Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where to Eat in Puerto Rico

We just got back from a short but sweet trip to Puerto Rico so I didn't get a chance to bake this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  My apologies to Mike for not baking along.  Instead, I thought I'd post a few quick reviews of some of the places where we dined.  Unfortunately, I didn't snap any photos of the food (didn't think about it until after I got home - sorry!) but hopefully the reviews will still be helpful for those who will be planning a trip to PR in the future.  And, because I hate to put up a post without photos, here's a picture of my sweet baby girl enjoying her first trip to the beach! :)

San Juan, Puerto Rico Restaurant Reviews/Dining Guide

Bebo's Café - this eatery on Calle Loiza in Santurce serves traditional food (comida criolla) in an informal atmosphere.  It felt like we were in the Puerto Rican equivalent of Denny's or Chili's.  There were some tourists there, but for the most part we were surrounded by local families.  My husband got the milanesa de pollo (chicken milanese) and said it was good.  It's chicken pounded thin, then coated in egg and breadcrumbs and shallow-fried, then topped with cheese and marinara sauce.  I had the salmorejo de jueyes (crabmeat stew), and while nicely seasoned and delicious, it was overly salty.  The fried sweet plantains were great, though slightly greasy.  If you go here, don't confuse it with Bebo’s Chicken, which is also delicious, but simply an open-air chicken shack off of the highway adjacent to the international airport.  (average entree price = $10-20)

Ceviche House - located on the western end of Isla Verde, this Peruvian restaurant makes some of the best ceviche.  I've heard the service here can be a bit slow, but we got take out so I can't comment on that.  I do find in general though, that many restaurants in the Caribbean operate on "island time" and the servers just can't be bothered to move any quicker.  Here we ordered the Papas Huancaína as an appetizer.  Papas Huancaína is a Peruvian salad of boiled yellow potatoes (similar to the Yukon Gold potatoes) in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce. The sauce is made of fresh white cheese (similar to farmers cheese), vegetable oil, aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian pepper), evaporated milk and salt mixed in a blender. It was served cold as a starter over lettuce leaves and garnished with hard boiled egg quarters.  It was good, but a bit too heavy for my taste.  I thought the portion was quite large for an appetizer, so it was probably meant for sharing.  It could easily serve 2-4 people.  For the main course, I ordered the shrimp ceviche and it was very fresh and flavorful.  I got the small portion and wish I had gotten the large.  Would have definitely loved to have returned here a second time for more ceviche if time had permitted.  My husband ordered the churrasco (grilled skirt steak) and found it to be average, with Che's being much better (see below).  (average entree price = $20-30)

Che's - a churrascaria also located on the western end of Isla Verde, Che's is known for having the best churrasco in San Juan.  My friend recommended this restaurant to us, and said she never visits PR without going to Che's.  I had never heard of churrasco before, but it's grilled skirt steak.  While seasoned well, I found the meat to be way too oily (leaving an oily taste in my mouth), and the meat too tough.  My husband thought it was delicious and had no complaints, but I prefer a more tender preparation of skirt steak.  Perhaps I just had a bad cut of meat, because all the reviews I've read of this place online say that their churrasco is excellent, so perhaps you'll still want to give it a try.  (average entree price = $18-25)

La Bombonera - located in Old San Juan (on Calle San Francisco), this family run bakery and coffee shop was packed with a good mix of both locals and tourists.  We arrived there on a Saturday around 10:30am to find a long line inside! Thankfully the line moved quickly and the wait wasn't too long, maybe 10-15 minutes.  My husband ordered the pancakes which were good, but the portion was small (just 3 small pancakes served).  I got the mallorca con mantequilla, a round spiral pastry sliced in half and grilled with butter, then dusted with confectioner's sugar - yum! I enjoyed it so much I ordered a second one :) We also got a box of several other pastries to take home with us - the best ones being the quesitos (flaky, slightly crispy, sugar-coated pastries with sweet cream cheese) and the quesitos con guayaba (sweet cheese pastries with guava filling).  This bakery was also just reviewed yesterday in the NY Times travel section. (average entree price = $5-15)

La Mallorquina - also located in Old San Juan (on Calle San Justo), this restaurant had the most delicious shrimp asopao.  It's a traditional Puerto Rican dish that is kind of like a soup/stew/gumbo made with rice, chicken broth, tomatoes, and spices.  My husband ordered the chicken asopoa and it was surprisingly different from the shrimp asopao that I ordered - in a bad way.  He didn't even finish his portion (and he isn't a very pick eater)! So, if you go here, stay away from the chicken version but definitely order the shrimp asopao! (average entree price = $14-30)

Piu Bello - actually a gelato chain with several locations in PR (and one in NY), we visited the location that is just a few blocks from the Ritz in Isla Verde.  We stopped in during the morning to grab a snack before leaving for the rainforest, so we didn't get get any gelato.  (I did read from other reviews that it's good, though). We tried the apple turnovers and quesitos here.  The apple turnovers were ok at best, but the quesitos were delicious.  We also had the grilled chicken sandwiches on focaccia with petso and mozzerella. They were good, but nothing spectacular. (average entree price = $5-10)

Platos -next door to Piu Bello in Isla Verde, this restaurant serves some amazing mofongo! Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish made from fried green plantains that have been mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It's usually filled with vegetables, chicken, crab, shrimp, or beef.  I had the mofongo con camarones (with shrimp) in an ajillo blanca (white garlic) sauce.  You can also get the mofongo served with a Puerto Rican creole sauce, but if you love garlic you have to try the garlic sauce! Soooooo good. While I didn't try the mofongo at any other restaurants while we there, I would have happily returned here for a second visit to eat their mofongo again. (average entree price = $15-25)

Restaurante José Enrique - by far our favorite restaurant in PR! It is located in the Plaza de Santurce in a repurposed old home.  It can be difficult to find because there is no street address on the home and there are no signs on the building, either.  There is a small parking lot across the street with a banner that says "José Enrique," however.  We never would have found it, except for the long line of people waiting out front when we arrived.  Plan to come about 15 minutes before they open to make sure you get a table.  People tend to linger and have drinks after their dinners so the wait can be quite long here sometimes (upwards of 1-3 hours).  This restaurant is known for creative, upscale Puerto Rican food, done right. The menu is constantly changing, but we had the crab ceviche served on tostones (twice fried plantains) as an appetizer - beyond delicious.  My husband doesn't even really care for crab and he was talking about how good it was.  For the main course, my husband had the mahi mahi served over rice and beans mixed together.  It was well seasoned and cooked to perfection, and the portion was quite hearty.  I ordered the fried lobster with tostones and avocado "foam."  It was chopped lobster pieces (in shell) in a slightly spicy breading, deep fried and served with an avocado dip.  The server called it an avocado "foam" but I think he just wasn't clear on the English translation.  It was definitely more like a mild guacamole or avocado dip.  Whatever you want to call it, though, it was awesome.  Far better than any plain old lobster served with butter for dipping! The portion size of the lobster was fine for me (especially with a shared appetizer and dessert), but I think it may be a bit too small for others.  For dessert my husband ordered the homemade ice cream trio, featuring three different flavors of ice cream.  I sampled a small bit of his ice cream and it was phenomenal - very rich and creamy.  Our only complaint was that the ice cream "scoops" were very small scoops that were served in 3 individual tasting spoons.  For my own dessert, I ordered the tembleque, a traditional Puerto Rican coconut pudding.  The server mentioned that the dessert features 5 different textures, which definitely piqued my interested.  It was a smooth coconut pudding dotted with small tapioca pearls, cubes of sponge cake dipped in cinnamon, spoonfuls of shredded coconut, and topped with two almond wafers.  It was plated on a spiral seashell-like dish, which allowed me to sample each of the different textures separately.  The cinnamon paired well with the coconut, and all the textures in the dish were a nice way to dress up a very simple Puerto Rican dessert.  If it weren't for the fact that we ate here on our last night in Puerto Rico, we would have definitely returned for a second visit before leaving! You must visit this restaurant if you are in San Juan.  I should also note that while it's "upscale" dining, the environment is very informal (some people were dressed up to go out to the bars afterward and others were very casually dressed in shorts) - we didn't feel like we were out of place bringing our daughter with us to dinner at all.  (average entree price = $20-30)

If you're a foodie like me, eating out is one of my favorite aspects of vacationing! I hope this dining guide proves helpful to at least a few travelers in the future.  If you're ever in Puerto Rico and end up trying one of these restaurants, do come back and leave me a comment and let me know what you think! Bon appetit! Or, since we're talking about Puerto Rico, I guess ¡Buen apetito! would be more appropriate ;)


  1. Wow, this is great, thanks for sharing! Puerto Rico is on my list of places to visit soon. Your little girl is adorable :)

  2. Wow, Jaime - what great info-- Bookmarked! Thanks for this fantastic post. Saw the Bombonera write up in NYT. Sounds like a wonderful vaca! Welcome back and *love* the pic of your daughter at the beach!

  3. Oh goodness - your baby girl is the cutest lil thing EVER!!!