Tamarindo has no shortage of great restaurants. It does, however, have a big shortage of cheap restaurants. With a month to spend in Tamarindo, and a family of four to feed, we didn’t want to spend a fortune on eating out. These are the best cheap eats that we found in Tamarindo on a budget.
This place has me so Pavlovian-conditioned that just saying Pizzaria La Buala makes my mouth water. Pizzeria La Baula is a home run: Amazing pizzas with high quality ingredients and a comfortable, casual, attractive place to hang out.
If you’re craving anything other than pizza or salads, you’re out of luck here. They do make some awesome fruit smoothies that are a pretty good deal. The pizzas range from standards like Hawaiian and four cheese, to prosciutto, arugula, and parmesan, and other wonderful toppings. The crust is thin and crispy.
Every time we ate at La Baula (which means leatherback turtle in Spanish), the owners were right there, asking if our meals were good, and chatting with everyone in the restaurant. It made for a nice vibe.
This place is located down a little dirt side road off Calle Real (good luck finding a street sign in Tamarindo). The road looks a little dodgy on first inspection if you’re making our first foray after dark. We braved it, and found the welcoming smells and lights of Pizzeria La Baula about a three minute walk down the road. The entire restaurant is open air, and furnished in tables and chairs made of local wood. There’s a cute little playground (swings and a slide) on site to amuse the kids (though the slide’s a bit high for the smaller tykes).
Cost. Pizzas run around $10 USD, and smoothies run around $3. One pizza’s probably too small for a couple, but two pizzas fed Chuck, me, and our two little ones with no problems (though we’re not big eaters). La Buala is a great choice for someone eating out on a budget in Tamarindo.
Le Petit Cafe
The owner of Le Petit Cafe, Allison, is a friendly and laid back Canadian. I’d give two thumbs up simply based on her attitude and how welcome she made us feel. We must have eaten here a dozen times over the course of a month, often just to grab a bubble tea and a sweet to escape the heat of the afternoon.
The good. Cute, clean as a whistle, and (thank God!) fully air conditioned. They do have a nice outside patio for evenings or those tough enough to brave the heat.
Favorites. You’ll score a win with pretty much any of the sweets. The brownies are especially yummy. Sandwiches are small, but good. Charles loved the avacado melt, stuffed with avocado, bacon, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and pesto.
Their coffee is top-notch; you can get a pretty mean espresso or latte here. Strangely enough, good coffee can be hard to come by in Costa Rica – most of the good stuff seems to be exported. Most local restaurants serve the ever-popular lower quality grounds pre-blended with sugar, but the coffee at Le Petit Cafe was top notch.
The bad. Portions (especially sandwiches) are quite small compared to typical Western portions. That said, they tasted pretty darn good, but someone especially hungry or a larger guy will need to order something extra.
Cost: If this is the first place you walk into in Tamarindo, you’ll think the prices are a bit expensive. That said, restaurants in Tamarindo are pretty expensive, and Le Petit Cafe is one of the most inexpensive in town. Sandwiches run around $6 USD, sweets range from $2 to $4 USD, and coffee’s around $2-5, depending on your poison. A huge breakfast burrito is $4.
Nogui’s Sunset Cafe
Location, location, location. Nogui’s Sunset Cafe is smack in the middle of gorgeous Playa Tamarindo, with a front row view of Playa Grande, surfers hitting the waves and the gorgeous waters of the Pacific.
We stopped at Nogui’s Sunset Cafe for mid-afternoon snacks, so I can’t say much about their suppers. Our fries and guacamole were fresh and tasty, and the portions were big. They’ve got an enormous menu, with some darn strange smoothie combinations for the adventurous. Our food did take a good while to come (about half an hour, which is an eternity when you have a two year old with you), but that’s pretty typical for a beach restaurant in Costa Rica.
Nogui’s is famous for their pies (especially cream pies). To my undying regret, we didn’t get to try one, but the folks at the next table were raving about their coconut cream pie.
Cost. A little cheaper than typical for Tamarindo. Our appitizers were about $7 USD a plate. Though we never made it, Nogui’s had a 2 for 1 happy hour from 5-7. If you choose carefully from the menu, you can get a meal on a budget here.
Taco Stop is a funky little hole in the wall, with cheap prices and tasty food. It’s right beside Mango condos, on the dusty road to Playa Langosta.
The owners are laid back surfers, and it shows. The vibe is uber, uber casual, somewhere between laid back and grubby (I mean this in a nice way, really). If you’re looking for white tablecloths, fine crystal and haute cuisine, this is soooonot the place for you. You’ll be sitting outside (but sheltered from the rain) with local pups running around your feet.
In fact, if you expect that the place will be regularly open during business hours, this may not be the place for you. We came by a couple of times at supper time (6:30ish) and it was closed, but had some luck a few days later.
Taco Stop is owned by two Argentinian brothers who made us feel right at home. The cook for the night (not sure which of the brothers that was) even went out of his way to make a cute little quesadilla plate (not on the menu) for our little two year old.
Our veggie and chicken burritos were both enormous, and packed with beans, veggies, and cheese in a melt in your mouth homemade tortilla. The salsa and guacamole were homemade and delicious.
Cost. Possibly the least expensive meal we had in Tamarindo. Our burritos were around $4 USD, and the excellent fruit smoothies were around $2. Taco Stop is a great choice for eating out on a budget in Tamarindo.
Langosta Beach Club
These guys have cornered the market in casual elegance in Tamarindo. Langosta Beach Club is located right on Langosta beach, and you can choose a table right on the sand, or one under the leafy trees by the infinity pool.
The food’s pretty darn good too. We went for lunch, and loved the paninis on homemade bread, and delicious salads. Their fruit smoothies may be the best in Tamarindo (and that’s saying a lot – we never had a bad smoothie in town). My favorite was the strawberry. The crepes with fruit and honey or chocolate were absolutely amazing; some of the best I’ve had.
At night, the white tablecloths and good china come out, and the Langosta Beach club transforms into an elegant, romantic restaurant. With two Trits-covered little kids in tow, it’s hard to be elegant, and especially hard to be romantic, so we never tried their supper menu. Too bad – it looked delicious.
There was a $15/day fee per adult (our little ones were free) to use the infinity pool and facilities when we were there. We had some of our best days in Tamarindo lounging by the infinity pool, and grabbing a snack in the comfy, elegant palapas. It was awesome location to catch some great waves on our boogie boards and splash in the infinity pool.
We did hear a few complaints that the staff could be a bit … how do I say this? … rude. In response, all I have to say is that the owner/manager is, well, French. We treated the folks there with respect and tried to be reasonable, and they were absolutely wonderful to us. They even went so far as to loan us some beach towels for us the day we forgot ours (we didn’t even have to ask).
Langosta Beach Club is about a five minute walk down the dusty road to Playa Longasta.
Cost. Langosta Beach Club isn’t especially cheap, but it is good value if you’ll willing to pay a bit extra for the atmosphere. Crepes were about $7 USD, smoothies were around $3 USD, and paninis ranged from $9 to $12 USD. The dinner menu was much more expensive, but definitely looked tempting.
Mandarina is a great place to grab a quick afternoon snack or a drink. Three’s not much here other than fresh fruit smoothies made to order, ice cream, iced coffee, salads, and light sandwiches, so save Mandarina for a quick bite. They also make an awesome, filling, breakfast smoothie with oatmeal and fruit salads. The kids might love a granizado, a refreshing creation of ice cream, lemonade, and topped with fruit. Our main problem with Mandarina was that the Tamarindo heat turned our ice cream into puddles faster than we could eat it.
Mandarina has two locations in Tamarindo. Most people go to the one on Calle Principal, just off the beach, but the location near the entrance to town is larger, and has better selection.
Cost: An ice cream and fruit smoothie is $3.50 USD, a granizado is $3 USD, and a smoothie/salad combo runs about $6 UDS.