For breakfast, I head to Tom’s Pan (tel./fax 506/2694-4547, www.tomspan.com , 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat. low season, 7:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily high season), in Nuevo Arenal. This delightfully rustic German-run outdoor café is splendid for enjoying American breakfasts. It also has sandwiches; beef stew with veggies; dumplings with bacon; sauerkraut; chicken with rice; roast pork with homemade noodles; and Tom’s pastries and other splendid baked goods.
Competing next door, the Austrian Bakery (tel. 506/2694-4445, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) is more contemporary and serves fabulous bread, croissants, and cappuccinos, among other treats. It also has a tremendous crafts store.
For delicious designer pizzas, make a beeline to Moya’s Place (opposite the gas station, tel. 506/2694-4001). This tiny joint run by a delightful young Tica is where you can dine outdoors and watch the world, or at least the locals, go by.
A stone’s throw away, Rumours Bar & Grill (tel. 506/8330-4123, 11 a.m.–midnight daily) draws local gringos for its burgers, quesadillas, and Tex-Mex.
At Los Héroes (tel. 506/2692-8012, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–8 p.m. Mon. and Wed., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. other days) the French-Swiss menu includes beef bouillon, smoked pork cutlet, and fondue, washed down with kirsch.
Levantine dishes feature on the menu at the Tuscan-style Gingerbread (Gingerbread Boutique Hotel, tel. 506/2694-0039, www.gingerbreadarenal.com , 5–9 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $20), with a daily menu that can also include filet mignon, jumbo shrimp with couscous and lentils, and tuna sashimi. Israeli owner chef Eyal Ben-Menachem really knows how to deliver mouthwatering fare.
A more contemporary alternative, Gallery y Restaurante Lajas (tel. 506/2694-4780, lajasdesinet [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), 300 meters east of Villa Decary, serves a great gallo pinto, plus sandwiches, salads, soups, seafood dishes, espressos, and cappuccinos, on an open-air veranda. Carlos, the owner, excels at chess; take time to challenge him to a game.
On the road from Nuevo Arenal to Tilarán, the charming restaurant at Mystica Resort (tel. 506/2692-1001, noon–9 p.m. daily) has a splendid Italian menu—pasta al pomodoro, 16 types of pizza (from $8), and a large Italian wine list. Cozy up to the hearth before or after your meal.
The drive along the north shore is worth it to dine at Restaurante Caballo Negro (tel. 506/2694-4515, www.luckybugcr.net , 7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, $5–12) at Lucky Bug B&B. An eclectic menu ranges from schnitzel to chicken cordon bleu to eggplant parmigiana and includes cappuccino. Dine overlooking a delightful garden and lake; you can even fish from a canoe and catch your own tilapia or bass. It has WiFi.
For superb lake views, I head to the endearingly rustic Café y Macadamia (tel. 506/2692-2000, 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), where the enthusiastic owners deliver tasty tilapia campesina ($10), beef chalupa ($9), and pasta tagliatelli ($9), plus macadamia muffins, blackberry cakes, and fruit shakes.