There are tons of fast-food offerings in Costa Rica. Ticos are a frugal people, and they don't generally spend money to go out to fancy restaurants. However, Ticos will go out to fast-food restaurants, as long as the prices are cheap.

When it comes to fast food... franchised chain restaurants -- U.S. Brands -- are the dominant market force here in CR, with few exceptions.

McDonald's is a huge powerhouse here. Burger King has had its ups and downs, but it's still here. KFC, Popeye's, Taco Bell, Carl's Jr., Smashburger, and a few other U.S. chains have a good presence here. Wendy's failed because their prices weren't low enough. Ticos will admit -- straight up -- that price is more important than quality.

One Costa Rican chain that has done very well is Pops... an ice-cream chain similar to Baskin-Robbins. Pops has enjoyed great success and offers excellent product, primarily because the company brought in fast-food restaurant executives from the USA a few years ago, to show them how to run their business USA-style.

Most franchise restaurants source their food locally, which is usually a positive aspect of the franchise concept. However, that concept doesn't always work out for the best, here in CR. These are my opinions regarding restaurant franchises here in CR...


Fast Food...


1) McDonald's: About 85% - 90% of the quality in the USA.

2) Burger King: About the same quality as in the USA.

3) Popeye's: Better chicken quality than the USA. However, the "spicy" chicken here is not very spicy, and the sides are generally of substantially lower quality than in the USA.

4) KFC: Lower quality than in the USA.

5) Carl's Jr.: About the same quality as in the USA.

6) Smashburger: About the same quality as in the USA.


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"Slightly Better than Fast Food" Restaurants...

1) Subway: About the same quality as in the USA.

2) Quiznos: About the same quality as in the USA.

3) Pizza Hut: Food quality is about 90% of the quality in the USA. The restaurants are slightly more "upscale" than in the USA.


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"Upper-Middle-Class" Restaurants...

This includes chains like Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang's, Tony Roma's, T.G.I. Friday's, Applebee's, etc.

Generally speaking, the quality of the food at these restaurants is lower than in the USA, but the prices are about 15% - 30% higher than in the USA.


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Other Chains...

1) Hooters: Hooters has done well in Costa Rica, but the concept is slightly different than in the USA. In Costa Rica, the "Hooters Girl" and the "Hooters Uniform" is basically standard daily wear for almost any Tica. In Costa Rica, Hooters is nothing more than a sports bar with cute girls serving chicken wings. The clientele consists of a mix of men, women, and children which is roughly the same as any other sports bar.

2) Denny's: Pretty much the same quality as in the USA, with slightly higher prices.

3) Hard Rock Cafe: Completely misses the "atmosphere" intended by Hard Rock, but the food is actually quite good, with prices about 15% higher than in the USA.


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General Concerns with Restaurants in Costa Rica...


Even in U.S.-Branded chain restaurants, the Ticos prepare the food Tico style. The important points...

1) Ticos put WAY too much salt in almost everything. Expect the salt content of anything you eat in a U.S.-Branded chain restaurant to be at least 30% higher than the salt content in the USA.

2) Ticos cook everything on high heat, and way too fast. Practically speaking, this means that anything which should be cooked slowly on low heat is going to be poorly prepared. Good Example: The ribs at T.G.I. Friday's. Here in Costa Rica, those ribs taste like "potted meat on a stick."