Under this white corn tortilla with cheese rest two square banana leaves and a clay plate made in the craft-woking community of Guaitil. The lightly smoked flavor owes its taste to the chefs who systematically visit neighbors’ homes to collect ashes from wood burning stoves in order to prepare the corn and then grind it. The cheese curd also come from a local producer.
Amid the plains of the canton of Carillo lies the restaurant Finca el Cuaco, a project created by the Rural Development Institute in order to improve the economy for the area’s development associations. Everyday there are tamales and authentic Guanacaste food here, plates like corned rice, “frito”, and annatto chicken.
We visited the restaurant on a warm Tuesday in December. William Lizano, head chef, says that Guanacaste’s food has “something” that’s not easy to explain. Five minutes later, I tried the chopped potatoes, squash, and carrots and I understood him perfectly.
Someone would summarize it by saying, “this has a lot of flavor.” And it does have a lot of flavors from natural condiments like annatto, good salt, and oil. The rice and beans that come with the dish have a more intense flavor than other restaurants, but it’s delicious. The beans melt in your mouth before you can bite into them and the white rice is flaky, just right for dipping it in the chopped vegetable sauce.
That “something” is a combination of hearty portions of annatto(an orange-red dye used for coloring foods) used in Guanacaste dishes, pork fat used for cooking, “well caramelized” onions and a “love” that, according to William, only Guanacastecans know how to add to food. The dish also has annatto chicken with the chef’s special touch of onion and sweet pepper that douse the meat. None of the plates cost more than 4,500 colons ($7.50).
The restaurant is the first undertaking at Finca el Guaco, where administrator Wilfrido Salazar promises there will be cornfields in order to have corn on the cob year round, bird watching tours, a cantina, a quail farm, bullring, and other attractions created by the development associations of the six communities involved in the project. Maybe that’s why food here tastes like it’s homemade on a wood-burning stove.
-The good: It’s right off the highway and has lots of parking spaces
-The bad: Some of the dishes have a lot of salt (though it’s part of the style)
-Location: On the highway between Paso Tempisque and Palmira. Take the exit going west.