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Cafe Costa Rica

Update 9/11/12: Cafe Costa Rica is closed.

In a word: Where the sweet beats the  heat.

The specs: #0249
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Isthmus, WiSJ, Yelp, Eating the World, EatDrinkMadison.com, QSC, AV Club, and Dane101; Table Talk with the owners, Cafe Costa Rica on Urbanspoon

Latest Cafe Costa Rica news and reviews

JM ate the tico pork tacos and an orange soda.
Nichole ate the sweet latin chicken with a pineapple smoothie.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM gave Cafe Costa Rica a B+; Nichole gave Cafe Costa Rica an A- (see our grading rubric).

Cafe Costa Rica

Cafe Costa Rica is a tiny, brightly painted niche on Butler Street, and a fine addition to Madison's dining scene. We look forward to the day that every country in the world has a culinary outpost in Madison. (Any bets what we'll never see here?)

The seating area is small, so it's a good call that carryout is available. But if you can get a table, we recommend it - we've rarely had the pleasure of such warm, attentive service. (Plus you really should check out the funhouse-style women's room, if that's within your rights.)

Sweet Latin Chicken On to the food. The sweet Latin chicken, the special of the day, was tender and very moist, and indeed quite sweet in a mildly fruity way. Somehow the beans and rice also had sweet overtones that made Nichole wish she'd had the recipe back in her college days of kidney beans and basmati. The side salad of shredded lettuce came with a vinegar dressing that balances out the sweetness of the chicken and plantains.

At this point, Nichole would like to apologize for using the word "sweet" so much. But you try finding another word for it that doesn't a) have a negative connotation, e.g. "cloying" or b) imply a specific mode of preparation or ingredient, e.g. "honeyed".

Pork Tico Tacos

Anyway. JM hunkered down with his pork tico tacos, which were tasty and sweet but not overly satisfying. He felt that the "tico" experience could be a good palate onto which other sauces can play, but he didn't try them this time to establish a baseline (freakin' math major). 

He also has a real tough time with plantain -- they're weirdly sweet  and look like bananas, but they seem to show up in EVERYTHING from the tropical Americas, especially things that he wouldn't classify as "needing fructose". Overall, though, the food was nicely prepared if not exactly suited to his tastes. WARNING: Cilantro antagonists, please note that the herb was used liberally on both our dinners.

This visit, we passed up the tempting tres leches and dessert empanadas. The pineapple smoothie (familar to Mango Man customers) doubled as a dessert, however.  Madison's downtown and Costa Rica both are long, thin strips of land rising up between two bodies of water -- now they share a little bit of the same cuisine, too.


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Mm, yeah, Cafe Costa Rica is quite yummy. That's one of my newer favorite places around town, in fact. Nice to see it pop up here.

I like that place a lot. It's also a good spot on a Friday night when you're on the Square after work and Great Dane etc. are full to bursting. It's always been pretty quiet by comparison, though with two tables, it'd be hard for it to get too loud.

Cafe Costa Rica is amazing. The food is wonderful and the service is very friendly. I won't even go into detail on how great the empanadas's taste. That is a dessert that can not be described with words, but must be tried by anyone eating at the Cafe Costa Rica. I will be stopping by Cafe Costa Rica on all of my trips to Madison from St. Louis. This place is an A+!!!

CCR (not the Fogerty version, the restaurant) is now serving breakfast starting at 7am!

Although, it would be cool if John Fogerty was back there grillin' plantains.

I hate to steal a bit of internet parlance, but O M G.

Went last night with three friends -- first time there for all of us. I was completely seduced. (A Dark & Stormy didn't hurt, either.) I'll be back... with a vengeance.

J.M. that was NOT nice what you said adout my dad's tacos and plantins i am not happy with you.

"Overall, though, the food was nicely prepared if not exactly suited to his tastes."

What's not nice about that?

politically incorrect

Okay. It's my birthday, and the missus took me to Cafe Costa Rica for dinner.

The service? Very friendly. The atmosphere? Cute, vibrant, pleasant. The caipirinha? Maybe a little dark and sweet and not strong enough, but tasty. The food? Very well seasoned and colorful.

The bill? Oof.

$40 for two entrees, a cocktail and a can of Coke is a wee bit steep, especially for the size of the entrees. The Island Special of a single fillet of coconut-sweetened tilapia should not be $16. Nor should a smallish plate of Curried Chicken be $13. I can forgive the cost of the caipirinha, but man. These dishes at Pelayo's (RIP) would be 11 and 8, respectively.

The beans and rice are great. We might go back, but our menu selections will probably veer towards the less pricey options in the hopes of a better value per bite. Given the build-up, kind of a disappointment. B

Sorry to hear about that. Funny, I recently went back to CCR for lunch. I got the roast chicken and my companion got the sweet Latin chicken for a buck more. I got a thigh and a leg; she just got a thigh. So, true, the value is a little variable.

I'd have to agree with Kyle about the disappointing value. I tried this place for the first time recently (with friends who love it) and was a bit aghast that 1 cocktail, 2 appetizers and 2 smallish entrees came to $53 (before tip). And while the place is cute, it's clear that this is not one of those places where a lavish atmosphere seems to justify higher prices. Given that the food didn't blow me away and the prices were steep for what you got, I can't really see going back. I guess I thought it would be more reasonable -- doesn't one of the older reviews of this place say nothing is over $6.50? Or maybe those were lunch prices?

I'm surprised no one has mentioned (or has had the experience) of the service being incredibly slow. I have been to CCR several times since it opened, usually with only a small group, and although it was usually a bit slow, it was manageable. Then I decided to have a wedding party there. Big mistake. We had 16 people (and yes, they knew we were coming a month in advance), and they shoved all of us into one corner in order to fit more people into that tiny place. On top of that, it took 3 hours to get our food from when we arrived. Maybe they thought they could get more money out of us by making us wait so long so that we would order more of their expensive drinks, but whatever the reason, it was very aggravating. We spent a total of 4 and a half hours there even though I just wanted to get in and out so that we could party elsewhere. The food is good, but by the time we got it, I didn't really care what it tasted like. And on top of that really long wait and bad service, the bill was $55 per person. Not worth it at all. Maybe I should get married again just so I can have a better experience elsewhere. Oh, and a friend of mine went there for her birthday a couple days ago, and she had the same experience of an incredibly long wait to get the food. Be warned- you may be in for a very long wait if you go here. BTW- these experiences both happened on days the same waitress was working (Tuesday and Monday, respectively), so maybe that has something to do with it.

Our service was just fine. Not to discount your experiences, but it really seems like an aberration both on the service end and on the customer end. Expected or not, I don't think many 16-person parties show up at CCR. Not to say that it's excusable, but it falls outside of the bell curve.

I had read that article that nothing was over $6.50. So I was disappointed that everything was over $6.50. I thought the food was good. I really have no complaints on the taste. However, I agree with Kyle & J that it seems overpriced for what the food and atmosphere are.

My service was slow although not as slow as Kim's. I doubt I will be back. There are just too many other restaurants I like better.

Anyone complaining about the speed of service should go to Costa Rica for some perspective. CCR's service and atmosphere are far nicer & quicker than many of my dining experiences in the country of Costa Rica.

Have a drink and relax... your food will get there when it gets there!

Anyone complaining about food quality in any way should go to Sudan, where they don't have any food.


C'mon, Mick. We are where we are. Service at a restaurant in the United States should probably fall within a certain range of promptness, lest it be regarded as "poor." Relativism has its limits.

We have been to Costa Rica and experienced that things move a bit more slowly there. There is an excuse for that because you are in a tropical paradise and not Madison, WI. Our food was excellent and we were raving about it throughout the meal. We had also heard that service here was slow but never could have expected how bad it really was. Realizing that it could take a while to get the bill I pleasantly requested it upon the food arriving. That turned out to be futile since it took literally a half hour before we even saw our waitress emerge from the downstairs part of the restaurant. We did however watch her for the half hour we were waiting and she spent the majority of the time talking to a boyfriend looking guy who apparently showed up just after our food was served. Perhaps it was our fault for interupting their quality time but I don't think so. We have eaten at just about every restaurant in the downtown area and this was the slowest service by far. A server basically has to take a SHIT on my plate to get anything less than 20% for a tip but this was the first time it was justified. The food, however, was excellent.

Cafe Costa Rica is my favorite restaurant in Madison. I love it so much that I have hired Thony to cater my wedding. He sat down with me, my fiance, and our best man, quickly served us full-sized portions of anything we were considering serving (it ended up being about 5 appetizers, 3 entrees or 4 entrees, and several side dishes and desserts--enough for twice as many people, easily), and promptly helped us put together a menu and a (very reasonable) price quote. We had to insist that he allow us to pay for our drinks; he would not take any payment for the ridiculous amount of food served at our tasting. It remains to be seen whether or not a wedding is within Cafe Costa Rica's faculties, but I love the food so much, and have been so impressed with Thony in the past, that I am willing to take that chance.

What a little gem this place is! Just ate there for the first time with my hubby and we loved it. We will definitely be going back :)

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