Top 10 moments in San Juan, Puerto Rico

by Matt on September 4, 2009

Puerto Rico Collage

Images of San Juan and Culebra

I just returned from a very quick trip to Puerto Rico. My complete post on eating will be up shortly but in the meantime I’d like to offer you my favorite Top 10 Moments from my weekend in La Isla Del Encanto.

10. La Gente, La Gente, La Gente

smiling-girlShow me some nice happy smiling faces from any place I’m about to visit and I’ll show you a good trip. Those two things go hand in hand, San Juan was no exception. There is that warm generosity and respeto you find in Latin culture and throwing beautiful beaches and warm tropical water into the mix can only make you happier. Add to this citizens who are so extremely proud of their island and you can see why amazing people make it worth visiting.

9. Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival

Getting to see and taste a side of Puerto Rico I never knew existed was amazing. The 3rd Annual Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival was held at the PR Convention Center, complete with vendors and exhibits that reminded me of the annual G’Day LA event put on Australia Week or a small Fancy Foods exhibit. Emerill Lagasse was this year’s big draw along with Wilo Benet, Eric Villegas, Rafael Barrera and Alexis Torres. I must admit that I could have used more Puerto Rican vendors in the mix but I did appreciate the free-flowing wine and most of the food. Highlights included lots of pig and chicharrones (could you ever go wrong?) and a Peruvian pulpo (octopus) in an olive sauce that was out of this world. Imagine a slightly purple cream sauce that surrounded tender bites of octopus with a very definitive kalamata olive flavor. Everyone in the group kept returning for more. You have to see Adam’s photo to understand it.

8. Mofongo

mofongoMonfongo is what I call a perfect food. I’ve spent many years eating good-but-not-quite-perfect monfongo. Who knew I actually had to travel to San Juan to get it? We had lunch at Raices Restaurant and it was a delightful experience. Plantains are mashed and seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings and served with shrimp, chicken or beef.  It’s tropical and familiar, garlicky and sweet, warm and cool,  everything I love about Latin food. We ate ours with beans and rice, topping it off with the small bowls of herbally chimichurri on the table. I was in heaven. Heavy? Yes. Perfect? Double Yes.

7. Amateur Gourmet

adam-on-boatHey, what’s with me having to travel 3,379 miles to the Caribbean just so I can finally meet Adam Roberts for the very first time? I’ve been reading him for years! Well no matter, it could have been March in New York so perhaps I’ll shut my mouth.  But now I know why he’s so popular, the guy is just adorable. And he was my snorkel buddy.We lovingly kvetched about blogging and shared family moments and culinary experiences while soaking in the happy tropical sunshine. We also compared farmer tans and while I certainly don’t mean to poke fun of adorable Jewish boys from New York City there really isn’t any excuse why this Mexican boy sported one, too. Que lastima.

6. Sangria

Ok, someone, anyone, please let me in on the secret of Sangria making in Puerto Rico. Is it something in the water? Every sip I savored was better than the last, a refreshing drink minus any of the cloying sugary sips  that seem to be so ubiquitous in sangria made by anyone other than yourself. Apparently I’m hanging out in bad restaurants in Los Angeles. I need to head back to San Juan I guess. It’s closer than Spain.

5. The View From My Hotel Room

beachI would have done without hot water, electricity and an extremely dreamy bed (but not wifi!) just for the view alone. And thanks to the Marriot I actually had all of the above. And pleeeeese people, ain’t nobody paying me to say this: the staff were super friendly, the room was super clean and the view was maaaaarvelous. Just watching the sunset from my balcony made the Red Eye worth it.

4. Flamenco Beach

flamenco-beachI understand why ratings and caveats were thrown out before we reached this beach but honestly, no amount of “best of” lists or top-whatevers could have prepared me for this intimate expanse of beach. Flamenco Beach is located on Culebra Island, about 17 miles east from Puerto Rico. It was perfectly amazing with soft white sand and warm blue water and completely unexpected. I’ve seen some beaches in my lifetime and I gotta say this takes the cake.  Sorry, Galveston (laugh track goes here).

3. Snorkeling

I’ll be honest: our day was meant to be spent just a bit differently than it went down (see Amateur Gourmet for the sour, queasy proof) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make the most of it! Nonsense! I stripped off my shirt, grabbed the snorkel and mask and jumped into some of the best water I’ve ever felt. It was warm, clear, and loaded with beautiful tropical fish and coral reefs. As I swam around I kept thinking “Boy, I’m gonna burn the shit out of my neck and shoulders and wow, I could sure go for some sushi right now.”

2 My travel companions

27084058With apologies to my male readers of the heterosexual persuasion (all 4 of you and my father, I’m sure), I do believe one of life’s inequities for you involves me getting to meet and hang with gorgeous women all over the world. This trip was no different. And when I say gorgeous I really gorrrrrrgeous, and when I say gorrrrrgeous I mean reallllly gorrrrgeous. Not that I’m objectifying them because I’m not. This group of travel writers and public relations professionals made me feel like the luckiest man on earth. Because I am. And please do not get me started on Desiree, our organizer, as my heart flutters just being in her presence. She’s one special woman.

1. Luquillo Beach Kiosks

kioskosTired, sundrunk and just drunk in general (just me, I mean) we made our way to Los Kioskos, located along Route 3 in Luquillo. This is the sort of place I dream of––rows and rows of garage-style restaurants open to the street, serving local food and drink. We worked our way from one end to the other, sampling local favorites like bacalaito and tostones con jueyes, my absolute favorite. It was so amazing to have such a delicious crash course in local food. As if I wasn’t stuffed enough we ended up at El Jefe Burgers, owned by Tim & Cheri Blackford who moved to Puerto Rico a few years ago and decided to open a restaurant that serves food they can’t get on the island. The burgers were delicious, the sides amazing, and the sangria out of this world. We sat and ate burgers as it rained over the amazingly verdant terrain and I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was in that moment of time.

A very special thanks to Jody and Desiree for planning and being our guides and to the San Juan Marriot for making this all possible.  And Charyn, you rocked my world. Call me next time you’re in LA.