Exploring Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico can be a magical place to visit. An island part of the United States that is anything but American. Upon arrival in the capital city San Juan you feel as if you have entered a different world. The language is Spanish, the music is lively, and the people are warm and generous. There is one main thing I was here for and that was the traditional food and beverage of this wonderful island.
Old San Juan is a large tourist area. Cruise ships are lined up every day flushing tourists through the city. That being said a lot of the restaurant food here is overrated and expensive. Street food is where the heart is. I saw numerous vendors lined up on streets. The goal was to find one with a long line and most of them locals. Finally I stumbled upon one. They were serving a tripleta sandwich which has ham, chicken, and beef. Four condiments were put on a large hoagie then the meat was added. This was the best sandwich I have EVER tasted. Juicy and loaded with favors. I was pumped and ready to explore more local favorites.
La Bombonera restaurant in Old San Juan has been around for a 80 plus years. They are known for their breakfast. Majorcas is their specialty. It is a breakfast sandwich topped with powdered sugar. I had the ham and cheese with a side of freshly squeezed orange juice. It was phenomenal. If you are in San Juan for just a day via cruise ship this is a great place to stop in and eat. Lunch is also served and most reviews I’ve read about this place are all positive.
Being in Old San Juan i wanted to try Raices restaurant. It was featured in Man Vs. Food on the Travel Channel and the food looked delicious. They are famous for the deep fried pork shop. It’s supposed to be a whole chop marinated in a sofrito then baked and finished in a deep fryer until crispy. I was disappointed. The marinade was unnoticeable and it tasted like a bland piece of pork. Not to mention it was the most expensive meal I would have all trip.
I am not a rum drinker but rum was my beverage of choice this trip. DonQ is the local favorite Puerto Rican rum producer and it is easy to taste why. Rarely exported, the oak aged DonQ Añejo is perfect for drinking on the rocks or with a splash of water. It’s a serious rum with tons of flavors like caramel, spice and cinnamon. If rum is too much for you go for a Medalla Light beer. It might be light but it’s packed with flavors and tastes completely unlike the standard American light beers. Wanna go foo foo? Look no farther than a piña colada. Just about every item that goes into a piña colada in Puerto Rico is made locally. It puts all other umbrella drinks to shame. Sadly you will be disappointed when you leave the island looking for one in the states.
If you want a variety of local favorites the Luquillo Kiosks fit the bill. It is about a 30 minute drive east of San Juan. Once you arrive you will find about 60 small shops/restaurants in a long narrow strip by the beach. Each shop has a speciality and a lot of the foods are displayed in front of you. Some are in English but everyone was very nice and helpful if I had any questions. Bring cash because you will want to jump around and most of them don’t take credit cards. You can get just about any local dish here and it’s definitely a spot for fried foods. My favorite dish at the kiosks was the Mofongo. Mofongo is plantains fried in pork fat, then mashed with some pork fat and stuffed with meat or seafood. I also enjoined the Morcilla which is a spicy blood sausage common in Puerto Rico. It all washed down good with the local Medalla Light.
My final and most memorable spot was the Lechoneras down the pork highway. This area has been highlighted by Travel Channel hosts Andrew Zimmerman and Anthony Bourdain. Lechon means roasted pig and that is the main dish that these roadside restaurants serve. It’s about an hour drive from San Juan but its totally worth it. You head South to the mountains towards an area called Cayey. The scenery on the way is beautiful. It really gave me a chance to see inland Puerto Rico. You know when you’ve arrived in a town called Guavate when you start seeing the Lechoneras lined up along the streets. This is a lively place for locals on the weekends with live music and all the pork you can get. The Lechonera we stopped at was called El Rancho Original. Whole pigs are being roasted on a rotating spit. You just walk up to the line and tell them you want some pieces of pork and they hack some off and serve it to you. My plate was full of various delicious pieces. The skin was especially my favorite part. As a side, pork spicy rice was served which made a perfect accompaniment to the meal. Out of every stop I made this is my most recommended.
Aside from the beaches and casinos there is plenty to do in Puerto Rico. Every location I went to visit was easy to navigate to with my AT&T iPhone and pretty much the entire island has coverage. If you plan of visiting and would like more info feel free add a comment or send me a message via Facebook or Twitter. I’d be happy to assist.