Roadside Dining, Puerto Rico

Continuing our adventure in Puerto Rico over Memorial Day, we went to our friends’ wedding on Saturday. Had some delicious Sangria and tasty little appetizers post-ceremony then a lovely luncheon of chicken crepes with grilled vegetables. The cake was non-remarkable and only served to reinforce our plan for our own cake to skip the smooth fondant icing which tastes like cardboard in favor of the good stuff: buttercream.

After the lunch reception, we had a mid-day break for drinking/napping/homework/gambling then met up with much of the wedding party at a rooftop club along the waterfront. Post-party we hit up a late-night classic, even in Puerto Rico: Denny’s.

San Juan at night
San Juan at night

The next day, having made some new friends at the wedding reception/party who had a rental car and a plan like ours, we headed out to experience the rainforest. El Yunque is the only rainforest in the National Park System. And it was awesome. I’ll throw a few pictures up at the bottom of this post.

But before we got to the rainforest (about 45 minute drive from San Juan), we needed to eat. After someone first mentioned just hitting up a fast food joint, it was observed that every block had three or four street food vendors on it. We picked a good-looking one and with a bit of broken Spanish, got a shrimp empanada (meat filled pastry, like Chris wanted Friday night), a couple of fried taquito like things and this thing that no one can remember the name of. Since we were eating in the car, I didn’t get to take a picture. But basically, it was like layers of sweet something (passion fruit), stuffed with spicy meat then battered and fried. Everything was fried and darn tasty.

We arrived at El Yunque and drove up to the highest point for cars, stopping at a tower and the waterfalls that just spill out along the road. After stopping at a park store, we got a map and decided to walk to La Mina falls, a 3/4 mile hike along the river to a cascade with swimming area at the base. This trail was rated as challenging but should also only take 30 minutes one way. HA HA HA. Well, I guess if you are in fine shape (I’m not), and its not raining (um, its the rainforest), and you aren’t stopping every 30 feet to take awesome pictures, you could get there in 30 minutes. The walk in was worth it though. La Mina falls were beautiful and there were plenty of photo ops on the way.

The walk back, not such a fan of. The rain, which is nearly constant but at a drizzly rate, became a downpour. And while I was dressed for warm weather, I was wearing cotton. We were absolutely drenched when we got back to the car. And the stairs that were challenging on the way “down” were three times harder on the way back (mentally anyhow). The entire trail is concrete or stone steps built in to the side of the river cut. Up and down, over and over. Blah.

We started back down the mountain and watched the rain lessen as we descended. By the time we got back in to the town at the base, the sun was shining. But before we hit bottom, we stopped at this little cafe mentioned in a guide book. Noted for the dog (who barks) living on the roof of the restaurant, this place was supposed to have great fried chicken.

OH MY GOD. Not like traditional Southern fried chicken with batter, this stuff was just lightly dusted with seasoning and maybe a bit of flour then thrown in the fryer. It was so good and the skin was to die for. I got an order with rice and beans on the side while Chris decided to get another empanada, this one pizza-style. Three minutes later he’s angling for a bit of my chicken. I gave him a bit (there was plenty) but I was keeping all the skin on the side. In the end I relented and gave him a bit of skin too. I also ordered a piña colada and the guy said to bring it back up if I needed more rum. I didn’t, it was tasty and just right. As we were leaving, Chris ordered one for the road and had them add the extra rum. Apparently by extra they meant another shot and a half. It was one strong piña colada!

We declared that this fried chicken lunch was the best meal of the trip, so far.


road side falls
Roadside falls
San Juan in the distance
San Juan in the distance
Cool picture of the peak in the tower- Chris took this one.
Cool picture of the peak in the tower- Chris took this one.
roadside falls going down the mountain
Roadside falls going down the mountain
La Mina Falls
La Mina Falls

Restaurant Raices – Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Upon arriving in San Juan for Ray & Evelyn’s wedding over Memorial Day, we checked in to the hotel. And while I longed for a nap, Chris forced me to go down to the casino and have a drink first. I was a little hungry too so we ordered some jerk chicken wings.  Incredibly hot and somebody ate all the celery up before I got more than one stick. I couldn’t eat more than 3 1/2 wings since I was sure my mouth was about to catch on fire.  The mojito I ordered (made with raspberry rum- highly recommended!) was too expensive to order another, flaming lips or not.

So, we adjourned to the casino proper where Chris headed to the roulette table. I don’t really get the draw of roulette. Instead, I took $20 and sat down at a video poker machine. I have somehow convinced myself that there is just a smidgen of skill required in this game as compared to slots.  Within 10 minutes of playing, I pulled 4 Aces on some triple triple bonus round. I won $318.  And I was done. I cashed out, showed Chris my slip and got the dinero from the cage then went upstairs. After that, I deserved a nap (side note: we left Detroit at 6:45 AM on Friday morning. I did not sleep the night before and I don’t sleep well on planes. We arrived in PR about 1:30).

Post nap, I, alas, had to do a little homework. Then, we made plans to meet up with the rest of the mainland crew and the bridal party for a post-rehearsal dinner. As it turned out, our hotel has 2 locations and we were staying in the one by the airport whereas most everyone else was staying in Old San Juan.  This meant we were going to end up taking a lot of cab rides, making that casino win all the more appreciated!

Someone, I’m not sure who, had chosen Restaurant Raíces as the place for dinner that night. Sam had arranged the “reservation” but the rule was they would not seat us until the whole party was there.  While we waited for stragglers, a few of us periodically peaked inside to mentally coerce a few slowpokes to finish eating so our table would be ready ASAP.  Sam mentioned that he and his wife had come down this street the night before and there was quite a line out the door then. The staff was obviously used to large groups and touristas because our waiter (whom I’m going to call Fred since I can’t remember but it was something like that) talked loud enough for the whole table to hear while he explained the basics of the menu and their specialties.

We ordered drinks first. Most everyone ordered a mojito or variation of mojito that included fruit juice (mango, passion fruit, etc). There was something called a beso tropical (Tropical Kiss) which was excessively sweet according to the one taster. There were also a few pina coladas on the table. While our mojitos were served in tall cocktail glasses, the coladas and non-alcoholic beverages came in tin cups. I had a mango mojito which was not as good as the raspberry one earlier.

As a table, we had two orders of Festival Típico, like a sampler platter, which included bacalaítos, alcapurrias, piononos, taquitos de jueyes and mofongo de yuca.In other words:  cod fish fritters, root vegetable fritters stuffed with meat, ripe fried plaintains stuffed with meat, crab meat turnovers and mashed cassava. We also had a couple orders of carne frita (fried pork bits) to split.  Of all that stuff, you may notice a theme: fried, fried and more fried.

For dinner, many of the group went with the recommended specialties which included

Tornado- Skirt Steak stuffed with mashed root vegetables, crowned with 5 shrimps and covered in a mushroom gravy

specialty of the house
Mike models the house special

Chuleta Kan Kan – Kan Kan Pork Chop

Colin prepares to eat the biggest pork chop ever
Colin prepares to eat the biggest pork chop ever

 

Dorado a la Criolla Relleno de Camarjones al Ajillo – Mahi Mahi Creole Style stuffed with Garlic Shrimp 

This is what I got. And I forgot to take a picture! It was good and garlicky.  We were impressed that the menu (in Spanish) called the fish by its real name: Dorado is also know as dolphin (fish). The name was changed to Mahi Mahi because idiots uninformed consumers thought they were actually offering up dolphin (mammals) on the menus of seafood restaurants. Anyhow, the fish itself was okay but as I said, lots of garlic.

Mofongo Relleno de churrasco al chimichurri y camarones al ajillo- Mashed plaintains stuffed with Chimichurre skirt steak and shrimp 

Mofongo
Mofongo

 

A lot of people ordered Mofongo, which is available a number of different ways. I’m not sure which variety this picture is.  Mofongo is a huge thing in Puerto Rico. Its basically the starch on your plate instead of potatoes or rice. Although rice and beans as a side is pretty commonplace too.

Lomillo empenado – breaded beefsteak, served either plain, or Nydia style (green pepper, tomato and onion sauce) or Erick Style (mushrooms, onions, peas and red wine). Nydia and Erick are the owners, I believe. Chris ordered this Erick Style. With rice and beans on teh side. He said it was good but not what he was expecting. He had confused empenado with empanada, the meat-stuffed pastry. Empenado, as far as I can tell, is like schnitzel: breaded meat covered in a gravy. Think Weiner Schnitzel or Country-Fried Steak.

Because we’d eaten so many appetizers and the meals all came with salads plus a hearty serving of starchy sides (rice or mofongo), we skipped dessert. Instead, we had a serenade by the staff to wrap up our evening (which followed two separate renditions of Happy Birthday, in Spanish, to other tables).

I have no recollection of the bill but it seemed like a reasonable amount of money at the time. This place is obviously very popular with tourists but there are locals who frequent the place regularly too. They were not really appreciative of our loitering outside while we waited for our table.

The restaurant is located in Old San Juan, the “old part” of the capital. We didn’t get to walk around too much but much of the hotels and shopping are nearby as well. Any cabdriver can get you to this place, even if you mangle the name. Trust me.

Mental note: next time write down name. I have good pronunciation, when I can remember the words.