Authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto (beans and rice) recipe

Authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto recipe (beans and rice). A filling flavorful dish solo or perfect side dish, even for breakfast! -

I am not much of a breakfast food person.  I do agree breakfast is the most important meal of the day though I generally want something with protein requiring more time to prepare than I often have.  The Costa Rican ‘Tico’ (locals) breakfast is just what the doctor ordered in my book.  Eggs, mini corn tortillas, pico de gallo (freshly chopped salsa), fried plantains and what I think of as the unofficial national dish of Costa Rica: Gallo Pinto.

Gallo Pinto is a combination of rice and beans and means ‘spotted rooster’ when translated into English.  The name undoubtedly pertaining to the spotty look of the rice when prepared with the beans.  I’ve had it made with black beans and with red beans.  Every cook and region touts their own recipe and it’s hard to get one’s hand on a personal recipe.  I suspect there are family roots attached as well as frankly it’s probably not written down anywhere, but rather made by sight, feel and smell as it has been for years or even generations.

Authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto recipe (beans and rice). A filling flavorful dish solo or perfect side dish, even for breakfast! -

 In this region of Guanacaste some put spicier chilies in when they cook.  On this trip it has been served to me in the form of a mini volcano, with sour cream to dollop in the middle and mix up (their sour cream is not as tangy as that in the U.S. but I think that would be our closest equivalent).  With beans and rice making a whole protein, it’s what I’ve eagerly had for breakfast in the hotel and in the ‘sodas’ (small street side cantinas) every day.
Authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto recipe (beans and rice). A filling flavorful dish solo or perfect side dish, even for breakfast! -

Authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto (beans and rice)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: Approximately 6 cups gallo pinto

I was fortunate to get my hands on a personal recipe to share, thanks to the concierge at my hotel who hails from a region she feels is known for the best Gallo Pinto!


  • ½ medium Onion, chopped
  • 1 Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked Black Beans
  • 1/2 cup Bean Stock or ½ cup Chicken Stock if bean is not available
  • 3 cups cooked White Rice
  • Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Coriander (cilantro), chopped*
  • Heavy cream (sour cream), if desired as topping


  1. Fry onion and bell pepper in vegetable oil, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté a bit more.
  3. Pour in the beans and the stock, bring to a simmer. Avoid the mixture drying up.
  4. Add in the rice and stir thoroughly, gently. Don’t mash the beans!
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Right before serving stir in the coriander (fresh cilantro) and top with heavy cream (sour cream) if desired.


*In the United States 'coriander' is the dried version of cilantro. In most of the rest of the world coriander is the combination of the fresh leaves and seeds of cilantro. For this recipe fresh cilantro should be used.

Surf School Tamarindo Costa Rica -
This area of Costa Rica, the Northwest Pacific region, is known for some of the best surfing beaches in the world. Surfers are everywhere and are ‘down to business’, clearly there to pursue their sport. The beach side town of Tamarindo was a surfing mecca with surfers trailing through town, depositing their boards outside the cantinas for a bite before catching more waves.

The wildlife of Costa Rica should not be missed.  The country is the size of West Virginia and boasts more species of birds than the U.S. and Canada combined.  The diversity of their animal species places Costa Rica as one of the most biodiverse countries anywhere in the world.   Seeing the animals has been paramount in the trips I’ve taken and this one was no exception.  This time we toured each on horseback and by boat which were great alternative methods.

Our hotel lies within a sprawling property known as Hacienda Pinilla which is comprised of hotels, personal residences and businesses.  Everything is so spread apart you would not see another building unless you drive a decent distance by vehicle.  We’ve seen Howler Monkeys in the trees on the drive in and the road is often stalled by Brahman cattle (the popular species for beef in Costa Rica) loitering along with horseback riding farmers.

I was cautioned to be thoughtful about where we got horses and found an Establo (professional equestrian center) on the grounds of Hacienda Pinilla.  For $50 a rider we were outfitted with horses appropriate for the rider’s skill level, helmets and it was evident we did not need to double check the integrity of the saddling.  The horses were healthy and well cared for.

Establo, Hacienda Pinilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica -
‘Festivale’, my trusty stead was surefooted in the jungle mud and very responsive other than having a beef with the horse in front of him on our trip to the sea (seemed the line order was not to his liking). He’d pick up a brisk trot when even 2 feet would open up, hoping to overtake said horse, reminding me my horsewoman skills have sorely lapsed and that I should consider a more supportive bra before endeavoring again. I really hate trotting on a horse.

We rode with two guides through the forest finding very loud Howler Monkeys overhead (who did not like our guide’s loud clapping sending them in to their loud, guttural frog-like vocalizing), iguanas and bats in an abandoned cistern.  We ended on the top of a hill with a water tower allowing us to see as far as the eye could see in every direction.  The trip culminated with a ride on the seashore and spry lope back to the stables (though the guide was very considerate of every rider’s abilities and comfort before suggesting this).  It was great fun.

Hacienda Pinilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica -

Hacienda Pinilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica -

From our hotel the National Park of Palo Verde was a perfect choice for wildlife spotting.  We organized a tour through the travel office in our hotel (tours were through Suisse Travel) and were comfortably shuttled to the park in about 1 ½ hours (with a stop at a traditional historic hacienda for some fruit, leg stretching and the view).  We boarded covered boats on Tempisque river and with the help of our guide and skipper, both of whom where seasoned wildlife experts, we viewed crocodiles, howler monkeys, white faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas, basilisk or Jesus Christ lizards (named so as they can run atop the water), swinging bats, and several species of birds.  We spent about 2 hours on the river with lots to see close by (we did not need binoculars though for closer viewing they were helpful).


  1. says

    The rice looks good. I spent 10 days in Costa Rica a few years back and I'm dying to take the family back with me. It was so pretty and the beaches wonderful.

  2. Jen says

    Hello! I’m hoping you can help me! My brother lived in Costa Rica for 2 years and for his upcoming birthday (in a few days), I am cooking him foods from when he was there. So far, this is the more authentic, possible recipe that I’ve found. But what my question is… in all of the recipes, it calls for cilantro or (coriander). what does this mean? I didn’t think those two were the same. Any explanation would be great! Thank you so much! Can’t wait to try this recipe!

    • says

      Hi Jen. Outside the U.S. the term coriander refers to the fresh leaves and seeds of cilantro. In the U.S. we usually use it to describe dried cilantro. This is an authentic Costa Rican recipe so I added cilantro in parenthesis knowing most Americans would think it meant to us dried cilantro. Use fresh cilantro and your brother will think he’s back in the land of Pura Vida!

  3. Susan says

    Isn’t Costa Rica wonderful? We’ve only been to Puerto Limon, but have enjoyed every visit. We’ll be going back in January (just for a day as part of a cruise), and we’re really looking forward to it.
    The Gallo Pinto sounds wonderful, although I’m not certain about eating it for breakfast…
    A couple of comments about ingredients: 1) I’ve always thought Coriander referred to the seeds of cilantro. The ground Coriander in my spice cabinet is ground seeds. 2) the sour cream the Costa Ricans use may be like the Mexican crema. It’s their version of sour cream. I’ve never tried it, but it’s easy to find in the grocery stores, since we live on the border with Mexico. I think I’d try buying some of that if I try this recipe.

    • says

      I too have loved Costa Rica. I’ve taken three trips there, each to different locations and there is always so much to explore. If you want to be a real ‘Tico’ (Costa Rican local) Susan, you’ll have to try Gallo Pinto for breakfast! It’s offered everywhere and is traditional. For me, it was perfection and what I love as a breakfast choice. I had noted in the recipe the cilantro-corriander lexicon which differs depending on where one is in the world. This Costa Rican local recipe uses fresh cilantro. In my experience they did not use crema but a truly heavy sour cream but I’m sure variations of the recipe may use crema and may differ depending on the region of Costa Rica too!

  4. says


    I’d like to make this recipe for a large group, but I don’t see a serving quantity on the recipe. How many people do you think this could serve, as a side dish for breakfast? Really looking forward to trying it.


    • says

      Hi Shauna. The recipe makes approximately 6 cups gallo pinto (I’ve added that to the recipe). As you can see from the photos of our Costa Rican ‘tico’ breakfast, it generally is served with scrambled eggs and fruit so you can bear that in mind when deciding portion sizes. I think 1/2 cup per person with other breakfast items would be a good guide. Hope that helps!


  1. […] Am I the only one who thinks of ribs as a summer grilling food?  Why is it that food gets pigeon holed to a meal genre or season?  For instance do you ever think about how breakfast food can be eaten any time of the day and the novelty about that is charming: ‘backwards day’ or ‘Brinner’ for scrambled eggs and sausage in the evening.  But eating dinner foods for breakfast?  Unheard of except for pizza that has slipped by on certain occasions without scorn. (Though I’ll admit one of my favorite breakfasts is Costa Rican Gallo Pinto, or Black Beas and Rice). […]

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