Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Deep Fried Paradise (Puerto Rico 2) | June 2, 2009

…the epic continues, like a slacker-Bourdain with a disorganized writing schedule…

Waddling out of Lechonera Los Pinos, the prospect of more food seemed unappealing (if not downright gluttonous), so we cruised up the road to Old San Juan, feeling confident our pale Irish complexions, flip flops, and “I [heart] Puerto Rico” airbrushed t-shirts would help us blend in with the locals.

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And so, we did all the things any self-respecting local would do: visited one of the forts, played some roulette at one of the casinos, and bought some souvenirs. My giant foam Uncle Sam hat with the Puerto Rican flag on it really sealed the deal-

-okay, we didn’t have all that stuff; I have much more class, and wouldn’t be caught dead in a novelty hat

Man, I hate you, me.

So, nothing huge from a culinary perspective in Old San Juan. Pizza Huts, Burger Kings, and Subways were on every corner it seemed, sadly. However, did get a decent pint of microbrew at the Old Harbor Brewery…not too shabby, and it had a great smell, just like my house after brewing a batch of beer. If you’re in Old San Juan, I’d say check it out if you can resist the craptacular allure of Burger King.

From there, we moved on to the kioscas of Luquillo. Pretty much, the greatest thing ever (I seem to be throwing that phrase around loosely, huh?). Near the beach and right off the highway, the kioscas are what they sound like: kiosks. Basically, 60-70 concrete huts lined up against each other, some serving traditional street foods; others are more like bars, and others are sit-down restaurants. I thought they looked a little rough at first, but that’s always been my first sign that good nosh is afoot.

The unimpressive-looking kioscas of Luquillo. As often, the “divey” appearance housed great food.

We started our quest here at kiosca #3, La Parilla. Quickly, I realized that some of these places were pretty nice. La Parilla had a really nice atmosphere, a big crowd of sit down diners, a pretty impressive wine list, and a great view of the Caribbean Sea. Best of all, the menu included the holy grail of Puerto Rican cuisine: MOFONGO. To this day, my dreams about a Frenchman shouting the Grand Cru of Burgundy at me while he chases me through vineyards (damn memorization) are interrupted by dreamscapes of me swimming through a cavernous Fort Knox of mofongo, a la Scrooge McDuck’s money bin in DuckTales (tight science to those who picked up on that reference).

One of the nicest places, La Parilla. “La Parilla” is spanish for “The Parilla”.

So, let me break down mofongo, if I can do it without going out to find some immediately. Basically, it’s a dish of plantains, which are starchy cousins of bananas, often served green and without the sweetness of bananas. You’ve walked by them a million times at the Piggly Wiggly, I promise. Anyway, the locals- again depending on our glorious piggy pal- deep fry chunks of the plantain in pork fat. After that, they mash the fried bits with more pork fat and bits of cracklins. Then, it’s stuffed or covered with seafood and topped with a sofrito-based sauce (peppers, garlic, cilantro, sometimes tomato). Absolutely unbelievable. I mean, if mofongo were a 1st round draft pick in an NFL-style food draft, it would be Matt Ryan.

For reference, hard-boiled eggs would be the “Ryan Leaf” of said draft, just in case I show up at your house one day and you want to know what to feed me. Make mofongo, not hard boiled eggs.
There it is: Mofongo con mariscos (seafood). This picture is hanging on my bathroom mirror…

With our bellies yet-again full, I figured we might as well go for our own jugulars, and continue to eat. Most of the kiosks served various fried treats: fried seafood, bacalaoitos (tasty cod fritters), fried plantains, fried fried, extra fried, fries fried in fried fryness. Listen, everything was fried. Occasionally, you’d find a guy selling coconuts. They’d just cut off the top, and you drink away. Very refreshing!

Drinking from a “coco frio”, or cold coconut. With style, I might add.

Heather, tucking into a bacalaoito. Basically, a funnel cake made out of fish. Really good, though.

From there, we somehow managed to lurch our way back to the hotel. The next day, we continued our fitness routine by sitting around at the pool all day. The weather was beautiful, the food continued to live up to its billing on No Reservations, and I was sad to eventually leave (as was my cardiologist; he’s gonna make a killing off of me at this rate). But, this little gem in the Caribbean is only a few hours away, and I really can’t wait to get back.

If you’ve never been, and you’re looking for a real deal of a tropical location that doesn’t require a passport, put Puerto Rico into the mix. The food, the scenery, and the great hospitality of the people won’t disappoint. And, they’re totally not uptight:

Just too weird to leave off. There were stores like this all over the place!

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