Unforgettable Meals in Puerto Viejo: Part 1

by Andie Mitchell on March 13, 2012

andie_eating

Before arriving, I heard rumors of spicy, fragrant, and flavorful Caribbean cuisine in Puerto Viejo. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I begged Andie to spend her sun (and occasionally rain) soaked days here with me. Creamy coconut chicken, garlic butter drenched lobster, and spicy seafood stew beckoned me from this town deep in the Caribbean jungle of Costa Rica.

beans_empanadas_con_carne_Don_Chichos

Our first Caribbean meal satiated these fantasies.

What I hadn’t expected was an internationally diverse restaurant scene. Jamaicans first settled in this town, but in the last decade an influx of Germans and Italians have planted their roots. We soon discovered an impressive selection of italian, middle eastern, and fusion cuisine.

camille_photos 504

Whole Caribbean Snapper, El Pescador

Eli Brown (left) with his father Orlando Brown making cocktails at El Pescador

El Pescador was recommended by our taxi driver as THE place in town for Caribbean cuisine. We walked in and saw crowds, clearly the whole town thought so. We were quoted a wait, unheard of thus far in Puerto Viejo.

puerto_viejo-16

“What fish do you recommend?” we asked our bartender, easily one of the most attractive men I’ve ever seen. “I mean really, if you want fresh, my Dad caught the snapper this morning.” So snapper it was, giving new meaning to the buzzword “local.”

He brought a large platter with a hefty snapper smothered in a rich Caribbean sauce made with tomatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, and spices. We stared at the snapper, clueless how to make its meat onto our plates. I tried my best, slicing along the side. He looked our way, cocked his head and asked, “you know what you doing?” in a half Jamaican half Latin accent. Moments later he plated large pieces of succulent fish on our plates. It was wonderfully flavorful and fresh. We quickly devoured its delicate flesh. The coconut rice and beans the best we’ve had. Surprised, he stated, “you are cats!” Only the bones remained.

$24 for a large snapper for two

Beef Ravioli, La Pecora Nera

camille_25th_la_pecora_nera (11)

La Pecora Nera is not only good Italian food for Costa Rica. It is excellent Italian food for anywhere in the world. For you Seattleites I’d put it against Spinasse any day.

My trusty guidebook (outdated by about two years, which for Costa Rican development equals about a century) confidently described it as THE place in Puerto Viejo for a splurgeworthy meal. We deemed it perfect for my birthday dinner.

Illario, the hospitable chef and owner described the specials, and it quickly became apparent how seriously this man considers food. Puttanesca pasta is served with tuna that Illaro preserved himself. The bruschetta is topped with house made sausage and cured salami. Freshly extruded or rolled pasta is covered and filled with local ingredients.

Our favorite dish? The beef ravioli in ragu. The sauce is rich and complex with hints of cinnamon. The noodles delicate yet firm. We washed it down with a lovely bottle of white wine from Orvieto.

By the meal’s end we discovered that we had seen Illario two days prior on the beach. He witnessed us in our mock Sport’s Illustrated photoshoot on the beach. “I had to leave because my girlfriend would be jealous,” Illario said.

$15 for an entree portion of ravioli

Deep Fried Cheese, Street Vendor

puerto_viejo-05

Take a chile relleno, take away the chile, and what do you have? Battered, deep fried cheese. Vendors sell these on the street outside of Puerto Viejo’s least savory club, Johnny’s Place. I can’t imagine anything better at 3am.

$2 for 500 calories


Mango, Avocado, Shrimp Salad, Beach Hut

A beachfront view, a relaxing hammock, and an attentive server named Funky. What more could you ask for? Oh right, the most delicious salad you’ve ever tasted in your life. Done.

We heard from multiple sources that Beach Hut serves some of the best food in Puerto Viejo. Our salads affirmed it. Delicate baby greens (a rare commodity in Costa Rica), a tower of perfectly cubed mango and avocado, and crisp citrusy prawns, dressed in spicy cayenne vinaigrette. YUM!

$8 for a starter salad

Caribbean Chicken from Selvin’s

roasted_chicken-06

One day after basking in the hot sun on Punta Uva beach, starved and sufficiently salted from the sea, I popped into nearby Selvin’s Restaurant with my fellow beach bum Eli, who else but Selvin Brown’s nephew. We waited patiently for our takeaway food, chatting with Eli Brown Senior, Selvin’s ninety-three year old father, Eli Junior’s grandfather. Eli Senior explained his boredom in Punta Uva, “working” at Selvin’s all day, and that he missed being in town sitting on the main drag chatting up friends who walked by.

Selvin called Eli into the kitchen and soon after Eli emerged with a bowl of Selvin’s famous Rondon (coconut seafood chowder) and a side of patacones (plantains that are boiled, smashed, deep fried, and seasoned like thick chewy chips). The soup was thin but flavorful, with pieces of mackerel, conch, yucca, and corn. Each bite delightfully warm and salty.

We received our Styrofoam containers (which the Seattleite in me could hardly bear) free of charge, compliments of Selvin.

At Cabinas Ita Ita, Eli and I dined head-to-feet in the hammock. Much to my delight, stuffed in my Styrofoam parcel was a traditional Caribbean plate. Rice steamed in homemade coconut milk with a smattering of black beans, sweet, dark, sticky pieces of juicy tender chicken, crunchy slaw with pickled beets, perfectly fried potatoes, crispy plantain chips, and hot and crispy patacones. We sat without speaking, devouring each bite. “My Dad’s is better” I heard Eli say between bites.

Every day I crave this meal for its simple warmth, comfort, and satisfaction.

$7 for the Caribbean chicken

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh March 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

My stomach just audibly growled. Look what you’re doin’ to me! ;)

Reply

KKWSMILE March 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

I am loving these posts! It looks like you are just enjoying every bite and every bit of scenery. And I truthfully can almost taste the food from the way you describe it. Yum!

Reply

Trish March 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Eli is a cutie!!!!! :)

Reply

Tracy March 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I am taking notes for a future vacation. It all looks amazing…food and location. :)

Reply

Serena March 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I’ve always been on the fence about traveling to Costa Rica butyour posts have convinced me I need to go. Keep them coming. Thanks

Reply

tK March 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Food tourism is my favourite kind of tourism!

Reply

Rachel March 14, 2012 at 5:44 am

Thanks for these great posts! I am headed down to Costa Rica in a couple days and can’t wait. This might be a silly question but.. All of these great people you are meeting and conversations you are having — are they in English or Spanish?

Reply

admin March 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

Camille: I came here without knowing any Spanish! Andie has definitely been my voice with cab drivers, clerks, etc but the younger generation speaks English and the European expats do as well.

Reply

Rachel March 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm

ok that is helpful thank you!!

Reply

Alison March 14, 2012 at 6:36 am

Wow all that food sounds so wonderful. How exciting to be enjoying such a different lifestyle culture as well as experiencing the cuisine as well.

I love how fresh and unprocessed everything seems to be. Plus with the humidity and all the water & exercise I bet you two are feeling really healthy and energized.

Reply

Kelly B. March 14, 2012 at 7:54 am

Now I know what I am craving for dinner tonight….”Rice steamed in homemade coconut milk with a smattering of black beans, sweet, dark, sticky pieces of juicy tender chicken, crunchy slaw with pickled beets, perfectly fried potatoes, crispy plantain chips, and hot and crispy patacones.”

Reply

Amy March 14, 2012 at 8:07 am

My husband and I are heading to Jamaica in a little over two weeks and this post makes me soooo very excited to try all the new cuisines they have to offer (and the cocktails and sun of course)!
~Amy

Reply

Shawna March 14, 2012 at 11:53 am

yummm…. love the post camille and andie, and the photo of your friend Eli does not disappoint! :)hopefully your continued travels will bring more and more deliciousness!!!

Reply

mom taxi julie March 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm

It all sounds seriously delicious!!

Reply

Mary March 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I think I can add a place to your food list. There is a little shack near Rocking J’s that has the best falafel I have ever had (assuming you know where that terrible-cliche-of-a-hippy-haven-on-the-Caribbean -Coast-of-any-Central-American-country is). I think it’s in Punta Uva, and I THINK it’s called Pita Bonita (did you know a pita could be pretty)? GO THERE! Just ask where you can buy falafel and I’m sure a Tico/a will point it out.
PS – Love love love your blog, and I’m stoked you get to spend time in CR.

Reply

Jessie @ amomgetsfit March 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Everything sounds delicious and looks amazing!!

Reply

Claudia March 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I just ate lunch and this food looks great! Love this place! So beautiful and the people are so nice :)

Reply

Miss McBooty March 16, 2012 at 6:17 am

I’m drooling.

Reply

Trisha March 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Though I’ve stumbled upon your blog many a time and find you to be an incredibly beautiful inspiration, I for some reason have never subscribed to your posts. Imagine my utter delight when I finally clicked that Subscribe button today and all of the new posts were of this Central American adventure of yours. I just took a journey with you, catching up on your travels & eats. While I want to be insanely jealous (okay, I am a little bit :), I will instead wish you buen viaje on the rest of your journey and thank you for sharing.

Reply

janetha @ meals & moves July 30, 2012 at 7:27 am

i just got back from puerto viejo! we ate at la pecora nero twice. so. damn. good.

Reply

Peter Plantec September 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Last thursday night we went to Selvin’s for Caribbean Night. I had His Caribbean Chicken and found the sauce wonderfully not too hot. What a delightful man he is. During Dinner out doors at his place, a massive 4″ beetle landed on the floor next to me. My friend Jon picked it up and let it crawl up his arm and onto my hand. It was a friendly big guy like the rest of the folks in that wonderful place. BTW, no one was upset by the huge friendly bug, no one wanted to kill it…except one woman at out table who freaked out. One last thing, the black beans and rice and the Patacones were also excellent and the prices were not bad either.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: