A Foodie’s Restaurant Guide To La Fortuna, Costa Rica

View of La Fortuna and Arenal volcano from the air.

La Fortuna Costa Rica is arguably one of the most visited areas in all of Costa Rica- and rightfully so. With views of the soaring Arenal volcano throughout the town, phenomenal hot springs, ziplining, and hiking opportunities, it is probably my very favorite spot in all of Costa Rica.

One of the main reasons that I love La Fortuna is the food- I think this area provides some of the freshest ingredients, nicest service, and most authentic Costa Rican cuisine anywhere in the country. 

view of la fortuna and arenal volcano from the air

Most all of the food grown in Costa Rica originates in this area, and the meat is cut and processed in this region of San Carlos as well. 

One drive through the city center, however, and you are sure to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of restaurants, bars, cafes and food stands. I bet there are over 100 places to eat just in the downtown area.

When you think about budget, time, and distance to attractions on your itinerary, it can be daunting to decide where to eat. 

That’s why, in this post I’ll help you narrow down some of the best La Fortuna restaurants by budget, location and type of food- so you can focus on eating and not on deciding where to go!

Related post: Tips for saving money in Costa Rican restaurants 

Where Are The Best Restaurants In La Fortuna Located?

The first thing you need to understand about La Fortuna is how the town is set up. In the middle of the area is the Arenal Volcano, and the main town is called La Fortuna. 

La Fortuna center itself is really tiny- probably 8 square city blocks of commerce, with the central park and church in the middle of town. 

Leading into La Fortuna on two sides are roads from San Carlos (province capital) and San Jose (country capital), and along those roads are restaurants, hotels, tour operators and residential houses.

view of arenal volcano with blue sky and clouds costa rica

Then, on the 6.5 kilometers of road from La Fortuna on the way to the volcano and the laguna, there are tons of tourist attractions. Most people choose to stay in hotels along this road, which ultimately leads to a small town called Nuevo Arenal.

Nuevo Arenal is about 30-45 minutes away from La Fortuna however, and so you want to avoid restaurants in this area unless you are looking to make a longer drive away from the volcano area.

It’s confusing because the volcano is called Arenal, there is a town called Nuevo Arenal, but where you want to eat and shop is in La Fortuna. So keep that in mind as you are searching for places to eat.

The restaurants on this list are located either in the city center, close to the city center, or along the main road between the hot springs and Arenal National Park and La Fortuna center.

Related post: Costa Rican Food Photography

plate of arroz con pollo with french fries and diet coke at soda la parada la fortuna

La Fortuna Restaurants

I’ll start with a few of my favorite restaurants right in the city center. You could walk to all of these from the bus stop, or park by the church and walk to them. 

Cheap Eats Downtown La Fortuna

Soda La Parada

Located in the heart of La Fortuna, this restaurant has an expansive menu of over 100 items. La Parada is named because it’s in front of the bus stop in the center of town, right on the southeast corner of the park. 

Soda La Parada is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is as much a restaurant as it is a gathering place for locals as they wait for the bus.  It’s a truly authentic culinary and cultural experience.

Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a beer and cocktail list, excellent casados, and great pizzas, there is something for everyone on the menu. This restaurant is one of the cheapest in town, and they will make food to order: for kids, vegan options, vegetarian options and more. Just ask! This is our go-to place to eat in La Fortuna- I love it.

grilled chicken casado at soda la parada la fortuna

Some of my favorite meals at La Parada include: 

Soda La Hormiga

red chair and menu at soda la hormiga la fortuna

This little restaurant has popped up in La Fortuna over the past year or so, and has quickly become a favorite with locals. 

It’s an open-air concept- you’ll arrive to seat yourself and order off the large menu on the wall. Service is no-nonsense, the food is traditional Costa Rican and super super cheap. This is probably the cheapest place to eat in La Fortuna. Located next to the Mega Super right downtown, with its own small parking lot. I highly recommend the fruit salad!

fruit salad on table at soda la hormiga costa rica

Copo Snow Cone Vendors

If you are walking through the park in front of the Catholic church and see the “copo” vendor, you must stop for a try. A copo is a Costa Rican snow cone that vendors sell for about US $2 cash. First, the vendor shreds ice from a big ice block, then adds a scoop of powdered milk. He tops that with more ice, and then pours snow cone syrup over the top. Add sweetened condensed milk and a cookie straw- and you have a Costa Rican copo! It’s a delicious, refreshing treat that is quintessentially Costa Rican.

Related post- Fanta Copo Recipe

costa rican snow cone with red syrup in park in la fortuna

Top Restaurants Downtown La Fortuna – Midrange

La Cascada

Another popular spot downtown for many years in La Fortuna is La Cascada (which means the waterfall). It’s been tico-owned forever and is impossible to miss because of it’s big thatched roof, located on the southwest corner of the park.

This mid-priced restaurant offers views of the volcano, a full bar, grilled meats and a solid menu of traditional Costa Rican food. I almost always order the typical arroz con pollo, here. 

Related post- 16 Basic Spanish Phrases Every Traveler To Costa Rica Should Know

Bar/Restaurante Nene’s

I stumbled upon this restaurant almost 15 years ago, when I took my parents to La Fortuna for the first time and we were looking for a breakfast spot. It’s locally owned by a family from La Fortuna.

The breakfasts here are amazing because you can get the traditional Costa Rican gallo pinto  or an American style breakfast with pancakes and eggs- which can be great for families with kids who are picky eaters. 

open faced hamburger and fries at nenes restaurant la fortuna

Photo Courtesy Nene’s Restaurant La Fortuna

We always visit Nene’s for the evening meal of hamburgers – they are amazing! The patty is fresh, then seasoned and cooked to perfection, the French Fries hand-cut and fried to golden perfection (try them Costa Rican style, with ketchup and mayonnaise drizzled across the top and eaten with a toothpick!). So. Good. 

Restaurante Pura Vida

Located a the very edge of the town center just before you head up to the hot springs, this Chinese-owned restaurant and cabins house the best American-style Chinese food I’ve found in Costa Rica. 

White rice, and all the favorite dishes, great service, and low prices, this is a great restaurant to visit if you are looking for a different style of cuisine in La Fortuna. (As a side note: I’ve never stayed at the hotel, but I’ve heard that the beds are nice.)

La Fortuna de San Carlos Best Restaurants For Pizza

Costa Rican pizza is so so so good. It might not rival Italy’s, but it is some of the best I’ve had. This is because the ingredients are locally sourced, super fresh and organic.

Homemade sauce, dough baked fresh to order, and cheese from a local farm- not mass-produced. Plus if you are traveling with kids- kids like pizza!

I have two favorite pizza restaurants downtown:

Restaurante Cafe Pizza Mediterranea

This pizza and pasta place is just across the bridge fro the city center as you head back towards San Ramon. We discovered it because it has a kid’s play place inside- slide, toy house, and a nice bathroom with a sink kids can reach.

kid's playhouse at cafe mediterranea costa rica

We headed in during a torrential rainstorm after visiting Tabacon Hot Springs and were so grateful for the friendly staff, full bar (great wine list!) and awesome menu.

From homemade tomato bisque to epic pizza selections prepared in the wood-fired oven, this Costa Rican-Italian restaurant, while a tiny bit pricey, sure beats trying to find a babysitter for a date night. Kids played, we enjoyed a cold beer while our food was freshly prepared, and everyone cleaned their plates and left full and happy. 

half pepperoni half veggie pizza at cafe mediterranea costa rica

Luigi’s Pizza

Luigi’s Pizza has been a staple in the downtown restaurant scene in La Fortuna for years. When I used to visit La Fortuna on a college budget, we would eat pizza here because the portions are big and the prices are fairly low. The white pizza is pretty epic. 

Look for a big yellow Luigi’s sign on the road towards the volcano- directly across from the Catholic Church in La Fortuna City Center.

Cook Your Own Meal In La Fortuna

Vida Campesina Organic Farm and Cooking School

On the road to the La Fortuna Waterfall, there is this adorable little farm where you can take a Costa Rican cooking class and learn to cook your own food. 

four people cooking in a costa ricna kitchen in areanal volcano

Start by taking a tour of the gardens to learn where all of the food you will prepare comes from, then head into the rancho for a lesson on Costa Rican Spanish language and culture.

Finally, head to the kitchen where you will learn to cook a delicious, made from scratch, organic meal. I highly recommend this experience for families! Read a review of the experience from our friend Lucee at MomJunky.

Related article: Stay at Rancho Margot, and fully sustainable farm in the Arenal area.

stack of fresh corn tortillas at vida campesina la fortuna de san carlos

Fine Dining in La Fortuna

Don Rufino’s

Fairly new to the La Fortuna restaurant scene is Don Rufino, a fine dining establishment also located in San Jose. Don Rufino’s offers upscale Costa Rican and world cuisine including filet mignon, grilled octopus, pork belly confit and Tom Yum soup.

The wine list at Don Rufino’s is extensive, and the in house sommelier makes excellent pairing recommendations. This is one of the highest-priced restaurants in La Fortuna Center, and portions are predictably small.

cheese empanada on grey plate at don rufino restaurant la fortuna

This video tells you about some of my favorite places in La Fortuna.

Restaurants On The Road To The Arenal Volcano

You may find that you are spending a ton of time driving between the Arenal Volcano, the hot springs, and La Fortuna City Center. In that case, it can be nice to eat somewhere delicious on the road to the hot springs just outside of La Fortuna.  Here are some of my favorite places to eat outside of the city center.

Volcano Lodge and Springs

 This is a family-run hotel about halfway between the entrance to the Arenal Volcano National Park and La Fortuna city center. The rooms are exceptional, and it’s one of our favorite area hotels for families.

The best-kept secret, though, is that a local family runs the indoor/outdoor restaurants in the hotel, and you can head over for soaring views of the Arenal volcano while you eat delicious food prepared by locally trained chefs at a great price.

The perfect family hotel near the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna Costa Rica isVolcano Lodge and Springs! A mid-priced hotel that caters to families- delicious continental breakfast, gorgeous volcano views, multiple hot springs and cold pools and beautifully groomed walking trails.

You can do typical Costa Rican casados, arroz con pollo, or you can opt for deliciously prepared steak and potatoes, noodles and more.

The nachos are out of this world, and the service is excellent. Includes a full bar and a playground within view of the poolside restaurant. Just drive in and tell the guards you would like to eat there.

Related article: 16 Basic Spanish Phrases Every Traveler To Costa Rica Should Know

Arenal Kioro Hotel Restaurants

Arenal Kioro Hotel has arguably some of the best nighttime views of the Arenal Volcano, and they also have several restaurants on property with excellent views.

From a sports bar with fun snacks and appetizers (Carajjillos) to a fine dining restaurant with incredible views (Heliconias), I would highly recommend making a reservation to eat here for a romantic and private evening. It’s not so much for families I would say, but a mid to high range price point perfect for couples and small groups. 

Kalambu Hot Springs

This tiny set of hot springs caters primarily to Costa Rican nationals and their families. It’s got three small pools, one for kids that includes a water slide and a huge bucket that dumps water intermittently.

The thing about Kalambu is the admission fee can include a meal- they have a nice buffet with traditional Costa Rican cuisine that rotates by day, plus pizza and chicken fingers for the kids. If you are looking to kill a few hours between events, time a meal here. The portions are huge, and the food is very traditional.

Kalambu Costa Rica Restaurant

Check their Instagram for rotating discounts on admission with lunch- it can go as low as about $12 Us per person for pool entrance with lunch.

Hotel Los Heroes

This is a hotel/restaurant/brewery/tourist attraction located about 20 minutes outside of La Fortuna on the road to Nuevo Arenal.

It’s a large swath of German-owned land that features a small train that leads up to a towering view of the volcano. The 360 rotating restaurant is the perfect place to view the sunset, enjoy a cold beverage and European food before taking the train back down.

front of hotel los heroes restaurant nuevo arenal costa rica

Photo courtesy of Hotel Los Heroes Costa Rica

The food is a bit on the pricey side, but you pay for the experience which includes a small tour through Costa Rican history, the train ride, and the rotating restaurant. Los Heroes has rooms for rent as well- but this is definitely a fun stop for all ages. 

So tell me- where do you love to eat in La Fortuna? And don’t forget to pin this post for later! 

 

front of hotel los heroes restaurant nuevo arenal costa rica

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Geovanny Lobo
    September 23, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Hola !! how are you? we have a great restaurant in La Fortuna of San Carlos, it is call Restarante Cafe Mediterraneo, is an Italian Restaurant we have home made pasta, pizza is made in the wood oven and much more… We have in area almost 3 years and you can look about us in tripadvisor if you need more information.

  • Reply
    Christa
    September 23, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Hey Geovanny- thanks for commenting and talking about your restaurant! I hope to visit in December, and I would love to stop by and check you out! You can send me a message at puravidamoms at gmail dot com and we can connect! Thanks!
    ~Christa

  • Reply
    Deb
    November 15, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    Can you give me some approximate prices for a simple lunch or dinner at the above places. ICan you quote in American dollars. I am just trying to figure out a food budget in La Fortuna.

    • Reply
      Christa
      November 16, 2019 at 10:54 am

      Absolutely! I was last there in August and I would say Soda La Parada $5-7 a plate. (I just found a new restaurant that I need to add to the post- Soda La hormiguita- that was more on the $3-4 range and was delicious.
      The rest of the places mentioned here are in the $8-9 range. Please let me know if you need anything else, and thank you for commenting! ~Christa

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