If you’re a foodie, you’ve come to the right place in Nicaragua. San Juan del Sur offers an extensive variety of cuisines in its restaurants and cafes.
Although Gallo Pinto and other traditional Nicaraguan dishes are delicious, it is nice to have the option of eating other types of cuisine – especially when you’re on vacation and want all of the worldly tastes in the comfort of staying in one city!
Eat Like a Local
However, don’t let that deter you from trying the local food – Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), Vigoron (cabbage salad, boiled yuca, and chicharrones wrapped in a banana leaf), and Platanos AKA plantains in the form of “tostones” or plantain chips, “verdes”, or “maduros.”.
Platanos Verdes are a cooked version of plantains, usually served with a little bit of salt. Platanos Maduros are my favorite. These are plantains in their most ripe state, and are sweet (almost like a banana.) They are much softer and are typically served with breakfast or dessert.
One of the first days wandering through the city, I stumbled across a doorway with beads hanging in front of the entrance. After walking through a very colorful and vibrant hallway, you emerge into Simon Says – a hip, peaceful, funkilicious cafe and backyard garden.
I want to call this place a “secret garden” because that’s the vibe I got, but it’s not so much of a secret seeing as this is one of the best cafes in the town.
Simon’s offers a range of vegan/vegetarian options, as well as meat dishes. They also have an extensive smoothie menu. They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner! I must admit, there were some days that I found myself hanging out at Simon Says for lunch and dinner (with a smoothie in between, of course.)
My favorite smoothie is called Peanuts. This was definitely one of their heartier options as it consisted of oats, raisins, peanut butter, and almond milk (I added strawberries for $0.50 extra.)
They also have delicious protein salads, various healthy sandwich options, and you can’t skip out on trying the baked eggplant. They also have a brick oven which they use to make slow roasted ribs, as well as a vegetarian eggplant lasagne.
The special thing about this place is that it doesn’t solely have good food, but also a wonderful atmosphere. For me, that is a very important quality for a restaurant to have. To be able to just “hang out” or work in a comfortable environment, feeling like you’re actually out enjoying the nature.
Now, this is not to say that I only enjoy garden cafes. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I love a cozy little place to have a romantic (or solo, which is what I was for many nights) dinner. When I lived in Portland I absolutely loved how many tea houses and restaurants there were that were actually in old houses. It provides such a comfortable, home-y feeling!
Nica Thai accomplished just that’s for me. Their food was the definition of comfort food. If you love Thai food, this is the place to go. The owner and his wife live upstairs, and are open every day for lunch/dinner. Although not a large menu, the few items that they do offer are authentic and exquisite. My personal favorites are the spring rolls and the green coconut curry with chicken or tofu.
They also offer cooking classes, which I regrettably was unable to take. One option is to learn the art of Thai cuisine, and the second is to learn Nicaraguan cuisine. Both options include appetizers, dinner, dessert, and drinks in the price of the class.
If you are having a craving for Asian cuisine, and Thai doesn’t seem to tickle your fancy, take a stroll down the Main Street and you’ll find Wrap & Roll.
I must admit that I probably walked by this place at least 15 times before actually peeking in to check out their menu, and I am so glad that I did! This became a regular lunch spot for me to grab a healthy bite on the go.
They offer healthy noodle bowls with vegetables, as well as Katsu chicken dishes. They also have an Indian flair to their food incorporating yellow curry into their cuisine. They have salads, which you can also turn into a wrap or sandwich. My go-to was their falafel salad with curry and pesto, wrapped in a freshly made tortilla. This will be sure to fill you up!
Looking for something a little less “ethnic”? Look for Taco Stop a little ways down the road, you can’t miss it. Although seemingly quite Americanized, it’s actually owned and operated by locals.
I tried supporting local places as much as possible rather than going to the more touristy (and also more expensive) spots, which are mostly located along the waterfront. Don’t get me wrong, the view from the beachfront restaurants is to die for, but you can always grab an appetizer or beer here for the sunset, and then make your way back to the main “strip” for dinner.
Taco Stop has everything you’d expect from a taco shop – burritos, TACOS, quesadillas, nachos, burrito bowls, and lettuce bowls. I tried a few different things, which were always fresh, and decently sized for the price.
My favorite “healthy option” was to get the lettuce bowl and add fish. The bowl was essentially a salad that had beans, rice, and pico de gallo. It’s not huge – if you’re starving, I would suggest getting a few of the tacos or a burrito with some meat!
Last but not least- dessert. You can’t leave San Juan without trying Kiss Me – a locally owned ice cream shop being one of two locations in Nicaragua. All of their ice cream is handcrafted and small batch, allowing them to consistently introduce new flavors. I tried many of these flavors.
They offer a few options in terms of sizing. If you’re into sharing and trying a few different flavors, they have a “trio” that you can order getting a little taste of 3 kinds. If you’re like me and have a little too much of sweet tooth, they have a bigger more “standard” size, which I was not up for sharing! They also have smoothies and delicious (strong) Nicaraguan coffee.
Obviously there are many other wonderful places in San Juan Del Sur and the surrounding area, but these are just a few spots that I suggest adding to the list!
The Traveling Yogi