When visiting Puerto Rico you will be eating well, that’s for sure. However, surprisingly, just like Trinidad (I have only visited Trinidad, Tobago and PR in the Caribbean so don’t know about other islands) there is not a lot of fish* dishes in the traditional cuisine, but chicken is very popular!
If you want to play it “safe”, fast and boring, you can eat at the numerous fast food places such as Pizza Hut, Fuddruckers (they do make good hamburgers), Chili’s, Burger King (that we didn’t have in Belgium so I did go a few times in the beginning!!), McDonald’s etc. There is also a Starbuck’s on almost every corner in San Juan!
I wouldn’t recommend going to the above mentioned restaurants, especially if you want to look good on la playa in your bikini 🙂 so what should you eat? Well, there is la comida criolla or Puerto Rican cuisine, which is quite heavy, and often deep-fried but at least it is more authentic…
Arroz con habichuelas is the staple food, i.e rice with beans. You will always find this dish on the table in Puerto Rico! Plantains (green bananas, usually fried into the so-called tostones) and yucca (also known as manioc / cassava) are other carbs that replace my old time favourite – the potato*!
My favourite dish is mofongo, like I mentioned in my first post from when I just moved here. It is a traditional dish of mashed plantains stuffed with chicken / shrimp / beef. The Lonely Planet has a recipe for mofongo that I might try out one of these days! Or I can just go out to one of the following restaurants and enjoy local food:
Raíces (Old San Juan): you would think that it is a tourist trap, just across from the harbour where the cruise ships dock, and the waiters are all dressed up in traditional clothes and usually perform a parranda (a group of people playing maracas, tambourines etc and singing traditional Puerto Rican songs) during the evening… However, every time I have been to the restaurant, it has been a good mix of locals and tourists! The steaks are huge and their Piña coladas are great!
Ajili-Mójili (Condado): known as one of the better restaurants in San Juan (or even the island) and once again, I am hesitating – is it a tourist trap or not? Well, we went there to celebrate my sister’s 25th birthday on the 2nd January and at least I expected a nice, quite fancy restaurant. I am not a snob, but… American tourists wearing shorts and CAPS while eating??? Maybe I am a snob after all but in Europe, a restaurant in the same category wouldn’t probably tolerate that kind of sloppy dressing (not that a lot of Europeans would wear their caps when eating in a restaurant!). Despite the first impression, we really enjoyed the food, which was also traditional Puerto Rican with a twist. And their cocktails were great! Tourist trap or not, a lot of locals like this restaurant as well.
Bébos (Santurce): one of the best restaurants in San Juan according to one of O’s colleagues who comes all the way from Caguas almost every weekend (a 30-min drive)! It might not look like much from the outside (or the inside as a matter of fact) but the restaurant is not trying to pretend to be a fancy place with its basic furniture and plastic cups. On the weekends the Sanjuaneros (and as mentioned, people from out of town) are lining up to get a table, but it is definitely worth the wait. The food is delicious, and plenty! My favourite place for mofongo (I have never been able to finish my plate – it is heavy!)…
*) The most common fish seems to be dorado or mahi-mahi / dolphin fish as it is also called in English.
*) Of course you can find potatoes in Puerto Rico as well, they are called papas (not patatas as in Spain) and are usually served as papas fritas, i.e French fries (you can forget about finding boiled potatoes like I like!).