Puerto Rico: Savoring San Juan
Puerto Rico’s cuisine is as rich in flavor as the island is in sunshine. Cocina Criolla isn’t done right just anywhere.
The specialties at these authentic restaurants taste just like abuela used to make.
Every city has its celebrity chef. Cookbook author and “Top Chef Masters” contestant Wilo Benet is San Juan’s local culinary hero. His wood-fired oven at Varita turns out a stellar lechón, spit-roasted whole pig with a tangy marinade infusing the succulent meat and crispy skin. Tucked inside the Conrad Hotel, it’s also a great spot to try local snacks such as alcapurrias — a deep-fried mixture of plantains, squash and local tubers stuffed with ground beef.
999 Ashford Ave.,
The Waterfront Restaurant is not only known for its tranquil, oceanside setting on the Pinones boardwalk, but for its excellent preparations of local fish. Try the pastelillos, savory turnovers filled with chapin (trunkfish), the mild and meaty grilled dorado (mahi mahi) and sweet Caribbean lobster in a rich butter sauce.
KM 187, Pinones, 787-791-5989
Rice and beans
Family-style Bebo’s Cafe started as a tiny cafetin, but its terrific local fare required expansion for the Sanjuaneros that love its home cooking, particularly platters of rice and choice of white, pinto, red or black beans.
1600 Loiza, 787-726-1008
Cafe Puerto Rico sits in a quaint townhouse in Old San Juan with a kitchen that excels at a local staple: plantains. They’re starchy and potato-like when green and sweet when ripened. Have them here in a terrific creamy soup, as twice-fried rounds known as tostones or as mofongo, moist, mashed green plantains stuffed with pork, chicken or seafood.
208 O’Donnell, 787-724-2281
Home of Bacardi, Don Q and Ron Rico, Puerto Ricans know their rum. And colorful Jam is the place for connoisseurs. Along with classics like mojitos, the bar pours contemporary cocktails like the Kiwi Libre, kiwi puree with white rum and lime juice. An in-house playroom makes it a great place to enjoy a drink while keeping the ninos busy.
1400 Magdalena, 787-721-5991