Puerto Rico is a great place for food in general, but especially street food. It’s a shame that so many people only experience PR as a staging point for cruise ships. About a block away from the main piers in San Juan is Plazoleta del Puerto, home to many food carts and stands, especially on the weekends. Here you can find Tico Tripleta. The Tripleta is like PR’s answer to the Cuban sandwich but better, combining chicken, ham and beef. The Tico version comes on a slightly sweet roll slathered with ketchup, mustard and mayo. The three meats are all grilled, but each has it’s own texture and taste that combines with the condiments to make an incredibly flavorful sandwich. One of which can be easily split between two people, preferably with a couple of cold cans of Medalla Light, while you watch the cruise ship tourists wander around.
Also in the Plazoleta del Puerto area was a cart advertising “The Best Mavi in San Juan”. Mavi (Also called mauby, mabi and maubi, depending on which Caribbean island you are on) is a drink made from the bark and/or fruit of the Mabi or Soldierwood tree, and spices. Sometimes it is fermented, sometimes not. Our Mavi tasted very slightly fermented, like it was working on developing carbonation, but hadn’t quite gotten around to it yet. Mavi tastes like the mutant beverage offspring of tea and champagne with a bit of root beer thrown in, but in a mild, inoffensive way. It’s better than it sounds, and refreshing on a hot day.
Pinchos are the like Puerto Rican version of Yakitori, or Shish Kebab if that’s more your style. Consisting of meat or seafood, grilled on a wooden skewer, and usually served with a piece of bread or two, Pinchos can be found almost everywhere in Puerto Rico. Chicken seems to be the meat of choice, but we also saw beef, pork, shrimp and even shark. Wherever there are people around, you will find a Pincho stand. Pinchos de Pollo became our go-to breakfast while traveling in Puerto Rico, just pull off the road, fork over a couple of bucks and you have an awesome meal. They are usually flavored with a Puerto Rican rub (salt, garlic and other good stuff), grilled on a gas grill until brown, but not too charred and dipped in your choice of sauces. The use of fatty thigh pieces keeps them from drying out, and provides way more flavor than the typical American “Chicken Skewers”.
The Luquillo Kioskos are a street food Mecca unto themselves. Consisting almost 60 kiosks along the beach just outside the town of Luquillo, each one has it’s own menu and personality. Some specialize in fresh seafood, some in traditional fried snacks like alcapurrias and bacalaitos, as well as some are full-blown restaurants. We only got to try a couple kiosks, but there is something for everyone with a fun beachfront vibe. Kiosko #2, La Parilla, has a killer homemade hot sauce with a unique pickle-like flavor as well as some fun cocktails.
Somewhere along highway 53 (we think) we spotted “Cafeteria Ebenezer”, a food truck parked in a dirt turnout overlooking the Caribbean Sea. A police officer, a few construction workers and a trucker (with full 18-wheeler rig) had all stopped in for Tripletas. Cops and truckers always know where the good local food is. This Tripleta differed from Tico’s version, garnished with potato sticks and “mayoketchup”. Yes, “mayoketchup”, a distinctly Puerto Rican condiment consisting of (I’m gonna blow your mind with this, I know) ketchup, mayo, garlic salt/powder and sometimes some lemon. While not as fantastic as Tico’s version, this was still a damn fine sandwich.
Puerto Rico has an abundance of ice cream shops with really tasty and unique flavors. Heladería de Lares is the most famous, recently being featured on Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. They have a wide range of flavors including Rice and Beans, Pumpkin, Peanut and Salt Cod (which is nowhere near as bad as you expect it to be). KD’s favorite ice cream was the Maize (corn) at King’s Cream in the city of Ponce. King’s is a simpler operation with a smaller, rotating flavor selection. We also tried passion fruit, coconut and tamarind, but the maize was by far the best. With chunks of sweet corn and a dusting of cinnamon, it was comforting and exotic at the same time.
Check out these Books on Puerto Rico
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