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Finding Good Meat in Costa Rica–a Continuing Endeavor

Right after I graduated from college a boyfriend took me to a restaurant in New York City to experience eating aged steak after the removal of the mold and grilling to no more than medium. At first I thought, mold, ugh!

My mouth still waters at the memory. As a result, despite my family eating only well-cooked beef, I learned to enjoy rare steak after that. Occasionally, over the years I bought Omaha meats and splurged at a number of restaurants in Dallas, Texas that serve wonderful if pricey beef.

Think of my disappointment when I arrived in Costa Rica to find that butchers cut meats differently and literally chop chickens in unusual pieces. In addition, steaks were not edible.

Unfortunately, this is still the case in some areas of the country.

After settling in Puriscal, Costa Rica when I arrived, I started my quest for tender meat and good poultry. I found a mom and pop meat market across the street from the back door and covered parking area of the main Super Mora grocery store.

Due to my many purchases, I won a contest the owners held and received free meat. Steak was not a choice. As the owners spoke only Spanish, I learned words for the cuts of meats in Spanish and pointed to items in the showcase to show the butchers what I wanted.

One birthday I was out with a group of friends at a restaurant (that changed tenants more than once since then) in Santa Ana. The waiter told me their steaks were tender. I have to say that it was by far the worst piece of meat I ever tried to chew. I do not recall bringing the leftovers home for my dogs.

When I moved to Cariari, a fishmonger would come to my door sporadically. I bought meat from the high-end chain Auto Mercado. Sometimes I would go to the restaurant supply company Belca, one of the wholesale sources for restaurants and caterers, where I could buy some meats and other products for cash. A friend, who grew up in San Joaquin where I went to a clinic for checkups, introduced me to Hansel who owned Carniceria Muñoz. Every time I had a doctor’s appointment, I would stock up with as much protein as I could carry on the bus.

The best steaks were cuts we considered cheap in the States. Hansel would tenderize them before I marinated them so they were flavorful and chewable, if not melt-in-your mouth tender.

Of course, one should not forget the meat market and restaurant chain Don Fernando. Facebook here. The family has a farm where members regardless of their abilities work to supply the branches. They sell frozen ducks suitable for duck a l’orange. In the restaurant part of their stores, one picks a steak and sides a la carte making it costly. By the way, locally grown ducks are best prepared in a slow cooker.

Finally, when I moved to a renovated Tico house in Santa Ana in February 2012, the owner introduced me to Carniceria Obando on the Calle Vieja (old road) across from the Sevicentro Hermanos Montes gas station. 2282-955.

A family with at least nine members owns it and sells products from their farm, mostly with more recognizable cuts.

I buy a tenderloin called lomito, cut it into servings reminiscent of filet mignon, and marinate it with light soy sauce, lemon juice and whatever jam I have on hand. The original recipe for less expensive beef cuts called for orange marmalade. My two small dogs eagerly await a tough bite that rarely happens.

I have the butchers cut center-cut pork chops and cut the bone of each chop in half so I can share it with my dogs. The butchers grind hamburger meat called Molida Especial from leftover bits of better beef cuts. On Fridays, lean homemade chicharrones tempt me.

After the first bad experience of eating a steak in a Costa Rica restaurant, I avoided beef in any restaurant for years.

When the Outback opened, their beef was edible but not quite the same quality as served in branches in Dallas, Texas. http://www.outbackcr.com/  This chain that has a great employee ownership plan has served a rib eye for years but grills it without the bone, which would make it more favorable.

Years ago, I ate at a Tico restaurant in Escazú with live parrots that served a tasty beef stew. Other branches of La Casona de Laly are now in Santa Ana and La Bandera. La Casona and Facebook.

An expat told me that the owner had closed the restaurant for at least a year but it is open now. She reported that Laly sold it and opened another restaurant called La Posada de Las Brujas about five blocks away which is even more packed than Laly’s was even though it is more expensive. She added “The new owner remodeled Laly’s and raised the prices but it is still quite cheap and the food tasty. Some of our favorite food servers are still working there.”

A few places, where you trade your first born for beef, have served good steaks for years.

Finally, Porky’s Restaurant opened in Pozos near Santa Ana. Check Facebook The boneless rib eye served there is reminiscent of the aged steak of so many years ago.

Because I have not searched countrywide, I asked friends to tell me about restaurants they found that serve good beef. One told me about Furca in Sabana Norte/Rohrmoser, Facebook. Another friend recommended Leño y Carbón also on Facebook. The name means firewood and charcoal, but they cook with gas. A third person wrote, “The best steaks I’ve had here were eaten at restaurants El Avion listed on Facebook and Puerto Escondido. (See website.) Both are in Manuel Antonio and both serve imported beef.”

While some expats regret that Costa Rica currently offers more services and products similar to those in the United States, feeling it has changed the local culture, the ability to find tender beef plus lamb and frozen duck for a l’orange is a plus to me.

Price Smart, a big box like Costco, sells a slice of Virginia ham among other items. The downside is that being single, I have to buy large amounts and repackage them into serving sizes.

Bottom line, we no longer have to fly to the United States to fill cravings for many foods. Now if butchers would only learn how to carve a chicken. Sigh!