Review of Bebo's Cafe in Santurce, San Juan

Photo © Zain Deane

Bebo's Cafe can be found at 1600 Loíza Street in Santurce, San Juan. The restaurant has a second location at Galeria Paseos in Cupey. For more information, call 787-726-1008 (Santurce) or 787-761-1007 (Cupey). It's a short walk from several hotels in the Condado district, a cab or bus ride away from Old San Juan and Isla Verde.

Bebo's Background

Located along a nondescript stretch of Loíza Street, the pastel yellow building and bright orange and green sign of Bebo's Cafe has long welcomed locals and tourists who are willing to travel beyond the hotel zone and venture into the blue-collar neighborhood of Santurce.

Bebo (as Ramon Aparicio was known) first started serving food in 1975, when his clientele was primarily the employees who worked at the nearby Luis Muñoz Marín Airport. Since those humble beginnings, when his establishment was known as Bebo's BBQ, the casual eatery has grown in stature while maintaining its community touch. To this day, you'll find the restaurant crowded with locals (in San Juan, when you find Sanjuaneros waiting patiently in line to be seated for lunch, I recommend getting in line behind them), who come for the hefty portions of delicious, no-frills home cooking.

The diner-like ambiance is matched by the diner-style menu, which features page after laminated page of soups, wraps, sandwiches and entrees. Welcome to Bebo's Cafe.

Bebo's Bounty

Bebo's is a true immersion into comida criolla, or down-home local cooking. You'll find all the old favorites on the menu. Start with a selection of finger foods like mozarella-stuffed fried yucca (cassava) balls, sorullitos de maiz ( cornmeal fritters) or empanadillas (turnovers).

Follow it up with tasty, can't-miss staples including mofongo stuffed with garlic chicken or churrasco steak, chuletas kan-kan, corned beef (yup, they love their corned beef here), or a media noche (a sandwich made with pork, ham and Swiss cheese). You'll also find some of the more unusual flavors of Puerto Rican cooking, like mondongo, a stew made with tripe, among other ingredients, and patitas de cerdo, or stewed pig's feet.

The prices at Bebo's range from the very affordable to the moderate, but if you really want a culinary bargain, take a look at their terrific daily specials, all under $10. I went on a Thursday and tried the canoa rellena de pollo, or "canoe stuffed with chicken" -- essentially a half ripe plantain hollowed out in the shape of a canoe and stuffed with juicy, seasoned chicken and absolutely smothered in parmesan cheese. The combination of sweet plantain and slightly tart chicken with a mild kick (or a spicier kick if you want to kick it up with the tableside hot sauce) was scrumptious, and the accompanying side (I went with tostones for mine) was more than enough to satisfy a hungry appetite.​

Bebo's is hidden enough from the tourist hotspots to keep its local flavor and character, and yet it's also easily accessible if you're in Condado or don't mind the short cab ride. There are plenty of great Puerto Rican restaurants in San Juan, but there's something about Bebo's that keeps me coming back. Its basic dining room is nothing too memorable; the service, while friendly, can be slow, as the staff at Bebo's enjoys taking their time; and the place can be a hike to get to. But for simple, flavorful food at a casual hangout that's been favored by locals for more than three decades, Bebo's will more than satisfy.