I’m going to wrap up my series of articles on Puerto Rico with a pictorial recap of Puerto Rican food and drink. Yes, if you know me, you know that one of the main things I like to experience when I travel is food and Puerto Rican food was AMAZING.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of my efforts to find a bad mojito – yes, you read that right. It started as a joke when I said “this mojito is so good” and I said I’d try my best to find a “bad one”. I failed. Yes, they were ALL good. I really tried to find a bad one, but all I kept finding were good ones. And I tried. More than one at a time, from different places and different bar tenders. No luck!
When I couldn’t have a mojito – there were a few places that did not have mint – I “settled” and enjoye a local beer (Medalla) or a pina colada.
As for the food, I am not sure what to say. If you haven’t experienced Puerto Rican food, you need to get out and try some. If you can’t find a Puerto Rican restaurant near you, search for some recipes. You can thank me later.
Let’s start with the tostones – take green plantains, lightly deep fry them just a bit, take them out, squash them, deep fry them until golden. They were right on. Crispy yet tender and tasty. The sauce served with them was a different twist as I am used to having them plain, but it was good – it is a mayonnaise and ketchup sauce.
The mofongo was good everywhere I went. I’ve never made mofongo but it’s again a green plantain dish. You fry chunks of green plantain and then you mash them (think roughly mashed potatoes) together with garlic and olive oil (and other seasonings to your liking) to form the base for delicious toppings or as a side dish. I had it served many different ways, including seafood, beef, and pork. Sometimes there would be a creole or garlic sauce to go with the protein that went with it. All were really tasty.
The fish -whether whole or filet – was delicious. As expected, very fresh. The meat tender and cooked perfectly with some really good sauces. Shrimp, sushi, breakfasts, side dishes – all delicious. Desserts? Sinfully good.
Of course, good food is just part of the dining out experience. To me, it’s as much about the service and environment as it is about the food. I have to say that there were a couple of places that really stood out. Not only was the food really good at these places, but there was an experience at each that really left an impression with me and I’ll go back over and over again.
I visited Pedro’s Pescado with a co-worker and her husband for some sushi. They had said it was really good and they didn’t lie. The sushi indeed was really good but the sashimi was out of this world delicious. Of course, you know that’s not the end of the story. As we sat outside enjoying the food and a couple of bottles of wine, Sharon (one of the owners) came out as it was closing time. We started to help her stack chairs and we struck up a conversation. She asked if we had ordered dessert and when we told her “no”, she started to tell us the story of how they started the business just baking lemon bars and brownies, literally selling them door-to-door, and it then evolved to sushi. At that point, she offered to bring us one of each. I will say that it was the best lemon bar I have EVER had. We talked some more, stacked some more chairs, and made a memory that will last a life time.
Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to visit when I recently returned as they were closed. I did get to chat with Sharon as she was visiting my neighbors where I was staying and she actually remembered that evening – seven months later!
You may have read my short comments about Ola Lola in my Aguadilla article, but this is one of those places that you drive by and wonder about – and I drove by it every day as the place where I stayed (Villa Tropical) is right down the road from it. It’s only open Friday through Monday and that’s probably a good thing for the other restaurants. While I want to try different foods, I think I could get by on their burgers and fish tacos just fine…as well as their mojitos.
What really stands out about Ola Lola, however, is the atmosphere. Only way to describe it is “the Cheers bar converted into a burger joint”. There are the regulars that I saw each night I went there, the very helpful bartenders, and of course John the owner. That’s where my lasting experience comes from. You see, Ola Lola is a cash only place and sometimes that takes people by surprise. To me, it seems John is a very good judge of character because when a customer came to pick up a large order and handed John a credit card, he apologized and let him know it was cash only. The customer – a tourist – was apologetic for not having cash and John simply said “no problem, pay me tomorrow”.
I actually saw the customer the following morning at Villa Tropical asking for the location of the nearest ATM so he could get cash to stop by and pay John.
So, stop by for some great burgers or fish tacos but bring cash. Oh, and ask them about their “ice cream sandwich”. You can thank me later.
Levain Artisan Breads & Bakery
Let me start off by saying that the croissants at Levain are probably the best I’ve ever had. The brunch, unfortunately served only on Sundays, is to great. The “pan fried brioche” on that brunch menu is to die for. It puts French Toast to shame. Of course, when I visited again in February, I enjoyed it again and I noticed they were taking pre-porders for a “chocolate bread” for Valentine’s (Feb. 13 pickup – that was the day I was returning to Houston). This intrigued me so I asked about it and how large it was – I had to get it back to Houston! Sadly, the cashier made a shape of a box that appeared to be about a 10 inch cube – too large to take back so I decided to not pre-order it.
Fast forward to Feb. 12 when I stop in with a co-worker to purchase some coffee (as in bags, not cup!) and JO is there and takes care of us. I mention how I love the pan fried brioche and my only regret is that they only serve it on Sundays and I wouldn’t be able to have it again since I was flying back on Saturday. His response caught me off guard. He said “oh, if it wasn’t because tomorrow will be really busy, I’d tell you to stop by and I’d make it for you.” Wow! I told him I had it that previous Sunday and the story about the chocolate bread – and he quickly told me “it’s not that large” and showed me. Sure enough, it was manageable so I asked if it was too late to order one. Again, his response caught me totally off guard. He said “no, not at all, as a matter of fact, I’ve got three samples in the oven and if you come back in about 30 minutes, you can have one – complimentary”.
Needless to say I returned and it was DELICIOUS. Oh, not only did he give me one, he gave my co-worker one also. I was already a customer and would easily return over and over, but this made me realize that to JO, there is a true desire to provide a great product for his customers and to make sure they are satisfied. I was ready to purchase one, but he was graceful enough to offer one and I will reward that every time I am in Aguadilla.
It is these types of experiences that make life great – and you have them when you least expect them. Each of these stories have left something in my heart and have made me fans not only of the establishments, but those who own them and work there. As I have traveled, I have learned that people in different places are all the same. They want to be happy and to have those around them be happy. I love that and yearn for more experiences that reinforce that.