By Autumn Gates
Whether you’re a regular at Lapa’s or you are entering the bistro for the first time, you can be assured you will be greeted with the unmistakable embrace of the Costa Rican culture. From the vibrant reds and greens to the gentle smiles of staff members and array of hearty dishes, the eatery gives off a welcoming, family atmosphere that is truly relaxing.
Guests may feel as if they have been swept away into Central America when they hear the jazzy boleros (Latin American love songs) and see the colorful lapas (known as macaws in the U.S.) accenting the restaurant’s décor. The lapa is a striking bird that is often found sitting on outdoor tables and soaring through the skies of Costa Rica. Unique touches like these add to the intrigue of this bistro, making visitors eager to taste its homemade Costa Rican cuisine.
Freshly made corn tortilla chips and guacamole bursting with flavor is a not-to-miss starter. Wash it down with a refreshing glass of homemade juice, or a Costa Rican beer served in a frosted glass.
Located in a quiet plaza off of South Tamiami Trail, Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro is family owned and operated. Their small yet mighty team works diligently to provide each guest with authentic Costa Rican cuisine and impeccable service.
Owner and chef Silvia Castillo–Abarca has a heartfelt passion for cooking which originated during her childhood in San Jose, Costa Rica, where she has many fond memories of cooking tamales and other Costa Rican food with her grandmother.
After immigrating to the U.S. 23 years ago, she worked at Mexican chain restaurant Iguana Mia for about 15 years. Although she enjoyed serving her customers, she dreamed of opening her own place, where could introduce people to her authentic Costa Rican recipes.
When she met her future son-in-law, Ociel Martinez, at Iguana Mia, she got that chance. In 2014, Sylvia went into business with Ociel, her daughter, Maria, and her son, Aaron— and with the help of a few carefully selected staff members including fantastic chef Audiel Trejo, the only all-Costa Rican restaurant in Southwest Florida was born!
The success of Lapa’s can be credited to the hard work of this team. The family works together seamlessly, and it shows in the calming feel of the place and the hospitable manner in which they serve their customers.
The spirit of Costa Rica shines through in the family’s work ethic. Each staff member is capable of doing every job in the restaurant. They all can cook, clean and serve customers. They work together daily to ensure guests walk away with full bellies and happy hearts.
This jack–of–all–trades mindset even extends to the restaurant’s colorful décor. Ociel and Maria painted the vibrant green walls themselves, and guests can see Maria’s original painting of a lapa tucked in the corner of one of the cozy dining rooms.
“In Costa Rica, you don’t pay for these things,” says Castillo-Abarca, “You learn how to do it yourself.”
If you aren’t already impressed, wait until you try the food. The menu is filled with dishes that capture the staples of Costa Rican cuisine (rice, beans, roasted vegetables and beef, to name a few), while also venturing out with unique flavor combinations.
The best part of Costa Rican cooking is the freshness. All dishes are made in-house with locally sourced ingredients, and many include flavorful avocado slices, tomatoes, limes, cilantro and, of course, Costa Rica’s famous Lizano sauce.
“When you go to Costa Rica, every table has Lizano sauce,” says Castillo-Abarca.
This multipurpose flavor enhancer, which Lapa’s regularly imports from Costa Rica, is the perfect addition to any dish. Even more exciting, the bistro features Grandma’s Special Sauce in its authentic Chirripo Chicken dish.
With a mouthwatering blend of flavors on every plate, customers can’t go wrong at Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro. Being served by a family who undoubtedly loves sharing their passion for this authentic cuisine makes the restaurant a Southwest Florida gem.
Empanadas: Empanadas are a classic fried turnover commonly found in Latin America. For an authentic take on this dish, Lapa’s folds filling into its own handmade corn-based dough and fries it to perfection. Options for the filling include chicken, ground beef, potato or cheese.
Chifrijo: Served in a glass goblet, the Chifrijo features fried pork over layers of black beans and white rice and topped with fresh chimichurri and avocado slices. To complement the flavors, the starter is drizzled in Lizano sauce and paired with homemade tortilla chips.
Arroz con Pollo: Want to play it safe on your first trip to Lapa’s? Try the Arroz con Pollo, one of the restaurants best sellers. This hearty entrée consists of a generous helping of yellow rice mixed with shredded chicken, diced onion, red bell pepper, corn, peas and touches of cilantro. This dish comes with sweet plantains, a side of black beans topped with queso fresco (Latin American cheese) and a cup of fresh chimichurri.
Carne en Salsa: Our party loved the savory flavors of the Carne en Salsa! The dish showcases a bowl of shredded beef, slow-cooked in a tomato–based sauce and surrounded by a mound of white rice, black beans, diced red bell peppers and cilantro. On the side, diners will enjoy a few crispy patacones (twice-fried plantain slices) and warm corn tortillas.
Avocado Chicken: This main course is as healthy as it is delicious! The plate features a juicy, grilled chicken breast topped with fresh avocado slices and served with sides of white rice and roasted vegetables. The dish comes with a cup of Lapa’s avocado sauce — made from lime juice, serrano peppers and blended avocados.
Flan Carmelo: As part of the selection of scrumptious homemade desserts at Lapa’s, the Flan Carmelo is designed to impress. This baked custard dessert is topped with a rich caramel coating, a dollop of whipped cream, and a drizzle of caramel sauce. (It’s also gluten free!)
Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro
26251 S. Tamiami Trail