Just got back from San Juan, PR and ate at some (mostly) great places:
Ropa Vieja Grill:
Puerto Rican and Cuban-style food, moderately priced. We stumbled upon this place because it was a few blocks away from our hotel. It was packed with locals on a Saturday night. Our late night snack included salmon ceviche and quesadilla with ropa vieja and sweet plantains. The quesadilla was stuffed with flavorful tender beef and in more quantity than what you would expect for an appetizer. The ceviche was marinated in a mango sauce, overall good flavor but fish was overmarinated for my taste. (I think weve been spoiled by the ceviche at Andina in Portland, OR.) We went back for dinner and enjoyed halibut with pesto sauce, amarillos (sweet yellow plantains) and a goat cheese salad that was fresh and tasty. The limonada both night had a nice, strong lime and sugar flavor.
Puerto Rican style food in a renovated mansion. Loved the pumpkin fritter appetizers with tomato, sliced almonds, capers and artichoke heart saucecould have had the fritters again for dessert! We split the house salad (lettuce, canteloupe, tomato in citrus vinagrette) which was very fresh and good. My husband had the beef tips in a garlicky sauce with garbanzo beans and bell peppers. The beef was very tender and flavorful. I had the fried red snapper with criolla sauce. Fish was very good and the sauce had interesting flavors. Too full for dessert.
chosen by someone else paying for dinner for seven. Overall, everyone was happy with their choices. Our main issue was the air conditioner was up too high, but this was a familiar theme wherever we went (restaurant, hotel, taxi, etc.). One of our dining companions had the octopus, sashimi style with a Spanish-style olive oil sauce and really loved it. My favorite dish was the deep fried plantain chips, served hot, puffy, crisp and lightly salted in little baskets. Could have eaten those all day! The Kobe beef churrasco style was the best skirt steak Ive ever had (then again, it is Kobe beef), juicy and flavorful. Our dining companions were pleased with their baby veal chop and halibut fillets.
Bebos Café (on Loiza St.):
a terrific, brightly lit Puerto Rican diner-style place. Nearly all the customers were locals and the large menu is entirely in Spanish. English translations will vary depending on the server. Very casual, t-shirts and shorts are the norm. We had a papaya shake, more amarillos, alcapurrias, empanaditas and mofongo (mashed yellow plantains with that addictive garlic sauce). All of the food was made to order, perfectly fried and not greasy! The alcapurrias were SOO goodcrunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. We went back for breakfast. Our Spanish isnt good enough to find out if you could get non-breakfast items during breakfast hours. We did see some sandwiches going by, so our guess is that you can order them for breakfast too. Their almuerzo menu is mostly eggs with grilled, buttered bread or scrambled eggs with ham/veggies with bread and french fries. The orange juice was freshly squeezed with a minimal amount of pulp. Eggs were pretty good, better than the hotel buffet stuff, but nothing I would necessarily write home about. Would definitely go back for lunch, casual dinner or snacks!
Old Town San Juan:
Jibarito (on Sol St.):
frequented by locals, very casual, almost hole-in-the-wall place with awesome homestyle Puerto Rican food! We found our favorite new condiment here, a sauce made of chicken salt, garlic and oil, which you dip all the fried foods into or squirt onto your food! Very addictive! We shared tostones, fried shredded plantain-taro fritters, chicken fingers (there is a Spanish word for these) and an entrée of something that looks like a tamale but made of plantains, pumpkin and chicken with beans and rice and amarillos on the side. All of it was so good! We were stuffed after all that food and all for a great price, about $20 w/ sodas and tip for two. After we ate there, one of our taxi drivers mentioned that it has great local food without our prompting.
quite a disappointment, given that the menu looked good. We shared several appetizersarrowroot fritters, ceviche, bacalaitos, rice balls filled with mozzarella cheese, corn fritters and platanos with sour cream and caviar. The fritters, bacalaitos and rice balls were tasty and freshly fried, but not spectacular. The ceviche was overmarinaded (again) but generous in portion. However, the platanos with caviar, which was tobiko, were the big disappointment. The platanos had been fried earlier and were cold by the time they came to our table. Plus, the sour cream and tobiko just didnt work with the thick platanos. I think a thinner plantain chip would have been a better balance. For the price and quality, I think that you can get better food elsewhere.
The Parrot Club:
outstanding Nuevo Latino food! We had the bacalaitos with crab salad appetizer. The bacalaitos chips were perfectly fried and the perfect balance to a very fresh crab salad. For dinner, we had black sea bass with a leek, scallop and lobster sauce over mofongito (mashed plantains and other good stuff) and salmon over a garbanzo bean/garlic/spinach saute. Both of the fish melted in your mouth, perfectly cooked and seasoned! We had tostones and yuca with mojo (tomatoes and onions) for side dishes, also excellent. I restrained myself from getting the Fufu Cubano, mashed sweet yellow plantains (yes, there is a theme here!). Dessert was surprisingly not sugary sweet (thank goodness!)--bananas wrapped in filo dough, gently sauteed and served with a side of dulce de leche sauce. It all worked together so well! Atmosphere was lively, great artwork on the walls and a mix of locals and tourists. Would have to say that out of all the more formal places we went to, this hit the spot with food, service and décor!
Aquaviva (seafood, oysters and ceviche bar) and Dragonfly (Latin-Asian fusion, including sushi):
didnt make it there because we ran out of time and stomach. They are owned/operated by the same chef at Parrot Club and would bet that they are as good! One of the people at the meeting we attended ate at Aquaviva and really liked it.
Non-San Juan area:
On the trip from San Juan to El Yunque, we passed by two Pollo Tropical, a Latin-Carribean fast food chain. Weve eaten at the Florida outposts and thought they had good food (chicken, amarillos, yuca, etc) for equally good prices. Good for families with small kids or take out.
Our faves are The Parrot Club (for more formal dining and great food), Jibaritos and Bebos Café (for very casual dining with cheap and great local food). Ropa Vieja for somewhere in the middle.
And if anyone has the recipe for the garlic sauce made with chicken salt, please send it our way!