A beloved Central American meal, gallo pinto offers a delightful fusion of rice and beans with a touch of spice from Salsa Lizano – a sauce similar to Worcestershire – typically accompanied by eggs.

The dish, whose name means “spotted rooster” in English, owes its moniker to the speckled appearance of the mixed rice and beans. It holds a special place in the culinary traditions of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

For Costa Rican photojournalist Mónica Quesada, gallo pinto was a cherished after-school meal. “I have fond memories of savoring gallo pinto with a large tortilla and a slice of fresh, squeaky Turrialba cheese for dinner,” Quesada recalled.

Breakfast Dish

While it may be unconventional to enjoy this meal in the evening, as it’s usually considered a breakfast dish served with natilla, a type of Costa Rican sour cream, Quesada relished it as the ultimate comfort food regardless of the hour.

Growing up in Heredia, one of the three cities encircling Costa Rica’s capital, San José, Quesada now lives in Sabanilla, a residential area in the northeastern part of the city, with her husband, Thomas Enderlin, a New Yorker.


The couple has co-authored a cookbook titled “Costa Riquísima: Costa Rican Traditional Dishes For You or Someone You Love,” published in November 2022 by Zona Tropical Press. The project came together fortuitously when the publisher asked Quesada if she knew anyone who could work on a cookbook, specifically a mixed-nationality couple.

The creation of “Costa Riquísima” took several years, with research beginning as early as 2015. The couple faced challenges, including a family incident and the pandemic, but the most significant task was studying various recipes and creating a single version that multiple people could approve. Quesada and Enderlin tested their recipes with the help of their Costa Rican relatives, who found the dishes to be authentic and traditional.

Natural But Spicy

Enderlin described Costa Rican cuisine as natural, mildly spiced, fresh, and fulfilling. “It’s very pragmatic,” he noted, as the cuisine’s roots are in the country’s less developed, more agrarian past when people needed sustenance for their physical labor.

As for gallo pinto, Quesada and Enderlin acknowledged that despite its simplicity, the dish can vary greatly in terms of preparation and ingredients across families and regions. Some notable differences include the use of red beans in certain areas and black beans in others, as well as the addition of coriander and diced red or green bell pepper.

In their recipe for gallo pinto, Quesada and Enderlin chose to include Salsa Lizano, a sweet and spicy sauce created in 1920. Although it’s not the healthiest option due to its saltiness, and some newer generations avoid it, Salsa Lizano remains popular among Ticos (Costa Ricans). Quesada insisted on incorporating the sauce, as it adds depth to the dish’s flavor, making it slightly saltier and spicier with a subtle kick.