No, it's not the bubbly soft drink - it's where you'll pull up a chair for the local cuisine. A "soda" is a Costa Rican cafe, always small and often an extension of a family's house. It is here that you'll be exposed to the main traditional dishes, such as those described below, in a very casual roadside setting. Some are more divey than others (think plastic tables and chairs), but as is the case with cafes in many areas of the world, sometimes the less formal a place is, the better the food. When making your way through the country, you won't be able to go far without seeing a sign for a soda.
The casado is the main dish of Costa Rica, consisting of beans, rice, salad, plantains, and a tortilla to go along with a piece of either fish, chicken, or beef. "Casado" means "married man" in Spanish, and the dish is said to get its name from the fact that its ingredients are always served together, especially rice and beans. Local Costa Ricans eat a casado in some form just about every day, typically for lunch.
When we were describing a casado, we listed the ingredients of beans and rice separately on purpose. A look at the photo of the casado will back this up - they are indeed served apart from one another. This is important to keep in mind because the Costa Ricans have three ways that they serve rice and beans: Individually, as "rice and beans," and as "Gallo Pinto."
"Rice and beans" refers to the Caribbean-style of "peas and rice," where black or red beans are combined with the rice and a bit of coconut flavor. Gallo Pinto is the country's most popular and well-known method of mixing the two, and it's pretty straightforward with no alternate flavors added. The unique aspect of Gallo Pinto is that it is eaten for breakfast by the locals. So when you go to a soda in the afternoon, order rice and beans. In the morning, order Gallo Pinto.
When you belly up to a bar to try some Cacique Guaro, ask for the "bocas" menu. Simply another word for snack or tapa, many places offer complimentary (or very cheap) bocas when you order a drink. Options tend to be more Mexican oriented than Central American, like chicharrones or empanadas.
Locally Grown Fruit
Accompanying every breakfast and snack throughout the day is the locally grown tropical fruits. Bananas, pineapples, plantains, and mangoes are the usual suspects, and are very cheap to purchase at roadside farm stands.