In the last few years, the urban core of San José has undergone a revival. For decades, the city center has felt a bit abandoned and sometimes seedy as well-heeled locals gravitated toward modern suburbs like Escazú and Santa Ana, home to American-style malls and restaurant chains. But lately, expatriates and Costa Ricans have returned home after years abroad, infusing fresh life into neglected 19th-century buildings and old houses in the city center. These recent arrivals have opened creative businesses, including design shops and hostels with co-working spaces, turning a few adjoining neighborhoods east of the Parque Central into the city’s premier cultural and restaurant zone.
This bar with a small brewery, now two years old, specializes in brewing its own tropical varieties of Belgian sour beers, as well as other beers and kombucha. There’s a light menu of local charcuterie and other pub fare, in addition to a lineup of live jazz and blues several nights a week.
Calle 31 at Avenida 9, Barrio Escalante; facebook.com/Apotecariocr
The Canadian-born mixologist Liz Furlong, who also runs the popular brunch spot Maza Bistro, opened this chic speakeasy and raw bar in late 2017 in the Edificio Steinvorth, a renovated 1907 storehouse that has helped kick off the city center’s revival. Ms. Furlong is known to prod clientele if they’re looking for something sweet, bitter, boozy or refreshing, then customizes cocktails on the spot, sometimes utilizing rain forest herbs, flowers or fruits, macerating in cacique, the local sugar cane spirit.
Edificio Steinvorth, Local #6, Calle 1 at Avenida 1
Built mostly out of recycled shipping containers, this lively open-air market opened at the end of 2017 in an abandoned parking lot beside the railroad tracks in Barrio Escalante. The market is the creation of José Gonzalez, the chef of the buzzy farm-to-table restaurant Al Mercat, and his partners. The mishmash of stalls features wood-fired pizzas, Costa Rican tacos called gallos and cocktails. There’s also a dog run and children’s play area.
100 meters south of Parque Francia, Barrio Escalante;
Choose a six-course tasting or an a la carte meal sourced from small farmers and artisanal fishermen at this contemporary Costa Rican restaurant that opened one year ago in an elegant house with a plant-filled courtyard in Barrio Amón, a neighborhood full of late 19th- and early 20th-century houses mostly built for coffee barons. Dishes, with no more than a few ingredients, range from colorful (lamb loin spruced up with silvery slivers of sardines and orange squash ribbons) to playful (“cocada de coco con coco en coco,” a caramelized coconut with roasted coconut ice cream served in a coconut half).
Avenida 11 at Calle 3A — 955, Barrio Amón;
This progressive coffeehouse opened in late 2017 and has some of San José’s best baristas and coffee sourced from top farms all over the country. Learn the difference between coffee varietals like Geisha and Typica, or how dried coffee cherries are turned into tea called cascara. Come early for fresh-baked pastries and biscuit sandwiches.
Avenida 7 #3166, Barrio Escalante