Restaurante Tilapias El Pavon is the Costa Rican version of Farm to Table. In fact, the table is on the farm. This is truly an off the beaten path place worth finding. The attractions to the area are waterfalls and a crystal clear swimming hole.
Location: Near Uvita, Costa Rica in the South Pacific region. Two kilometers south of Ojochal. Before the Punta Mala Bridge. Follow a dirt road 2 ½ miles uphill. The farm and restaurant are on the right.
There aren’t many places left in the world without a specific address, but this is one of them. Signs and asking locals for directions will be more reliable options than GPS or an address.
Menu: The menu is limited, but what would you expect on a tilapia farm? When an order is placed, the chefs go out to the tilapia pool behind the restaurant to scoop the fish with a net from the farm pools. Another option is to catch your own fish. By the time the fish gets on your plate, it hasn’t even been dead for an hour.
We did not catch our own fish, but this is a tremendous activity for children, especially since the “price of admission” is simply purchasing your lunch.
The recommended choice of entrée is a whole tilapia, wood-fire grilled with a mild coating of flour and spices. I typically would not eat the tail of a whole fish I filet on my plate, but at the encouragement of a local, with his description that it tastes like bacon, I took a bite. He was right. The tilapia tail tasted like the most flavorful bacon I have ever eaten.
The second entrée of choice is a filet of tilapia. Probably offered for lazy Americanos, you get the same fish as the whole tilapia, it is just that the kitchen does the work. You also miss out on the crispy tail.
For those who can’t or won’t eat fish, the kitchen will prepare chicken or a vegetarian option.
With the exception of rice, the accompaniments are all grown on the farm. Fried plantains, fried yucca and a fresh green salad with tomato and a light dressing made with mandarin limes were served with our fish. As we strolled through the farm, pineapples, mangos, and bananas decorated the paths, providing decoration and a natural ambiance for us, but a side dish for a future guest on another day.
On our walk through the farm to get to the restaurant we passed the cilantro garden, where the fresh cilantro is grown. I saw cilantro in the rice, and there was probably a bit in our salad. Our guide says many Costa Ricans put cilantro in everything. Why not, when it is so delicious, healthy and plentiful?
The same accompaniments come with each entrée. You don’t have any choice, unless you want to skip something, but I am perfectly happy to let Mother Nature decide what is best on the farm that day.
As we were seated at our table, after a refreshing swim in the waterfalls across the street, the waitress brought a round of Aqua de Sapo, or Frog Water, to the table. It was described as Costa Rican Iced Tea, a local drink many remember their grandparents making when they were children, but something that has been replaced by commercial, bottled drinks in many places. There is no tea in this beverage. The local limon mandarina (mandarin lime), sugar cane, honey and water are the ingredients. The limon mandarina has a green outer peel like a lime, but an orange flesh that looks like an orange. It tastes like a lime. The Aqua de Sapo has a slight orange color but tastes like a deliciously fresh limeade.
Beer, wine and commercial soft drinks are also served.
Thoughts: It takes an intentional trip to find this restaurant. It is not somewhere you will pass by unless you have found the swimming hole across the road, but so worth finding.
I discovered this place as part of a full day adventure of waterfall exploration led by Paddle 9 tours. On a Tuesday at lunch time we were the only tour group in the restaurant. The other tables were filled with locals. I interpret this as a sign we were truly experiencing the Pure Vida lifestyle.
The restaurant is an open air wooden pavilion with a small kitchen attached. It is perfect for alfresco dining. Patrons in wet bathing suits from an excursion at the swimming hole are the norm. Wet hair is also accepted. In fact, there are no mirrors in the restrooms, just fresh water and soap at an outdoor sink to clean up from the river before dining.
The dining area looks out onto the tilapia pools, where many patrons choose to catch their own fish. In the other direction, a stunning view of the Costa Rican mountains and rainforest, with multiple hues of vivid green foliage and deep blue sky provide a brilliant backdrop.
Price Range: A flat price of $10 for any menu option at lunch or dinner. $3 for a beer. This is a cash only establishment, but American dollars or Costa Rican colons are accepted.
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