Costa Rican Street Food- A Delightful Underground Gastronomy

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costa rican street food in steel bowls.

About Costa Rican Street Food

I’ll just start by saying it: street food in Costa Rica is absolutely delicious. One of the huge advantages of Costa Rican street food is that since in Costa Rica you can drink the water, you can be sure that even fresh fruits and vegetables are safe to eat on the street because they have been washed with clean water.

Costa Rican street food is also relatively inexpensive compared to food in restaurants. You can usually pick up a dish or snack for between $3-$5, sometimes even less.

Often when you purchase street food, you are buying it directly from the person who made it, which can be a nice way to support a local with your money. A word of caution though- many times street food vendors also do not have the food and sanitary licenses needed to actually sell food. This is the same as many countries, but worth noting as you are taking a gastronomic risk (albeit small), when you eat food from the street.

In general, street food vendors greatly prefer and appreciate your paying with local currency. They will not take cards or dollars almost ever, so make sure to change your money into some colones before you order.

Remember that you can drink beer in the street in Costa Rica, so sometimes it can be fun to get some street food and a beer and enjoy!

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toppings on a costa rican snow cone.

Where to Find Costa Rican Street Food

Costa Rican street food can be found in a lot of different places- often when you least expect it! Here are some places you can reliably find Costa Rican street food.

Note- in recent years, food trucks have become popular in Costa Rica as well. This is a new phenomenon, and they are fun to try! There’s everything from traditional food to Costa Rican fusion, so keep your eyes peeled.

Alongside the road

You will often see vendors selling everything from gallos (tortillas with a small portion of meat or picadillo on top) to baked goods to freshly cut fruit.

At stoplights

You will find that when there is a traffic jam, street vendors will flock to cars selling everything from homemade plantain chips to cashews to cold homemade juices.

On public buses

At the bus stops, drivers will often allow vendors to get on the bus and sell empanadas, bread, soft drinks, and more.

At the beach

You will often find men with carts selling copos, a delightful snow cone. Pati, a Caribbean beef turnover is another popular Costa Rican street food. Coconut water (agua de pipa) with a straw sticking out of a green coconut is also extremely popular. One time, we even found a woman walking down the beach selling cake. You just never know in the tourist areas.

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On the street

I mean, duh.

Outside Stadiums

Gameday means lots of delicious Costa Rican street food- most notably skewers of chicken and steak for about a dollar.

Puntarenas and Limon

These two towns- the port towns of Costa Rica, are well known for their Costa Rican street foods. In Puntarenas, the vigoron is the most popular street food. Another popular one is the Costa Rican fruit salad.


Turnos are community functions (often sponsored by churches) where the best of the best cooks in town make food for sale to benefit the church. This is good eating, people. Most notably you’ll find pork tamales, ox tail and homemade empanadas.

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Comprehensive List Of Costa Rican Street Food Dishes

Here is a list of the more popular Costa Rican street foods., I have included links to the recipes for the foods where I can, so you can get an idea of common ingredients before you travel. Since most street food vendors do not speak English, it can be good to know what you are getting into before you buy.

Close-up of beef empanadas cut into halves.


Street food Costa Rican empanadas are the size of your head! (Ok, maybe not, but close!) Traditional fillings include shredded beef, white cheese, potato picadillo, and, near the coast, fish.

Costa Rican style taco on a bed of cabbage and drizzled with pink sauce.

Taco Tico

Costa Rican tacos are like shredded beef-filled taquitos in Mexico. Covered with cabbage and French Fries, and usually slathered with ketchup and homemade mayonnaise- you have got to try them. They are soooo good.

copo two servings in costa rica.


Costa Rican snow cones are so delicious, and part of the fun is watching street vendors make them by hand as you watch. Hand-shaven ice from a huge ice block is covered with red syrup. In between layers of ice, Costa Ricans put powdered milk and sweetened condensed milk. Also called a Churchill, these are delightful on a hot day.

Costa Rican salad with lime, chicharron, chimichurri sauce and yuca.


Costa Rican vigorones are the quintessential street food in the port town of Puntarenas on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Hand-fried chicharrones (the ones with meat, not just the skin) are combined with a fresh cabbage salad and boiled green plantains, all wrapped up in a banana leaf. The banana leaf is in a cone shape, and you eat the filling with a fork as you stroll the promenade.

Fish Ceviche in a serving dish.


Ceviche is a fish dish popular throughout Latin America. The raw fish is marinated in lime juice to “cook” it. When you buy ceviche on the street, you will usually buy it as a portion in a small plastic cup. Often, Costa Ricans will add ketchup and mayonnaise on top. In recent years, you can see people eating ceviche out of a bag of chips- this is called a “caldosa.”

Ceviche is a delicious Costa Rican street food, but you need to use caution when you eat it. Some vendors will leave it overnight at the wrong temperature. The most food poisoning I see in Costa Rica is from ceviche sold on the street- so just be cautious. If it doesn’t pass the smell test of the fish is very rubbery, throw it out. Not worth it.

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close up of chops suey Costa Rica recipe

Chop Suey

Costa Rican chop suey is one of the first street foods I ever experienced. I found it at a huge street food stall at the Fiestas de Palmares, and it’s a favorite. Featuring chop suey noodles, vegetables, pork, beef AND chicken, it’s a filling meal. The fun part? This is a Chinese fusion dish, but it is always made with Salsa Lizano. You’ll usually order Costa Rican Chop Suey by size, and then be served in a round plastic container with a fork.

overview of costa rican arroz cantones in yellow and white bowl on tablecloth.

Cantonese Rice

You’ll find Costa Rican Cantonese Rice right alongside Chop Suey. It’s basically all the same meats and vegetables but fried with rice instead of with chop suey noodles.

Portion of Costa Rican arroz con pollo served with cilantro sprigs on top.

Costa Rican Arroz Con Pollo

The quintessential Latin American dish, Costa Rican arroz con pollo is just as popular in Costa Rica as it is elsewhere.


Chorreadas are a kind of corn tortilla. The corn is coarsely ground up and mixed with water. They are either sweet or savory and come topped with natilla, which is a type of Costa Rican sour cream.

Homemade Juices

It’s really fun to try different fresh juices in Costa Rica. The most common way to find fresh juices on the street in Costa Rica is actually at intersections. Hawkers lure drivers to roll down their windows and offer cold fresh juices in plastic bags accompanied by a straw. One of my favorite fresh juices on offer is the orange-carrot. You have to try it to believe it!

Tortilla with a serving of potato hash in its center.


Picadillos are a type of vegetable and meat hash, usually served in restaurants as part of a Costa Rican casado. They are served as street food in the form of a “gallo,” which is a small bit of picadillo served on top of a homemade corn tortilla. You’ll roll it like a Mexican taco and eat it on the go. My absolute favorite is the potato picadillo, or, even better if you can find it, the picadillo de arracache.

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If you would like to talk to me about a customized itinerary or specific Costa Rica travel advice for your family, (zero sales- just advice!) check out my “Ask Christa” page for more information on custom Costa Rica trip planning geared towards families.

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Christa Jimenez

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!

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  1. when I was in Costa Rica I could get pork belly in the Bucher shops. it was prepared and ready to eat. Do you know what spices are used and how it is cooked? We ate it will walking around the town.