These two suburbs have the most vibrant restaurant scenes in San José. In addition to the places listed below, Trattoria Bell’Italia ★ ((tel) 2588-2833) is a great option for Italian cuisine, and also like Il Panino ★ ((tel) 2228-3126; www.ilpanino.net), an upscale sandwich shop and cafe. Both of these are located in the Centro Comercial El Paco.
Two great one-stop options to consider are Plaza Itskatzú, just off the highway and sharing a parking lot with the Courtyard San José, and Avenida Escazú, which is anchored by the Marriott Residence Inn and is located next to the CIMA Hospital. My favorite options at Plaza Itskatzú include Tutti Li ★ ((tel) 2588-2405), a good Italian restaurant and pizzeria; Chancay ★ ((tel) 2588-2327; www.chancay.info), which serves Peruvian and Peruvian/Chinese cuisine; and Samurai Fusion ★ ((tel) 2588-2240), a fine sushi and teppanyaki joint.
Over on Avenida Escazú, you’ll find Saga ★ ((tel) 2289-6615; www.sagarestaurant.com), with a contemporary-casual bistro menu; Terraza Toscana ★★ ((tel) 4000-2220; www.terrazzatoscanacr.com) an excellent and elegant Italian restaurant; and L’Ile de France ★★ ((tel) 2289-7533), a top-notch, high-end French restaurant.
Dining under the stars
One of my favorite unique Costa Rican experiences is dining on the side of a volcano with the lights of San José shimmering below. These hanging restaurants, called miradores, are a resourceful response to the city’s topography. Because San José is set in a broad valley surrounded on all sides by volcanic mountains, people who live in these mountainous areas have no place to go but up—so they do, building roadside cafes vertically up the sides of the volcanoes.
The food at most of these establishments is not spectacular, but the views often are, particularly at night, when the wide valley sparkles in a wash of lights. The town of Aserri, 10km (6 1/4 miles) south of downtown San José, is the king of miradores, and Mirador Ram Luna ((tel) 2230-3022; www.restauranteramluna.com) is the king of Aserri. Grab a window seat and, if you’ve got the fortitude, order a plate of chicharrones (fried pork rinds). There’s often live music. You can hire a cab for around C7,500 or take the Aserri bus at Avenida 6 between calles Central and 2. Just ask the driver where to get off.
Miradores are also in the hills above Escazú and in San Ramón de Tres Ríos and Heredia. The most popular is Le Monestère ((tel) 2289-4404; www.monastere-restaurant.com; closed Sun), an elegant converted church serving somewhat overrated French and Belgian cuisine in a spectacular setting above the hills of Escazú. I recommend coming here just for the less formal Cantina La Cava ★. I also like Mirador Tiquicia ★ ((tel) 2289-5839; www.miradortiquicia.com), which occupies several rooms in a sprawling old Costa Rican home and has live folkloric dance shows on Thursday.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.