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The simple, clean Soda La Parada (tel. 506/2479-9547, 24 hours), on the south side of the plaza, serves around the clock and offers lunchtime casados (set lunches) for $2, but it also serves a broad menu, from sandwiches to pizza.
The thatch-roofed Rancho La Cascada Restaurant (tel. 506/2479-9145, 6 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), on the north side of the plaza, serves filling breakfasts plus típico and eclectic dishes, from burgers to pastas ($2–6).
For traditional local fare, head to Choza de Laurel (tel. 506/2479-7063, www.lachozadelaurel.com, 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), a rustic Tican country inn with cloves of garlic hanging from the roof and an excellent plato especial—mixed plate of Costa Rican dishes. Grilled chicken ($2–6) and casados ($4) are other good bets.
For elegance, I opt for Restaurante Luigi (tel. 506/2479-9636, 6 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), two blocks west of the plaza. This airy upscale option lists a large pasta and pizza menu, plus the likes of bruschetta ($5), cream of mushroom soup ($4), beef stroganoff ($10), and sea bass with shrimp ($15). It specializes in flambées and has a large cocktail list.
Nearby Anch’io (tel. 506/2479-7560, noon–10 p.m. daily) is a great choice for pastas and superb wood-fired pizzas, enjoyed on a vine-clad patio like a little piece of Tuscany.
Some of the best eats in town are at Don Rufino (tel. 506/2479-9997, 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), one block east of the plaza. Airy and elegant, it offers a wide menu that ranges from veggies on the grill ($6) to filet mignon ($15); the house special is pollo al estilo de la abuela (grandma’s chicken). It serves great bocas at the bar.
Musmanni (6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), two blocks east of the plaza, sells baked goods, as does the delightful Mi Casa Coffee House (tel. 506/2479-7115, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), one block east of the plaza, and Panadería Cafetería Duran (tel. 506/2479-7306, 24 hours), on the main drag two blocks east of the plaza.
The chicest coffee shop in town is My Coffee, on the south side of the plaza, with a raised wooden deck overlooking the park.
For ice cream, head to Heladería Bocatico (tel. 506/2479-9576) on the plaza’s east side. This open-air restaurant has a hip, modern motif with bamboo ceiling and stainless-steel chairs on a wooden deck.
La Fortuna to Tabacón
The upscale Los Tucanes Restaurant (Tabacón Lodge, tel. 506/2479-2000, www.tabacon.com, 6:30–10:30 a.m. and 5–10 p.m. daily) offers magnificent volcano views. I like its chic contemporary styling and the views over a lovely swimming pool with cascade. The menu spans the globe with such treats as sautéed escargots ($26) and roasted salmon with truffle-oil mashed potatoes ($28).
Craving steak? Make a beeline to Steak House Arenal (tel. 506/2479-1926, www.restaurantesteakhousemiradorarenal.com, 6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, $5–12), 11 kilometers west of town. This charming place is festooned with hanging plants and has traditional hardwood decor.
An upscale standout south of town, the elegant Restaurante Heliconias (tel. 506/2479-1700, www.hotelarenalkioro.com, 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), in the Hotel Arenal Kioro, is right below the lava flows. Its position is spectacular, with a wall of glass that opens so you can even hear the lava while you dine! And the cuisine rates, too. Begin, perhaps, with the octopus cocktail ($12) or pejibaye cream ($6) followed by sea bass in caper sauce ($16), and perhaps the seafood salad made at your table with 12 ingredients.
Even classier is Las Ventanas Restaurant (tel. 506/2401-3313, www.thespringscostarica.com, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), in The Springs Resort & Spa. It serves gourmet Costa Rican fusion cuisine and has incredible wall-of-glass views of the volcano and the northern lowlands. The Springs also has a sushi bar, Ginger Sushi, plus a buffet restaurant, grill, and 24-hour room service.
Altamira (6:30–10 a.m., 11 a.m.–2 p.m., and 5:30–10 p.m. daily), at the Hotel Arenal Nayara, is no less stylish, blending a Balinese theme into a contemporary vogue. Gazpacho ($6), ceviche, mushroom gratin, beef jalapeño tenderloin ($16), and seafood Pernod ($18) exemplify the menu. Dine beneath a huge palenque roof hung with Chinese lanterns.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition