Café Agua Azul
There are two principal reasons to come to Quepos (Manuel Antonio's main hub) and dine at Café Agua Azul: the seafood and the stunning views of the Pacific from the dining room and terrace. Regarding the former, the menu here is long and proud of it. Just settling on the main course is an ordeal in and of itself, as everything is so tempting: the tower of shrimp and fried plantains, seared tuna over cucumber salad, oriental shrimp salad, panko-crusted tuna, seafood stew, Costa Rican red snapper, and coconut-crusted fish, just to name a few options.
There's even a decent-sized menu of pub-grub favorites like burgers and buffalo wings for those without a taste for seafood. And if after indulging in Agua Azul's dinner menu you've managed to leave room for dessert, then set your sights on the bananas foster or house-made brownie laden with two heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream. Maybe wash it all down with their famous blended blue margarita.
Ostensibly a café specializing in desserts and coffees, Emilio's gets downright packed at mealtimes. Sure, you can enjoy a good New York strip here, but seafood is what they're known for. Whether it's the yellowfin tuna, red snapper, ceviche, tuna poke, or octopus, it's all fresh. The open-air ambiance of the dining room is laid back and fun (enjoy a shot of limoncello after your meal) and most seats in the house afford incredible sea views. Perhaps come for breakfast and indulge in the huevos rancheros and a cup of gourmet coffee, or if you can finagle a table for dinner, try to make it on a weekend where you might luck out with live jazz to accompany your meal.
Congo Restaurant is part of the multi-story, colonial-style Hotel San Bada, one of the best family-friendly lodgings in Manuel Antonio. As a bonus, the hotel is located adjacent to the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park. It's a somewhat hidden gem where you can expect service with a smile. The menu bills itself as international but really you can't go wrong with indulgent classics like steak and lobster. Maybe go for the local red snapper or arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp), and they also do their own handmade tortillas which are a must-try. Be sure to enjoy your meal on the patio next to the inviting swimming pool. It might just entice you to check into a room (Bonus that Congo's decadent buffet breakfast is free for guests of the hotel). Vegetarians can rejoice, too, because there's an entirely separate menu for herbivores.
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Falafel Bar could best be described as a hole in the wall, in the best possible way. It's an easy place to stop in for a quick lunch. And the menu actually goes beyond Middle-Eastern fare. Not only does it offer standards like hummus, shawarma, kebabs, pita sandwiches, and the titular falafel, but you can also find German schnitzel here. An added bonus is that not only do they offer the obvious vegetarian fare but there are vegan and gluten-free dishes as well. And if you're half partyer/half health nut, be sure to try an "alcoholic smoothie."
La Luna Restaurant
If you want a great night out with a to-die-for view to complement your gourmet meal, then come to the top of the posh Gaia Hotel & Reserve and La Luna Restaurant. This five-star restaurant earned its accolades through a combination of classic dishes presented artfully, first-class service, and panoramic views of the green blanket of jungle canopy running up to the edge of the Pacific blue. It's one of the best panoramas in the entire national park.
As for the food, the menu is solid and features familiar dishes, many with tropical flourishes. Examples include grilled steak tenderloin and plantain-and-coconut-crusted mahi-mahi, and vegetarians can opt for pasta dishes like mushroom risotto. There's a happy hour from 4-6 pm with specials on drinks and tapas, which is the perfect excuse to pull up a barstool for a sundowner. But even if you don't make it for happy hour, not to worry—La Luna won't break the bank. The restaurant also offers cooking classes for those who want to refine their chef skills, but unfortunately, there's no way to recreate those classic Pacific views back home.
Restaurants are mostly prohibited from operating within the park or on the beaches of Manuel Antonio, with one notable exception: Marlin. Located in front of the main public beach, this open-air eatery is the place to come to dine as near to the Pacific as possible without falling in. The restaurant does reliable standards like casados—traditional Costa Rican combo plates featuring rice, beans, meat, plantains, and salad—as well as fried fish.
In fact, if you've got a healthy appetite (or are just a glutton for extreme eating), go for the whole fried snapper piled high with fried shrimp and other battered and crispy golden goodies. There's also decent bar fare like burgers, burritos, and nachos. For breakfast maybe try the strawberry pancakes, and no matter the time of day feel free to indulge in a tropical specialty cocktail capped with a little umbrella.
Z Gastro Bar
Located in the marina in the town of Quepos, Z Gastro Bar is fine dining with a tropical spirit and a modern edge. Like La Luna, this is an open-air restaurant with (partial) sea views, but the big difference here is that there's a convertible 1959 Porsche 718 sitting idle in the dining room. The menu is heavy on seafood, with favorites like ceviche, mahi-mahi, fried calamari, and seared tuna steak making appearances.
But you can also find more creative plates like octopus and shrimp pesto risotto, as well as standards like burgers, steaks, and pasta (vegetarians can try the cucumber and yogurt soup or the butternut squash burger). And for those skeptics who think that "fine dining" equates to "tiny servings," you needn't worry—the portions here are staggeringly large, and Z Gastro Bar does downright monstrous multi-tiered seafood platters.