Thursday, April 30, 2015

Puerto Rico: Where We Ate

I'm really late to the game with this post, but we're planning a long weekend trip to Florida in May and I've been perusing blogs to plan our itinerary and find these posts really helpful. We spent a long weekend in Puerto Rico in January (which I already blogged about.) I plan vacation using meals as the building blocks and then filling in other activities around them...priorities, people!

We stayed in the Condado Beach area at the Condado Plaza (Hilton), and there was no shortage of restaurants within walking distance. The "best" beach in Condado is the small triangular beach on the grounds of the hotel, because the beach is in a cove, protected from high surf by large rocks.

Dinner #1
Beachfront, creative, local seafood

We arrived in the late afternoon on Saturday, and had a late reservation at Oceano, about a 3/4 mile walk from the hotel each way. The ambiance is very trendy and modern; a white building with a whole side open to the beach, with blue uplighting. Food Network has dubbed Oceano as "Puerto Rican paradise" and we definitely agreed that night. We were seated on the outdoor balcony, and it was kind of dark, but A. was wearing shorts and a button-down, and I was in a maxi dress, and it was January - so we weren't going to ask to be moved.

We ordered a pitcher of the white wine Sangria, and the Yuca Crusted Calamari appetizer to start. The calamari came in thick strips of calamari "steak" battered in powdered yuca - it was perfectly crisp. The appetizer came with two dipping sauces - a cilantro aioli and a sweet chili sauce.

For dinner I ordered the Colossal Shrimp Mofongo, and it was the best mofongo I had on the trip - there were huge pieces of bacon/lardons worked into the yuca. The shrimp were easily the largest and meatiest I've ever had.

A. ordered the King Snapper, which he devoured.

For dessert, we somehow found room for the Quatro Leches, which was fantastic. I'm pretty sure I only managed to take a picture of the dessert...seems typical:
We were glad to have the 3/4 mile walk back to the hotel to work off some of the richness of the meal.

Breakfast #1
For breakfast on Sunday morning we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant, using the vouchers we'd gotten at check in. We had big plans for explore the El Yunque rain forest that morning, so I ordered a chorizo and egg breakfast burrito and A. got pancakes. We ate quickly and headed off to the on-site Enterprise to pick up our rental car for the day.

A hike in El Yunque will make anyone hungry!
Lunch #1
Luquillo Kiosks - Ceviche Hut
After our hike in El Yunque, we headed a few minutes down the road to Luquillo for an afternoon on the beach. But first we stopped at the Luquillo Kiosks, which has easily 50 small restaurants one after the other. We wandered up and down a few times before deciding what to eat. We ended up at the Ceviche Hut. We didn't order ceviche. I got a whole steamed fish with rice and vegetables and A. got something close to a Peruvian chicken fried rice/stir fry.
The fish was seasoned perfectly and cooked really well. The vegetables weren't too impressive, it seemed like they were poured out of a frozen bag. Either way, there was more than enough fish to fill me up and then we were off to the beach nearby. I was glad that I hadn't totally gorged myself at lunch, because there were drinks to be had on the beach.
Life if full of tough choices.

Dinner #2
Ropa Vieja Grill
After a long day in the jungle and sun, we headed back to the hotel and decided to find something nearby for dinner. With the help of Yelp, we settled on Ropa Vieja Grill, which was just down the block from the hotel and supposed to have great authentic Puerto Rican food. We arrived right at the same time as about 20 other people, and the host was very overwhelmed. It took about 15 minutes just for him to straighten out getting everyone's name on a list, and find out who had reservations. After we were seated the service really never got any better, and our waiter eventually completely forgot about us at the end of the night, meaning we had to flag down another server to bring us the check. But, the food was really, really good, and the portions were huge so we had some to enjoy the next day during a marathon pool/beach sitting session. We started with the marinated flank steak appetizer, it was marinated in ginger and soy sauce which seemed like an interesting choice for an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant, but it was delicious and tender. For entrees we ordered arroz con pollo and their famous mofongo. Both were very good - but nothing would live up to the mofongo at Oceano our first night.

Breakfast #2
Pinky's Condado (there's an East location and a West location, both along the Condado Avenue strip)
For breakfast on Monday we walked a few blocks to Pinky's - the newer location. Pinky's is known for their smoothies, and lots of people came in post-workout to grab a healthy breakfast or smoothie to go. We did the opposite. We grabbed a table on the curb, ordered cafe au lait and a full breakfast. I got the Mallorca breakfast sandwich, a plate sized sandwich with grilled sliced ham, fried egg, cheese on a sweet roll topped with powdered sugar. I peeled off almost all of the cheese and then really enjoyed as much of the sandwich as I could finish before surrendering because it was just too big.

We spent most of the rest of Monday alternating between the pool or the beach a few steps away. We ate our leftovers for lunch because we were saving room for a big dinner in Old San Juan that evening.

Happy Hour
Barrachina Restaurant
There were many happy hours on our trip but we went to Old San Juan to wander around for a few hours before our dinner reservation and ended up at the original home of the Pina Colada. This is somewhat controversial, because there are a few places claiming to be the home of the original - we tried both, and they tasted totally different, so someone has changed the "original" recipe. Barrachina seemed like a nice place to eat, too, but we just had a few drinks and got on our way.
A. takes pictures with his thumb in front of the lens.

Dinner #3
Aguaviva hip& refreshing local seafood in Old San Juan
My brother and his girlfriend were in Puerto Rico the whole time we were, but we didn't get together until our third day, for dinner. I picked Aguaviva after searching for a nice dinner in Old San Juan. The reviews were almost all great, and the ambiance (from pictures) looked great. We had a very friendly waitress who made great conversation and made recommendations based on what we like. To drink we ordered a pitcher of watermelon sangria and my brother got rum punch because he declared that he was on a mission to find the best rum punch in Puerto Rico. We started with a ceviche sampler and lobster & shrimp yuca gnocchi. We also shared entrees including an orzo paella and a fried whole snapper with lobster mofongo (which was delicious but STILL didn't live up to the Oceano mofongo.) Everything was delicious - we left feeling full but not overly stuffed. We can't remember if we got dessert...

Breakfast #3
Ben & Jerry's Condado
For our last breakfast we headed to Ben & Jerry's...yes, the ice cream shoppe. In Condado (and maybe other places??) Ben & Jerry's has a cafe menu, which includes breakfast items. We started (again) with cafe au laits. I ordered banana pancakes, a side of bacon, and a sauteed banana (sensing a theme?), A. most likely got chocolate chip pancakes because that's his go to breakfast order anywhere on Earth. The patio looks out over a public park and you can steal glimpses of the beachfront at the La Concha Resort next door. We enjoyed sitting outside on a quiet Tuesday morning, just taking in the sights and soaking up a few last rays and sea breeze.

Lunch #3
Pina Colada Club - El Caribe Hilton
This was probably the most "meh" meal we had on our trip. We decided to walk across the bridge to the El Caribe, another Hilton property near Condado Beach. We ate lunch at the Pina Colada Club - the El Caribe also claims to be the home of the Pina Colada, so we thought it was important to try theirs, too. It was delicious. The Pina Colada club is described as a tropical diner and sports bar. The decor is bright, loud, and there are super heroes painted on the walls. We had an appetizer sampler and I ordered the fish tacos and we can't remember what A. got but we both think the meal was just okay. It was pretty expensive for what it was. think I might have been getting to that crabby part of vacation where you know that it is winding down which kind of tainted the whole experience a bit. We brought the leftovers to my brother and his girlfriend on the beach at our hotel and then headed to the airport.

In general, the food in Puerto Rico isn't exactly what you might expect. A lot of it is fried and kind of heavy. We found grilled fish options, but had to seek them out, and I'd read some blogs warning of this beforehand so I was able to do some research before we arrived. Fresh, tropical fruit wasn't as readily available as I would have expected of an island in the Caribbean. All in all we had some fabulous meals, and drank our weight in pina coladas - so we at least drank fresh fruit on a daily (or more often) basis.
Our last sunrise.

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