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Tip: Invite your taxi driver to eat with you

I have been relying on taxi drivers mainly for tips on where to dine with some mixed results.

So I am in Costa Rica and ask. The boys get together in a huddle and decide on a restaurant and off I go with one of them. Unfortunately I hit town on the day that Costa Rica is founded so there are marathons and all sorts of things blocking the streets.

We FINALLY get to the restaurant, and I tell the guy to come back in about an hour and a half. He says, nah, I will just wait as the traffic is murder. So, I ask him if he wants to eat with me. He accepts.

I order the ceviche as everyone I talked to on the bus says this is the thing to order in Costa Rica. He orders the seafood soup ... It looks fabulous. It comes with banana ceviche and he order some sort of drink I think is called Cas.

I ask him to show me where the soup is on the menu. He says it is not on the menu. You just have to know. Then he and I start talking about local food. It seems Costa Rica is one of the few places in Central America not hooked on heavily sugared instant coffee. They do not export the good stuff. They drink it at home. He talks about the different times of day they drink and the types they drink. I ask about sugar. He stutters ... of course not, black is perferred for straight drinks.

Anyway, I get loads of other info from him about local eats. I order some seafood soup and plantano ceviche to take back to the motel. Really great stuff.

So much so, that I rearranged my trip back to stay an extra day in San Jose, CR. Great city and he had some other non food stuff that sounds interesting.

So, just throwing it out there as a chowhounding tip. I know people ask cabbies where to eat, but if you take them along, they might really lead you to food they like.

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  1. What a great idea. When l had a fussy driver, fussy in a good way, in France l took him to some meals, some not, but your idea is super.

    1. I bet he enjoyed lunch too. You really have a zest for life and for travel. :)

      1. Yes, that's what we did in Panama. Not only do they know the great places they may be better at negotiating prices.

        1 Reply
        1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

          If you have some good Panama City tips, here´s my post from today

          Actually, the guidebook mention of El Traipiche turned out to be excellent. Fabulous hojaldras. However, I gotta eat tommorrow.

          So far the taxi drivers in Panama City make NYC cab drivers seem tranquil ... so I haven´t found a good prospect to ask.

          1. Great idea! But i'm curious about the coffee thing.... my friend is the Peet's Coffee buyer, and he travels to CR quite often, and he once told me they DO ship out the good stuff and don't ever get to taste the good stuff themselves! When we were in CR, the BF didn't like the local coffee (loves Peet's), and i don't drink it, so I don't know. Wish I'd taken a cab while there myself (although, we stayed in a tiny town on the Caribbean side - Cahuita, near the Cahuita Natl' Park - gorgeous- and only spent one night in San Jose) - we didn't find any food of note - just not in the know at all at the time, and not a rabid CHer like I am now. (this was about 9 years ago.) Plus, the BF doesn't eat seafood, so a place like CR is wasted on him, foodwise, and thus was wasted on me.

            But again, great idea in any city, thanks! (When are you back, anyway, isn't it coming up? Are you making the tour of neighboring lands as your trip draws to an end?)

            1 Reply
            1. re: mariacarmen

              I remember hearing the same thing about the coffee when I was there back in the 1990s. Same for the shrimp, which were very very expensive when I was there. And Cahuita - I haven't thought of that place in years. Thanks for the memories!

            2. Besides being a nice gesture, getting in on secret menu items is inducement enough.

              1. rworange,
                In Cabarete, Dominican Republic around 2000, 3 of us 'rented' a van for the day. Our driver, Pedro was awesome. We saw all kinds of amazing things that will humble us forever. We were in Santiago for lunch at a resto he recommended. He said he would wait for us in the van. We insisted he eat w/us. He had never been in there B4. The end of the tour he took us to his mother's house for dinner. We will remember it forever.
                The lagniappes in life are awesome!

                1 Reply
                1. re: hamboney

                  Fabulous post. Thanks.

                  On the way back the Costa Rican cabbie I dined with was an actual angel. He drove me around after someone broke into my bank accounts and emptied them and helped me exchange the emergency quetzales I had to cash. God bless America. They take dollars eerywhere, but just try to exchange a quetzale.

                2. Along the same lines......I can remember back in the 60's on family vacations to Puerto Rico...my father used to take us to Dorado Beach, which was a RockResort property at the time. There was not much to do as far as dining or entertainment other than at the hotel....where the food was all inclusive. Back then, there wasn't any television or cable in the rooms, can you imagine that? Each morning and afternoon we had the same waiter serving us breakfast and lunch. I can remember him as a friendly guy and offering to take us into the local town where he lived...and my father accepting his offer and paying him to take us out ....as a guide of sorts. He also sat with us for dinner.....

                  I would imagine hotels today would frown upon that sort of thing happening today.

                  I couldn't imagine doing this in NYC today.......

                  1. this might be a silly question, but would you be paying for the taxi driver's meal as well?

                    oh yeah, thanks for the tip!

                    3 Replies
                      1. re: zinky

                        When we were in Puerto Vallarta ages ago, we did because we had invited him to be our guest; otherwise, he would have waited in the cab. We were paying him a flat fee for the day so the time spent at lunch didn't matter to him.

                        1. re: zinky

                          Yeah, paid for the dinner. He was my invited guest. This being Costa Rica, a beer, ceviche, cas beverage and two seafood soups set me back $11.

                        2. Great idea! It'd be even more enjoyable if one like one's cab driver.

                          On a related note, when visiting a place we've never been to before, we usually take a half-day "city tour" of some sort to get a quick overview of the city, get our bearings, note the places we'd like to visit more later, etc. We usually ask the tour guide or driver "If *you* were taking your family out for a special lunch/dinner, where would you go?" We've found that yield much better eating places than merely asking "Where is a good place to eat around here?"

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: aqn

                            Good idea. I was forced to take a tour because of limited time and my desire to see the canal. Turns out my hotel was located in the "rich Jewish section" and "they" all live together in this area because "they" are very religious and won't take cars to get to the temple, so "they" all live in huge luxury skyscrapers within walking distance of the temple. After picking up my jaw from the floor after the tour guide said that, I wish I had thought to ask if he knew a nice Jewish restaurant. The description of Chinatown was equally enlightened.

                          2. Great story and wonderful idea. You learn something, you are let in on a secret, and you have company. It's a win-win-win situation.

                            1. I wonder if anyone would invite their New York City cab driver to eat with them?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: beevod

                                You'd have to wait for them to get off the phone, and you'd be waiting a long time.

                              2. Did that when I first moved to Las Vegas and got some GREAT info on local places.

                                1. Great. Although I wouldn't do that in SF.