Sabor Tico - Santa Elena
While in Monteverde, Sam M., Alex and I met a local named Luke who, after taking us an a whirlwind adventure that included hiking the continental divide of Costa Rica, showed us one of his favorite lunch spots, Sabor Tico.
The restaurant certainly catered to tourists, as did almost every restaurant I entered in Costa Rica, with its multi-page English/Spanish menus. But its pretty front porch seating and location off the main drag were welcoming signs for me, a traveler who seeks the grit in new places.
On the menu were items I hadn’t often seen, like tortillas and all sorts of pork dishes. (In many restaurants, beef gets more attention than pork) I ordered a plate with pork ribs, refried beans, a salad, tortilla, salsa and a plantain half. This lunch was similar to a casado, a typical lunch plate of rice, beans, salad and meat, but was a little more refined.
The pork ribs were flavorful but a little tough, but everything else was delicious and noticeably homemade. The tortilla was soft, pliable and chewy, yellow from the corn dough that made it and an ideal salsa companion. The herb-forward salsa soaked into the tortilla just enough to avoid sogginess. The salad was dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette, setting it apart from the unseasoned iceberg lettuce I’d encountered so far on my trip. A common theme with my Costa Rican dining experiences was that the plantain was my favorite part of the meal. This remained true at Sabor Tico, where the plantain was expertly broiled: crispy, buttery and golden on the outside, and sweet on the inside.
My tablemates ordered a tamale, chifrijo (a typical Costa Rican bar snack that resembles elevated Southwest-style layer dip) and an annatto-braised chicken dish. The chicken was the highlight of the meal, and while eating it required dirtying at least a dozen paper napkins, the mess was worthwhile. Annatto is the spice used to add yellow color to cheese, and I never thought much about its other potential uses. But the spice added more than color. It was almost like a cheap-Saffron flavor, in the best way. The sauce coated the chicken quarter and bled into the rice, a perfect pairing.
Luke also ordered horchata, which he said was the best in the city. I believe him. The cinnamon-spiced almond and rice beverage was almost like a milkshake but without the heaviness of dairy. It was icy, not-too-sweet and refreshing after our midday hike.
We left the restaurant gleeful and satiated, ready to continue our adventure-packed day with ziplining. We agreed that it had been one of the better meals of our trip. Sabor Tico, after all, does mean “Costa Rican flavor.”
Sabor Tico is well-priced, with lunch options ranging in price from $5 to $12. Service was quick and amiable, and there is indoor and outdoor seating. There are two locations, and we visited the one “Frente la Plaza de Deportes Monteverde,” not in the shopping center.