blending of rice and black beans. Add to this your favorite protein as well as side dishes such as fried plantains and salad, and you’ve got a hearty, satisfying meal.

family trip to Costa Rica
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Portions tend to be large, so order this meal when you’re ready for a serious chow down. You’ll find these meals served at quaint Costa Rican sodas, family-owned and operated establishments similar to diners.

Rice and Beans

On the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, you’ll encounter a dish that looks similar to casado but derives inspiration from Jamaican cuisine. Called by its very obvious English name, “rice and beans,” you can’t miss it.

This dish is prepared using coconut milk and oil as well as pinto beans. Like casado, expect large portions that include a protein and plenty of delicious fried plantains.

Gallo Pinto

When it comes to rice and beans, Costa Ricans get truly innovative. There’s even gallo pinto, which translates as “painted rooster.” Fortunately, no roosters are harmed in the making of this dish. Instead, the plate includes a mixture of rice, beans, and vegetables served with eggs or meat.

family trip to Costa Rica
© Martin Schneiter | Dreamstime.com

Found on breakfast menus throughout the country, it can take a little getting used to if you’re more of a cereal or waffle person. But the dish tastes great with coffee and will power you and your family through the morning. What’s more, each Tico and Tica puts their own unique twist on the recipe, making it fun to explore the palate-pleasing possibilities.

Gallitos de Picadillo

Gallitos de picadillo represent the Costa Rican version of “Indian Tacos.” At the base of each one is a homemade corn tortilla that gets layered with mouthwatering goodness. The “goodness” includes local vegetables such as arracache (a root vegetable), chayote squash, and green beans.

Topped with picadillo, ground beef sautéed with peppers and onions, you’ve got a savory, satisfying meal on your hands. Depending on your taste preferences, they can also be piled high with a fried farm egg and spicy red salsa for a meal that’ll stick to your ribs.


Of course, no trip to Costa Rica would be complete without giving pejibayes or peach palm fruit a try. This staple dish gets consumed daily by many in Costa Rica. Despite their burnt-orange, fruit-like outer appearance, pejibayes have a savory flavor reminiscent of an artichoke.

family trip to Costa Rica
© Jamie Yacksyzn | Dreamstime.com

In the traditional way, they are boiled and salted, garnished with mayonnaise, and devoured with a strong cup of coffee. But today’s contemporary restaurants are putting a unique spin on this dish. Some are blending the cooked fruit into creamy soups or whipping them with cream into light, airy purees.

Helados de Sorbetera

But what if you’re craving something a little sweet? Look no further than helados de sorbetera. This custard-style ice cream packs a surprising flavor punch.

You see, it’s spiked with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The result? A dreamy dessert that hints at the complex flavors of crème brûlée.

A Delicious Family Trip to Costa Rica

Cuisine in Costa Rica proves hearty with a reliance on local fruits and vegetables. You and your family will savor unique dishes made with pejibayes, arracacha, chayote squash, and more. Just remember to come to the table with a big appetite as portions prove generous.

Ready for your own family trip to Costa Rica? Join us on our upcoming Costa Rica Family Adventure, an unforgettable family vacation filled with endless adventure. And while you’re at it, download our free Around the World in 12 Recipes cookbook. Featuring kid-friendly recipes, your whole family will delight in preparing and enjoying these international flavors together.

At Our Whole Village, we create tours carefully designed for families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for families just like yours.

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