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You can sample local Caribbean dishes at the open-air sodas around the Mercado Central, good for filling casados (set lunches, $2).
I also recommend the modestly upscale, air-conditioned Restaurante Brisas del Caribe (Avenida 2, tel. 506/2758-0138, 9 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Sat.–Sun.), on the north side of Park Vargas, serving an excellent bargain-priced set buffet of típico dishes.
The clean, air-conditioned restaurant in the Hotel Park (6:30 a.m.–midnight daily) is also recommended; it serves soups, salads, shrimp cocktail ($8), lobster ($16), sea bass in garlic ($8), pastas, and cheesecake.
Antojitos Mexicano (tel. 506/2758-5050, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 5–10 p.m. Sat., 5–9 p.m. Sun.), at the east end of Avenida 5, offers satisfying burritos and tacos, including a Tuesday special: five burritos for $15. It has an upstairs patio with ocean views.
For Caribbean dishes and heaps of ambience, head to the Black Star Line (Calle 5, Avenida 5, tel. 506/2798-1948, 7:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun., casado $3), in an old wooden structure where locals gather to play dominoes and socialize.
The clean, air-conditioned Fruit & Veggie Land (Calle 8, Avenida 2/3, tel. 506/2768-4142) sells veggie burgers, salads, and shakes.
At Playa Bonita, the open-air beachfront Reina’s (tel. 506/2795-0879, 10 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 8 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sun.) is the hip spot hereabouts and draws the party crowd (and local riff-raff). It’s a good place to hang and watch the surf pump ashore while savoring a shrimp cocktail ($9), ceviche ($6), snapper ($10), or Caribbean-style rice and beans ($6). Don’t leave anything in your car in the parking lot.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition