Travel Costa Rica! Gallo Pinto is Breakfast Beans

Gallo Pinto. Rice and Beans– Tico style, the breakfast of champions.

I’m in Costa Rica. I have actually been here a few days. But I wanted to get my local groove on before I posted about my experience. I am ready to start this Costa Rican travel adventure and what better way to start than with breakfast. In Costa Rica, comida tipica includes rice and beans. They are a staple. They often make the plate three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But it’s breakfast where Gallo Pinto reigns supreme and is Costa Rica’s favorite way to start the day. Costa Rican food usually consists of a combination of rice, beans, meat, and vegetables. The typical Costa Rican breakfast exemplifies what comida tipica is all about. Most families in Costa Rica eat a full serving of Gallo Pinto every morning before heading off to their daily activities, sometimes eggs, toast, tortillas, and plantains are included. Most tourists have it at least once during their stay. Maniacs like me have it every day because I wanted to come up with my own version.

Naturally, I want my version to be as authentic as possible. That’s why I ordered it at every opportunity I could. But I soon discovered that Gallo Pinto is one of those foods that can be as different as the household or restaurant where it is prepared. The only essential ingredients are rice and beans. But red beans, pinto beans, and black beans seem to prevail.

Now Costa Rican rice and beans differ from the Mexican versions you may be used to. Most notably because bold spices and chilis are not common in this country’s cuisine. The main flavor comes from a bottled sauce called Lizano. It reminds me a bit of Worcestershire, in fact, I used a combination in my version because I saw a cook here use Worcestershire in the kitchen and serve Lizano at the table. I am sure Worcestershire alone would make a fine replacement. But I have seen Lizano sauce in Latin markets in Los Angeles, so maybe you can get your hands on some. Because it’s this sauce that makes Gallo Pico so memorable. If you’ve ever tried authentic Gallo Pinto you’ll want to have it again. If you’ve never had it, it’s so easy you’ll want to make it yourself. So, here’s the recipe I came up with to make Gallo Pinto like a Costa Rican.

Gallo Pinto serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 3 T vegetable or corn oil
  • 1⁄2 c onions, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1⁄2 c red bell pepper, cored, trimmed and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 c pre-cooked black beans
  • 2 c pre-cooked long grain rice
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce, or more to taste
  • 1⁄4 t salt, or more to taste
  • 2 T cilantro leaves, minced
  • lizano sauce to taste


Heat the oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the red bell pepper, and cook stirring often until softened, about 2 minutes more Add the beans and some of their liquid. Lower the heat and stir for a minute. Add rice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and cilantro. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of water to achieve a neither dry nor soupy texture. Mix well and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot with eggs, toast, possibly fried plantains and the Lizano sauce on the side.


Greg Henry

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