Savor the Seduction of the San Juan Culinary Scene

January 26, 2020

Puerto Rico is a place of enchanting beauty, alive with a rich history beckoning weary travelers to refuge, rest and rum. For the adventurous spirits, culinary gold awaits. To find it, you may take a lesson directly from legendary explorer, Juan Ponce de León. When he sought the source of the island's riches, he simply followed the locals. You should too!

Puerto Rico has long been known as a haven for the island's staple diet of rice, beans, and mashed plantain mofongo. The less informed tourist will fall in love with the sparkling waters, the atmosphere, and most of all, the people. Their fondest food memories from past decades would have more than likely been of roasted pork and meat piled high atop the other unassuming above mentioned staples.

But, for the few who are willing to unlock the secrets of the locals, culinary experiences to rival any other destination in the world awaits to delight. With the modest humility and hard work that are the hallmarks of the people of Puerto Rico, chefs have been reimagining their native fare, creating inspired dishes that harken back to a time before corporations plowed through family farms to create the all-consuming coffee and sugar plantations that dominated the island for a hundred years.

Today, a growing number of chefs are reaching back through time to rediscover and reimagine the multitude of uniquely local flavors once enjoyed by their ancestors. These chefs are blurring the lines between past and present, and are a driving force behind Puerto Rico's growing number of small agricultural producers who are sowing seeds last cultivated by their great-great-grandparents.

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Source: Discover Puerto Rico[/caption]

Wherever these inspired chefs go, locals follow. Among some of the best known is José Enrique, whose award-winning restaurant bears his name. Chef José Enrique may have received his formal culinary education and understudy experience in New York, but his style is uniquely Puerto Rican. The menu at Jose Enrique's is reimagined daily and based on the variety of locally sourced produced meats and seafood that are fresh and available each morning. Tourists desiring to experience the food there should arrive early (4 pm), expect a worthwhile wait amongst knowledgeable locals, and anticipate a culinary experience worth remembering. Procrastinate, or arrive late for dinner, and the food will still be amazing, but many of the dishes will have been crossed off the menu board, having sold out to knowing locals.

Jose Enrique was nominated yet again this year, alongside Puerto Rican chefs Maria Mercedes, and Gallo Negro, for the prestigious "Best Chef: South" award from the James Beard Foundation. If you can't readily identify the secret ingredient in one José Enrique's dishes, it just might be the love of the island he puts in every serving. In the early days of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, he transformed his restaurant into a place where locals could come for a free meal. Working with other chefs, Enrique's would ultimately expand and ramp up the operation to another location, preparing and serving 20,000 meals per day at their peak.

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Source: Yelp[/caption]

If variety is more your flavor, and you just can't agree on what to eat, visit Lote 23 in Santurce. There, you will find 14 kiosks where emerging & well-known chefs experiment and validate new concepts before scaling them in brick and mortar settings. Culinary explorers can anticipate an exciting blend of intoxicating smells in an environment that delights all the senses amidst art and murals by local artists and indulge in any number of new samplings combined with reimagined favorites. Lote 23 is rapidly becoming the go-to social epicenter destination where locals and travelers alike congregate to eat, drink and share a world of ideas.

For as much as the history of San Juan is entwined with the ocean, it was only right that the Serafina Restaurant Group opened aMare in the heart of San Juan last March. Located right within Serafina Beach Hotel, aMare is a modern Mediterranean and seafood restaurant with the Italian twist you have grown to expect from the Serafina Restaurant Group. The name aMare means “To Love” in Italian and “Will Love” in Spanish, as well as reminding us about the beauty of the sea; “Mare” in Italian and “Mar” in Spanish.

Our signature restaurant, aMare, like Puerto Rico, is the perfect fusion of Old World and New World influences, where guests enjoy fabulous sparkling blue ocean views from the terrace while experiencing unique, Puerto Rican inspired versions of Italian and Mediterranean seafood classics. Our signature Piña Coladas at aMare are the perfect homage to the island while a compliment to shareable entrees like fresh Brazino al Sale (salt-crusted sea bass), or Tomahawk Steak prepared by our talented executive chef Luis Guzmán.With so many exciting new dining experiences emerging in San Juan, sentimentality dictates that we pause in our exuberance to pay tribute to traditional local dishes. Because sometimes perfection can still be found in simplicity, and there are few places on earth where such perfect simple beauty can be divined beyond what locals refer to as "La Ruta del Lechón" or "The Pork Highway."

Source: The Manual

Here, on an otherwise quiet two-mile stretch along Route 184, about 30 miles south of the hustle and bustle of the city in an area known as Guavate, the almost legendary conglomeration of small, family-run purveyors of spit-roasted pork assemble (Saturday is always best) regularly to deliver mouthwatering delicious fire roasted lechón, piled high atop, yes, you guessed it, generous portions of traditional beans and rice.  

From the culinary cutting edge and chefs who draft original daily menus based on fishing reports phoned in from successful seafarers to new experiences in fine dining set amid seafront terraces, and bumpy roads where locals congregate to immerse themselves in traditional comfort food, San Juan and the surrounding area has something for literally everyone. One of a kind culinary experiences unlike any other place on Earth awaits, where food and drink and atmosphere commingle to create uniquely Puerto Rican experiences. But more than anything, more than ever before, Puerto Rico is about "la gente," or "the people," and they alone, are worth the journey.

If you are ready to make the journey to Puerto Rico and experience this culinary paradise, you’ll definitely want to book one of our packages. You will enjoy a variety of activities and foods all included. To learn more, click the link below!

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