Before arriving, I heard rumors of spicy, fragrant, and flavorful Caribbean cuisine in Puerto Viejo. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I begged Andie to spend her sun (and occasionally rain) soaked days here with me. Creamy coconut chicken, garlic butter drenched lobster, and spicy seafood stew beckoned me from this town deep in the Caribbean jungle of Costa Rica.
Our first Caribbean meal satiated these fantasies.
What I hadn’t expected was an internationally diverse restaurant scene. Jamaicans first settled in this town, but in the last decade an influx of Germans and Italians have planted their roots. We soon discovered an impressive selection of italian, middle eastern, and fusion cuisine.
Whole Caribbean Snapper, El Pescador
Eli Brown (left) with his father Orlando Brown making cocktails at El Pescador
El Pescador was recommended by our taxi driver as THE place in town for Caribbean cuisine. We walked in and saw crowds, clearly the whole town thought so. We were quoted a wait, unheard of thus far in Puerto Viejo.
“What fish do you recommend?” we asked our bartender, easily one of the most attractive men I’ve ever seen. “I mean really, if you want fresh, my Dad caught the snapper this morning.” So snapper it was, giving new meaning to the buzzword “local.”
He brought a large platter with a hefty snapper smothered in a rich Caribbean sauce made with tomatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, and spices. We stared at the snapper, clueless how to make its meat onto our plates. I tried my best, slicing along the side. He looked our way, cocked his head and asked, “you know what you doing?” in a half Jamaican half Latin accent. Moments later he plated large pieces of succulent fish on our plates. It was wonderfully flavorful and fresh. We quickly devoured its delicate flesh. The coconut rice and beans the best we’ve had. Surprised, he stated, “you are cats!” Only the bones remained.
$24 for a large snapper for two
Beef Ravioli, La Pecora Nera
La Pecora Nera is not only good Italian food for Costa Rica. It is excellent Italian food for anywhere in the world. For you Seattleites I’d put it against Spinasse any day.
My trusty guidebook (outdated by about two years, which for Costa Rican development equals about a century) confidently described it as THE place in Puerto Viejo for a splurgeworthy meal. We deemed it perfect for my birthday dinner.
Illario, the hospitable chef and owner described the specials, and it quickly became apparent how seriously this man considers food. Puttanesca pasta is served with tuna that Illaro preserved himself. The bruschetta is topped with house made sausage and cured salami. Freshly extruded or rolled pasta is covered and filled with local ingredients.
Our favorite dish? The beef ravioli in ragu. The sauce is rich and complex with hints of cinnamon. The noodles delicate yet firm. We washed it down with a lovely bottle of white wine from Orvieto.
By the meal’s end we discovered that we had seen Illario two days prior on the beach. He witnessed us in our mock Sport’s Illustrated photoshoot on the beach. “I had to leave because my girlfriend would be jealous,” Illario said.
$15 for an entree portion of ravioli
Deep Fried Cheese, Street Vendor
Take a chile relleno, take away the chile, and what do you have? Battered, deep fried cheese. Vendors sell these on the street outside of Puerto Viejo’s least savory club, Johnny’s Place. I can’t imagine anything better at 3am.
$2 for 500 calories
Mango, Avocado, Shrimp Salad, Beach Hut
A beachfront view, a relaxing hammock, and an attentive server named Funky. What more could you ask for? Oh right, the most delicious salad you’ve ever tasted in your life. Done.
We heard from multiple sources that Beach Hut serves some of the best food in Puerto Viejo. Our salads affirmed it. Delicate baby greens (a rare commodity in Costa Rica), a tower of perfectly cubed mango and avocado, and crisp citrusy prawns, dressed in spicy cayenne vinaigrette. YUM!
$8 for a starter salad
Caribbean Chicken from Selvin’s
One day after basking in the hot sun on Punta Uva beach, starved and sufficiently salted from the sea, I popped into nearby Selvin’s Restaurant with my fellow beach bum Eli, who else but Selvin Brown’s nephew. We waited patiently for our takeaway food, chatting with Eli Brown Senior, Selvin’s ninety-three year old father, Eli Junior’s grandfather. Eli Senior explained his boredom in Punta Uva, “working” at Selvin’s all day, and that he missed being in town sitting on the main drag chatting up friends who walked by.
Selvin called Eli into the kitchen and soon after Eli emerged with a bowl of Selvin’s famous Rondon (coconut seafood chowder) and a side of patacones (plantains that are boiled, smashed, deep fried, and seasoned like thick chewy chips). The soup was thin but flavorful, with pieces of mackerel, conch, yucca, and corn. Each bite delightfully warm and salty.
We received our Styrofoam containers (which the Seattleite in me could hardly bear) free of charge, compliments of Selvin.
At Cabinas Ita Ita, Eli and I dined head-to-feet in the hammock. Much to my delight, stuffed in my Styrofoam parcel was a traditional Caribbean plate. Rice steamed in homemade coconut milk with a smattering of black beans, sweet, dark, sticky pieces of juicy tender chicken, crunchy slaw with pickled beets, perfectly fried potatoes, crispy plantain chips, and hot and crispy patacones. We sat without speaking, devouring each bite. “My Dad’s is better” I heard Eli say between bites.
Every day I crave this meal for its simple warmth, comfort, and satisfaction.
$7 for the Caribbean chicken