San Juan Report
Went to Old San Juan for a quick weekend vaca this last week. We stayed at El Convento and had a lovely time. After searching these boards, I made a list of restaurants to try... including traditional Puerto Rican style food.
However, I must say (unfortunately) that for the most part we did not have a good food//restaurant experience while we were there. There were a few highlights, but mostly we were greatly underwhelmed by the quality and tastiness of nearly every place we tried. Here's a quick report of what we tried and did/did not like:
Bombanera - One of the few highlights. Excellent mallorcas and strong coffee, as well as freshly sqeezed juices and fresh fruit. Pretty much dirt cheap too, and those Mallorcas stay with you a while! Not hungry again for hours...
St. Germain - Underwhelming. We stumbled in this small "continental" cafe for Sunday brunch, as nothing seemed to be open due to religious observances. I had a dry and overcooked quiche with a nearly burned crust. SO had a croque-madam that was more like scrambled eggs on top of a toasted bun. Both weren't horrible, but for $16 each we felt a little robbed. However we also received a nice fresh fruit salad with honey and cinnaman which was good.
Twice we had lunch at the patio cafe in our hotel on the first floor, purely for convienience purposes (and because we received two free sangria vouchers at check in). Surprisingly, the cuban sandwich was really pretty good - some sort of super flavorful pulled pork wrapped in decent ham, with melty cheese on a soft but substantial baguette. I actually ordered this twice (with fries, the tostones my SO had with his churassco wrap were completely inedible, they litterally tasted like cardboard disks.)
Maria's bar - cold beer served out of coolers, no refridgeration or kitchen. We stopped in because of a sign saying tacos inside, but once there we realized the only heating element they had were two microwaves. We watched the bartender heat up neon orange nacho dip in a used tupperware bowl for another patron, so we decided to to grab a snack.
El Picoteo - tapas restaurant and bar in our hotel. I had several excellent mojitos there and the food coming out looked great. Unfortunately we decided to go elsewhere for dinner. bad decision.
Il Perugino - Touted by our concierge as the "best italian he had ever eaten," we were excited to try this place. It was fairly expensive ($25+ entrees), and the food was mediocre at best. SO had a really bland ravioli with lamb starter which was drowning in a pool of unsalted oil/butter mixture, and a steak that weirdly came out both overcooked and cold. I faired a little better with a starter of house made tagilolini with a tomato-olive sauce, which was tasty but nothing special. I then had a pheasant cacciatori-style dish that wasn't bad, but also came out cold. Dessert was a mango creme brulee which was pretty standard. Wine list was highly touted but generally overpriced and oddly selected.
Don Tello - We stopped in here for a dinner after a tour of the baccardi factory. I was really really hoping this would be a place where we could taste some authentic and delicious Puerto Rican food. The service was very friendly and helpful, the beer was cold, the patio was delightful, but the food mainly sucked. We had a couple of decent starters - some mini fried fritters in a sweet/tangy dipping sauce, and chorizo sliced in a wine sauce. They were definitely the highlight of the meal. For entrees, SO got a seafood paella that tasted straight out of a rice-o-roni box with large hunks of tough fish and overcooked shellfish. I had possibly the worst mofungo ever - a large heap of gluey, lumpy, totally unseasoned mashed plantain with hunks of fried pork that could have passed for fried shoe-leather. Seriously. I couldn't even chew it. One piece dropped to the ground, and it "tinked." I partially blame myself for the bad meal - we were told to order the snapper and we totally should have.
Marmalade - Overall this place was pretty good, and was a marked improvement from other places we tried. We had a 5 course set price meal for about $70 which I thought was reasonable, especially given the size of the portions. I was stuffed when I left. Highlights of the meal were the famous bean soup, the tuna tartar with harissa, the black cod in miso, and the fois gras. All and all we enjoyed this meal, and the service was very good. The only drawback was the constant nagging feeling that I was dining in South Beach in 1993... the decor and the menu were a little outdated - about 5-10 years behind the trends - but still slightly pretentious. I guess they have a right to be a little proud given their competition.
I really wish I could have tried some yummy PR food while in San Juan. I know it must exisit. I guess I'll have to wait for the next trip.
I'm surprised by your experience in Il Perugino, locals almost unanimously consider it the best italian on the island and I have many foodie friends who think its the best italian in all the caribbean. Maybe you just had a bad experience.
The other top choices in SJ would be Compostela, Augusto, Pikayo and Jose Jose. All those are on the expensive side but would be my top five list.
Best Meal (and Value) was in Old San. Went to crash El Convento only to learn they'd moved the swimming-pool to the 4th floor (key required). So I stayed in the palm court, ordered a Cava, and lots of more wine. Then asked, "What is the $ 13 Special Lunch"?? It's Filet Mignon. Sure. So I order it: huge, tender velvet perfect steak.....better than Mortons back home. And a quarter the price. Then out into the San Sebastian Festival, el Morro fort, some good eggplant at El Dente, and back to my $25/night San Juan Hostel in Santurce....Priceless!
Been living in Puerto Rico for 10 years. There are some absolutely delicious dishes here but sadly your experience with tostones and mofongo relleno de carne frita is typical of the island. I don't know how they're served in the US but here Tostones is always cardboard-like (that's why locals have to smother it in a mayo-ketchup combination) and the carne inside the mofongo is always prepared tough, that's actually how carne frita is supposed to be, tough and chewy.