Leaving for San Juan, PR in the morning! (4/12-4/14)
I'm meeting up with a large group of eight long-time friends for a boys weekend in San Juan, staying with one member of the group who lives there. Most members of the group aren't food folks (if I didn't go they would probably go to Burger King for most meals) BUT with the support of one game member of the group I am able to cajole them into eating adventures that they end up really enjoying. For example, we had a similar weekend in PR about 10 years ago and we "stumbled" on Pinones and ate amazing fried stuff. We'll probably revisit Pinones but what are some other fun and delicious local, regional and relatively inexpensive places that we should check out? We obviously aren't looking for romantic and we don't need fine dining or imported, fusion or international. Just honest, delicious and great.
One wrinkle is that we have a vegetarian in the group this time, so some consideration is a good thing, but obviously PR is a tough place to be a vegetarian and he knows it. I realize it's short notice but if anyone has a favorite can't miss place speak up! Thanks!
A quick trip report on San Juan. It was a bit of a disaster, although still a lot of fun. First off, AirTran unexpectedly canceled the flight down while we were waiting to board, instead sending me and a friend on a 24 hour odyssey to Pittsburgh and then to Tampa for the night, where we grabbed a late-night dinner at the counter-top side of LA TERESITA. The Cuban plates were just what we needed after many hours sitting in airports and in random planes. Roast pork, ropa vieja, rice and beans, great buttery bread... But you didn't come here for Tampa recommendations!
When we finally got to San Juan and joined our six other friends, weekend already well underway, we headed to CAFE MALLORCA for a sort of breakfast/lunch kind of mishmash. I had chicken fricassee with rice and beans, which was juicy and delicious. My wife and I ate there about 15 years ago and it looks like they've revamped the interior, but the cooking is still traditional and great. I also split a mallorca (sugary bun) with ham and melted cheese in it. Yum.
For dinner we stepped out in our finest for VERDE MESA, since one in our party is a vegetarian and San Juan doesn't have a lot of options. This seafood and vegetarian restaurant has a charming interior and a pretty nice menu. We split a big assortment of appetizers (boquerones, swordfish ceviche, salmon tartare, slow-cooked tuna conserva) which was mostly great. The boquerones (little oil-cured fresh sardines with roasted tomatoes) and the ceviche were the winners. I had their take on nicoise with lovely seared tuna slices and a delicious mango couscous.
The next day we had breakfast at CAFECULTURA (actually, the crew had breakfast every day... Being friends with the same group of people for 25 years tends to make you creatures of habit.) The ham and cheese on baguette breakfast sandwich was killer, as was their coffee.
I wanted to head up to the hills of Guaynabo for a roast pig feast at a Lechonera but the fellas didn't feel the same sense of urgency so we lingered at the beach and by the time we made it up there for dinner they were all closed. No matter, we headed to Pinones for dinner and randomly found TITI LUCY, the same stand where we had pionones together ten years ago. Sitting on the ramshackle porch eating heavily-fried goodness was a great close out to the short trip. Pinones LOOKS like a great place to crawl from place to place trying different specialties, but one bite of the deep fried belly-bombs will finish you up for the night. And with all the noise and hub-bub (and people randomly riding through the dark night on horses) it's about as different a place as you can get from the typical vacation atmosphere.
During the drive back to town we spied PIZZA CONO and, as a car full of New Yorkers must, had to try them. These pizza cones are filled with molten cheese and tomato sauce, plus smokey bacon and mushrooms. I feel overly stuffed just thinking about them. They were damn tasty, if dangerously hot.