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A list of Costa Rican side dishes you can make at home to add a little Costa Rican flavor to any main dish!
About Traditional Costa Rican Food
Costa Ricans have an incredibly healthy diet. Between the abundance of fresh fruits (LINK) and vegetables in almost every dish and the lean protein provided by fish and chicken, there is a reason Costa Ricans are some of the healthiest and happiest people in the world.
There are tons of vegan food, vegetarian and gluten-free options in Costa Rica too, so make sure to ask if you need special accommodation.
Generally, Costa Rican food is served with rice and beans- from breakfast to lunch to dinner. You won’t find much spicy food in Costa Rica, so throw your Tabasco out the window. (Unless you are drinking a “chiliguaro” shot at the bar!)
Salsa Lizano is the national sauce here, and between local restaurants, grocery stores, and homes, you will see the famed red, green, and white label wherever you eat. Think of it like a Costa Rica Worcestershire sauce.
Check out this post: 30+ Foods To Try In Costa Rica
How To Pair Costa Rican Side Dishes With Your Favorite Main Dishes
It’s easy to pair Costa Rican side dishes with your favorite non-Costa Rican food. Flavors i Costa Rica are generally mild, so any grilled or braised meat will go well with any of the foods below.
In fact, one of Costa Rica’s national dishes is the Casado or married man. It simply pairs a protein such as chicken, beef, or fish with a bunch of the side dishes described below.
In Costa Rica, we also eat food with some sauces such as natilla (sour cream), pink sauce (salsa rosada) or Salsa Lizano. We also use the (slightly spicy) chilera or escabeche– fermented vegetables that go on top of almost any dish. So feel free to slather those liberally on anything.
Finally, when in doubt, just serve a fresh homemade tortilla. You can place almost any picadillo (vegetable hash) on one for a unique side. We call this a “gallo.”
Without further ado, some of my favorite Costa Rican side dishes.
You might also like our list of Costa Rican Appetizers.
Top Costa Rican Side Dishes
The quintessential staple of all Costa Rican food, you can serve white rice with a ton of different foods. If you aren’t in Costa Rica, make sure to use Jasmine rice, it’s the closest to Costa Rican style long grain rice.
Next to shite rice, black (or sometimes red kidney) beans are king in Costa Rica. You can pair them with literally anything to add some protein and fiber to your meal.
If you get tired of plain white rice (I’ll admit I do), you can spice up your rice! Add some red coloring (achiote) and finely chopped vegetables to mix things up.
using yesterday’s leftover rice and beans is the name of the game here. Mix together your rice and beans with Salsa Lizano and chopped vegetables. While this is traditionally thought of as a breakfast dish, ticos (Costa Ricans) never pass up a chance to pair gallo pinto with lunch or dinner. Instant unique side dish!
Instead of the regular gallo pinto, cook your beans in coconut milk and add the tiniest touch of habanero pepper to make a fun Caribbean-style version of gallo pinto. We often pair this with Caribbean chicken, so I love to pair it with any sort of braised chicken. Even a rotisserie chicken makes a super easy meal!
Again, we are repurposing back beans! This refried black bean dip actually goes great with ham, tortilla chips, or on top of foods like french fries or plantains. The sky is the limit when you are talking frijol molido. I also love to dip fresh empanadas into this dip too, or you can just make it a side dish in place of regular beans.
Need I say more?
This homemade bread is traditionally made in a round pan (think cornbread) and is the perfect amount of spongy to pair with your soups and salads.
This pico de gallo can be spread on literally anything- so feel free to do so!
Picadillo is just fresh vegetables chopped up and cooked, often with a protein such as red meat. This picadillo de chayote uses a bit of milk and butter. The chayote squash is extremely healthy! I like to pair this with grilled chicken, grilled steak, tortilla chips and black bean dip for a complete meal.
Same as above but add ground beef. So yum!
This green bean and carrot hash is so good with black beans and rice for a vegan meal. Otherwise, pair with baked cod of salmon for a healthy and nutritious meal.
Same as above but added ground beef.
This potato hash has shredded beef in it, so you can even make it a main meal by adding salad and tortillas. Or serve it alongside almost any braised meat.
Known in other parts of Latin America as tostones, these boiled plantains are then smashed and fried into big grounds. I use them in place of tortilla chips, and they would be great with chili, garbanzo bean soup, or even alongside a fun vegetable beef soup You can even use them in place of bread for an awesome carnitas and guacamole sandwich.
A super basic side that can be used in place of potato. I like to serve with fried pork belly, which we call chicharron.
This is a fun way to hide green beans! Who would have thought to put them in eggs? Only Costa Ricans. Use as a vegetable side dish with any of your favorite recipes for a protein-packed fiber punch!
Use in place of french fries! You can also mash the yucca instead of making it into fries and use that in place of mashed potatoes.
Savory or sweet- these corn pancakes go great as a substitution for corn tortillas. Or heck! Just east them on their own!
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!