A Foodie's Paradise: Culinary Exploration of Puerto Rico
Posted by Elizabeth Lindemer on 3/28/17
We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday evening around 7:30pm. It was warm and somewhat humid, but for someone who is always cold, it was quite comfortable. We caught a taxi and checked into our room with the typical excitement of chefs being in an almost foreign country and having empty stomachs from a 4 hour plane ride. So, naturally, we decided to explore and find some good food. Our first bearings brought us to the beach, which was only 2 blocks from where we were staying! It was dark so we couldn’t see much, but as we looked down the sandy strip in each direction you could see the lighted patios of beach side resorts and restaurants.
A woman walking her fluffy dogs on the soft cream colored sand recommended that we head over to one of her favorite places La Playita. The restaurant was just a short walk away, and as we arrived we were greeted with a warm smile and seated on the patio which reached out over the ocean. Waves lapped at the boards under our feet gently, and we waited patiently to place our order...and waited...and waited. Finally we moved back over to the bar, since this is where the staff seemed to be congregated in hopes of better service. (Island life is a bit more laid back, which is just what was needed, but we were starving) One of the young men immediately noticed that we had moved to the bar and jumped into action making us drinks and placing our order. Although we didn’t have the sound of the water, we had the joy of conversation with the young men working there who were happy to share their stories and recommend more places to see and restaurants to visit during our stay. That night we dined on Tuna Tartar and Whole Fried Red Snapper, both of which had that sweet and clean taste that only comes with very freshly caught fish. The snapper had been placed in a marinade of sofrito (Puerto Rican sofrito version is heavy laden with green peppers, onions, garlic and varying amounts of spicy peppers) this morning and then fried to a crispy perfection before being topped with a mixture of garlic and butter sauce. Our server explained that the chefs went shopping every morning so that they worked with the freshest ingredients possible. Oh, the perks of being in Puerto Rico!
After spending much of the next day enjoying the sun and surf of the local beach, we decided we were ready to find a more authentic experience and would check out the area that was recommend by our server from the night before. One such place, we were told was a favorite of the locals....just what we were looking for!
We traveled about four miles west down 187 to Piñones and as we arrived we could see the place was packed, bumper to bumper cars and crowds of people. The area of Piñones is just over a little, heavily trafficked, two lane bridge and bumps up to the shore. It’s a small space that is basically a loop with limited parking and packed mostly with restaurants that feature open aired seating and cases of hot food stacked high with an assortment of fried and grilled goodies. It was clear that this wasn’t a tourist trap since among the crowds milling between the cars, restaurants and beach we appeared to be the only tourist here.
It didn’t take long to see that one of the restaurants, Puerta Del Mar, was the crowd favorite. Lines of people waited to order from the walk-up counters, tables inside all packed with happy families and friends, and a delicious plume of smoke wafting from the outdoor grill that was being manned by two jovial men.
Since neither my husband nor I speak Spanish (five years of French aren’t coming in too handy....), we played a bit of charades with Fidel, our waiter, to place an order. It took a bit of patience on both ends, but we ended up with everything we wanted. We started with chicken and pork pinchos; it was these lovely snacks that had lured us from across the parking area with their grilled BBQ goodness! The scrumptious skewers of meat are basted over the grill with alternating rounds of a sweet BBQ sauce and generous amounts of melted butter until they are perfectly cooked. This was followed by the traditional tostones (mashed and fried plantains), fried pork mofungo served with slightly sweet and vinegary slices of pickled onions and peppers, and then finished off with a sweet and delicately briny array of raw oysters and clams on the half-shell that were so big they were falling out of their shells!
Although we were clearly not the typical customer here and spoke basically no Spanish, we found everyone to be so pleasant and helpful. Something we would continue to see throughout our stay in Puerto Rico. We even managed to share a few laughs, mostly at our expense as we attempted/butchered the language while trying to pick up a thing or two.
Read more about Chef Elizabeth Lindemer here.
- Elizabeth Lindemer
Corporate Executive Chef