Anyone who has driven around Lake Arenal on their way from La Fortuna to Monteverde knows about all of the crazy signs. Every couple of miles, there’s a random, handmade sign for some restaurant haphazardly nailed to a tree or fence post. One place, which shall remain nameless, has at least 50 signs of all different shapes and sizes in a rainbow of colors. They’ve taken a South-of-the-Border approach with claims to have the “best guacamole in the world,” “most beers consumed on Lake Arenal,” and last but not least, “#1 fish tacos on the planet.” Not sure about the best fish tacos on the planet, but there are some tasty eats to be discovered on the lake. Here are six great places to eat around Lake Arenal.
Café y Macadamia
Café y Macadamia is the perfect stop for a lake-side lunch or brunch. This casual restaurant about 15 minutes past Nuevo Arenal makes just about everything from scratch, from breads and soups to decadent pastries and desserts. Their sandwiches, like the Caprese, made with locally sourced ingredients, are a great pick and you don’t want to miss the extravagant iced volcano Frappuccino. Café y Macadamia isn’t a cheap option, but the view and good food are worth it. Cash only.
Las Brisas del Lago
Located in the tiny village of Puerto San Luis, on the Tilaran side of the lake, Las Brisas is a Tico-run gem with food that rivals some of our favorite restaurants back in Boston. You’ll forget you’re in rural Costa Rica with the myriad of international cuisine from chicken cordon blue to curry fish to tropical rice. Las Brisas is more of a dinner place and most entrees are served with classic sides like potato or rice and salad or veggies. With such great food, elegant plating, and table linens, you might think Las Brisas would be expensive, but it isn’t. Entrees are a steal at around $10. Closed Mondays.
This expat-owned restaurant right in downtown Nuevo Arenal serves up wraps, salads, burgers, pizza, and pasta. The chill vibe and Costa Rican art will draw you in and the delicious food will keep you coming back. We love the Crazy Chicken wrap, which is a play on a traditional Cuban sandwich, and the pizza with chicken, asparagus, blue cheese, and mushrooms. If you enjoy spicy foods, make sure to try the dipping sauces. The garlic-chile picante sauce is fiery and delicious.
If you want to grab something fast, look no farther than Little Longhorn in Puerto San Luis. This small restaurant doesn’t look like much, but they have great fish tacos made with tilapia right from the lake, solid burgers, and awesome homemade veggie burgers. The sides are only $1 so definitely get some French fries or onion rings to go along with your mains. This is one of the few genuine take-out places we’ve seen in Costa Rica so needless to say, we’re frequent guests. Closed Sundays.
La Huerta at Lake Arenal Hotel
La Huerta at the Lake Arenal Hotel is an oasis for craft beer lovers in a land of light, watery brews. Don’t get us wrong, we like the local Imperial and Pilsen, but sometimes you just want something darker. Lake Arenal Hotel and Brewery, one of a handful of artisanal brewers in Costa Rica, offers a nicely hopped pale ale, a balanced brown ale, and the owner says they’ll have more choices in the near future. Even if you’re not into beer, the food is worth a stop. They have a wide ranging menu, serving up succulent roasted chicken and pork, burgers, tacos, and sandwiches as well as more refined choices like a rich vegetarian coconut curry and an assortment of pasta dishes.
Although many of the places we’ve listed above are run by locals, we haven’t included a restaurant that focuses on typical food. For some of the best comida tipica in the area, head to Hotel Guadalupe in downtown Tilaran. They do the classics well and the service is great. Try the local favorite, arroz con pollo, which is rice stir fried with chicken and vegetables, or ceviche, fresh fish cured in lemon juice. For a well-rounded meal, grab a casado, which is a plate of meat or fish served with rice and beans, side salads, and a plantain.
Lake Arenal might be one of the more rural areas of Costa Rica, but it has a surprising selection of great restaurants. That’s not to say you’re going to find the best fish tacos or guacamole in the world as the signs claim, but we think that the traveling foodies out there will be pleased.
Have you visited the Lake Arenal area? What’s your favorite place to eat?
Post by: Matthew Houde and Jennifer Turnbull-Houde
Ohhhh what a great post! One of everything please 🙂 … but maybe a few beers, and more tacos!
hehe, that’s how we feel too, Penny. Just went back for more fish tacos the other day. Thanks for reading!
I am so happy to find your blog!! My family will be taking our first trip to Costa Rica next March and are so excited to see all the beautiful, natural sites! Your posts are very helpful in planning. Thanks for all the work and time you put into this!
You’re welcome, Deanne. Hope your family has an amazing trip!
Not having a car, I didn’t get to do too much exploring in the Lake Arenal area (and the monster hike from La Fortuna to the catarata there and then a more expensive cab ride back squashed any ideas of further exploring 🙂 ).
I did have some of the best meals I had ever had during my time there right in La Fortuna at the many sodas.
Is that a batido you’re drinking at Cafe y Macademia? It all looks amazing though.
La Fortuna does have some great sodas, we’ve had really good luck there too. The drink in the picture is their crazy Volcano Frappucchino. It’s made with ice-cream, coffee, and has chocolate syrup in it- it’s rich and totally amazing. We love traditional batidos too, but when you can get something like that, you just have to go for it!
How great that there are so many different options from fish tacos to wraps to pizza to ceviche and craft beers. Oh my. I’m hungry…and thirsty!
Yeah, Kelly, you could literally go back and forth across the lake eating something different every time. There aren’t a ton of restaurants but the variety is fantastic.
Your latest post has me drooling. I love the variety that is available. I am sure there are some die-hard pizza fans that are now visiting or living in CR…..the lucky ducks. They would be happy to know that pizza is available even though it might not be “just like home.”
Yeah Jane, we were psyched to come across Moya’s. Pizza in CR is very hit or miss so finding something like the real stuff from home can be tough.
I’ll take a caprese sandwich and wash it down with a beer please!
Come on down, Becca! We’ll be waiting 😉
My niece has been been living in Playa Grande on the NE coast. Has been traveling in Nuevo Arenal area looking for a cooler place to live. She raves about Gingerbreads food. Gingerbreads also has rooms for rent. Check it out
Lake Arenal is definitely a lot cooler than Playa Grande. We lived in Grande a few months back and it was absolutely sweltering! Thanks for the tip on Gingerbreads. We’ll have to try it out.
We ate at Gingerbread twice while staying in Nuevo Arenal at La Mansion Inn. Fantastic food. Chef is a real character.
My experience at Cafe y Macadamia was sub-par at best. It’s so touristy (hence the location, although the view is beautiful) and overpriced. You’re missing the number one best restaurant on the lake. The Gingerbread is amazing. Chef Eyal makes the best poke tuna that I’ve ever eaten (fresh on Tuesdays). Make a reservation though!
Sorry to hear you didn’t care for Café y Macadamia, Brittany. Sure it’s touristy but the food is good and atmosphere really nice. We’ll have to check out Gingerbread for dinner next time we’re in the area. We’ve heard such great things.
Just had wonderful seafood tagliate(sp) like linguini at Don Rufino’s in La Fortuna. So nicely presented and delicious.
Sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing, Lynne!
We’re visiting at the end of February. Thanks for the information!!
I’m wondering – If we spend a morning hiking in Arenal national park are there places to eat very near there or do we have to drive to La Fortuna? How far is that drive? I tried googling it and I believe it told me 27 minutes but I don’t know if that is correct? Thanks so much!!
Hi Pam, It is a bit of a drive from downtown La Fortuna to the national park. What Google says sounds about right. There are a few places to eat on the road between the park and town. Arenal Observatory, which is a hotel with a restaurant and trails on site, is another option. The restaurant has an amazing view of the volcano and the trail system is quite extensive. You can visit just for the day for less than $10 pp. Might be easier than trying to find a restaurant after hiking the national park.
I’ll be there for Xmas 2017 and was wondering where a fabulous place to eat for Xmas Dinner would be, looking for a beautiful setting and good food. Its me, my girlfriend and her two children 16 and 12.
Any good suggestions? I love your blog.
Hi Deb, People love Gingerbread in Nuevo Arenal so we would say to check that out if they’re open on Christmas.
When you’re in the mood for great italian food or pizza, I recommend Los Platillos Voladores in “downtown” Nuevo Arenal. They have the best spaghetti carbonara that I have had in my life. The restaurant is owned by an Italian family and they are all very nice. Eme became a friend from my first visit, and every time I come to the area, I make it a point to go there…..great garlic bread too 🙂
Hi James, Thanks so much for the tip! We will have to check it out next time we’re near the Lake. Cheers!