Finding the Best Whole Fish in Costa Rica

Browsing through Costa Rica’s restaurants in search of a fish served whole

Whole red snapper at restaurant The Malecon in Costa Rica.

I was only in Costa Rica for two and a half days — not including the travel. I’ve never really done this before, but I thought it might be fun to eat the same dish at a variety of different places. I love the idea of being served a whole fish. So when I found out that the whole red snapper is a dish that nearly every restaurant in the area serves I thought, "Why not?"

My experiment led me to four restaurants: The Malecon Bar, El Avión, Los Almendros in Playa Esterillos, and Pavilion Restaurant at Alma del Pacifico.

The only thing better than how the fish tasted was how it looked. Each restaurant had its own, unique way of presenting the red snapper. But nearly all of them were simply plated with white rice and grilled vegetables. It is a whole fish, head and all, so you don’t need to add much to create a dramatic plate.

They were all pan-fried and surprisingly easy to debone and eat. And, as you can tell from the before and after photos, I ate every last bite. The fish was light and moist and flavorful all around. I hate to play favorites, but since I know most will be curious, the best one was from Pavilion Restaurant at Alma del Pacifico.

I was staying there as well, but you’ll just have to trust that I’m not playing favorites. It doesn’t hurt that the open-air Pavilion is just steps from the water in a gorgeous eco resort. But the other three contenders were served in equally stellar settings. (In fact, El Avión is set in the trees of the rain forest, so you can watch the monkeys playing in the trees as you dine.) We are talking about Costa Rica here after all.

I will definitely do this experiment again. It was a fun way to test out the best of local fare and it certainly takes the pressure off when the server arrives to ask, "What can I get you?"