When we arrived to the rolling green mountains, a characteristic mist was falling over us and a chill crept up our motorcycle-seat worn spines. I immediately knew that this was the kind of place I wanted to find comfort food – good, warm drinks and hearty food to fuel our adventures. Deciding where to eat in Monteverde was a process motivated by follow-the-crowds mentality combined with insiders tips and recommendations from hotel owners in the area. No matter if you´re on your own mountain adventure or just stopping by for a few days, you´ll love what this town has to offer… what we found didn’t disappoint!
Cafe Orchid Coffee Shop
The Orchid Coffee Shop reigns supreme on TripAdvisor, and for good reason. The little coffee shop is cozy inside, has a breezy covered deck, and always seems full. Service is fast, professional, and friendly, and a well-stocked dessert display shows off the best cheesecakes, cakes, and pies to be found in the area. Local coffee – hot and cold – is a highlight on the menu – the chilled variety comes in mason jar mugs swirled with sweet cream. Waffles, crepes, and eggs benedict are among the options as well as the more typical rice and beans or gallo pinto and sweet fried plantains. To find it, keep an eye out for a giant purple and white orchid sign between the center of Santa Elena and the road to the Monteverde reserve.
What we ate: There were a lot of enticing options on this menu, but the eggs benedict stopped me in my tracks. When I saw the words hollandaise and smoked salmon I was sold. We split a hearty plate of the eggs benedict ¨Norwegian style¨ with spinach, smoked salmon, hollandaise sauce and two perfectly poached eggs over spongy-soft english muffin. Pablo ordered his normal – black coffee and while I was busy buzzing over the exciting options like frozen cappuccinos with figs and cream, his arrived. It was one of the best cups I’ve had in Costa Rica, so I ordered the same….deep, dark, roasty and the perfect excuse for dessert. Finding decent desserts in Costa Rica can be a task, and being able to identify a delicious dessert from a delicious looking one is practically an art form. Pablo opted for a multi-layer chocolate cake decorated with whole oreos and I chose the blackberry cheesecake. De-freaking-licious. The whole ¨breakfast¨ rang up to $18.00, making it one of our more expensive meals on our budget trip, but still a bargain considering the quality of food, awesome service, and garden-deck atmosphere.
The Bar at The Belmont Hotel
The Belmont Hotel is one of the top lodging options in the area, and while its eco-chalets might be out of budget for many travelers, its restaurant caters to a wider range of visitors. The restaurant itself is considered fine dining and has an extensive wine list as well as seafood and steak dishes, but the bar is known around town as having the best burgers, and the areas only artisan beers, brewed on-site alongside gardens and greenhouses that provide most of the menus veggie ingredients.
What we ate: When rice and beans get boring, burgers and beers are my weakness. We both had the house stout, a surprisingly delicious and chocolately brew, which were $6.00 each, but the pale ale was on special for a dollar or two less. The burger made with local beef and topped with the traditional lettuce, tomato, onion mixture (fresh from the garden) on a toasted bun was delicious. We added mushrooms and bacon to top off the ideal dinner on a cool, cloudy night. Service was excellent and setting couldn´t be better – we loved the outdoor deck with lounge style chairs overlooking the mountains. Huge heaters kept us toasty, and we had the entire space to ourselves….it might just be the best place in town for a romantic dinner.
Tiny, trendy, and focused on one ingredient only: Costa Rican coffee. They roast beans from all over the country in-house, and are serious about their caffeine – they’ll educate you on what gives each roast it´s own personality, what flavor notes to look out for and more. They also sell coffee by the bag.
Traveler Tip: Coffee here isn’t the cheapest you’ll find in town, but you’re paying for the experience and expertise of a really well-brewed cup. It´s open late which makes it the perfect place to cozy up to a warm cup and get a caffeine boost after a day of hiking in the chilly cloud forest. Buying coffee for friends? Choose a couple of varieties, take notes on what the flavor differences are and why…and host your own Costa Rican coffee tasting!
The Treehouse Restaurant
Located in the heart of Santa Elena, this quirky – and popular – spot is an example of building with nature, not on top of it. A real tree twists and turns its way through the second story deck where patrons sip cocktails and order from a varied menu below its canopy and among its branches. Live music is a highlight and the trees canopy is illuminated with green-tinted lights at night.
Traveler tip: We heard from several travelers that prices were rather high, and considering that no one seemed especially impressed with the food itself, we´d say yoú´re paying more for the experience of dining in a tree. Opt for drinks and appetizers to experience treetop dining and fill up at a more traditional spot in town.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
If you would rather skip the restaurants and head right to the Cloud Forest Reserve, dont fret – there is a selection of paninis, warm soups (perfect for the chilly temperatures!), and fresh-baked bakery items located right inside the visitor center. You are allowed to bring food into the park and the nice ladies attending the counter are happy to pack everything to go, or you can sit and enjoy it in the log-cabin style restaurant.
What we ate: We bought muffins and coffee, which we stored in our HydroFlask thermos (yes, it was still piping hot 3 hours later!) and hiked to one of the parks suspension bridges. It was the perfect way to take in the views…snacking on something sweet and warming our hands and bodies with local coffee.
Budget travelers in Costa Rica become well acquainted with sodas and comedores, but lots of tourism can lead to a decline in quality and portion sizes for the price. Still, if you stick with the classics like a plate of gallo pinto, fried plantains, and natural fruit juices, chances are you will leave full and satisfied. The two most popular in town, Soda la Salvadita and Sabor Tico are decent options.
Traveler tip: Take descriptions lightly when straying away from the rice and bean classics. A caesar salad might not have ceasar dressing (or much in common with the classic at all), and pastas in cream sauce are typically very heavy. The fruit juices are excellent, and traditional foods like fried plantains and farm-style cheese are almost always available. We´re usually huge fans of sodas, but the ones in Monteverde were just ¨ok¨….still great ways to stay on budget!
Honorable mentions (AKA a lot of people raved, though we never got to visit or taste for ourselves)
- Pizzeria Tramonte – Owned by an Italian family and serves up authentic wood-fired pizzas
- Morpho’s – Comida tipica with a gourmet twist and fantastic, colorful decorations
- TacoTaco – Said to have the best (and perhaps only?) tacos in the area