01 of 05
Spoon Food Tours' Drive Around Lunch Tour
Spoon Food Tours offers food and drinking tours in the San Juan area to anyone in search of a true Puerto Rican experience. They highlight “off the beaten path” restaurants that locals frequent, and besides savoring great Island food, you will learn about the history, culture, and architecture of the neighborhoods you visit.
Spoon Food Tours is co-owned by Paulina Salach and Gustavo Antonetti, co-creators of the annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week gastronomic celebration, who are lovely hosts, friendly and knowledgeable. The three-hour Drive Around Lunch Tour takes you to three unique locales, digging deep into the history of the ingredients and cultures that make up Puerto Rican cuisine today. Spoon Food Tours shows you the best of local cuisine, for both tourists and locals, and will surely bring you to restaurants to which you’ll want to return again and again. What better way to experience Puerto Rico than through its gastronomic culture -- after all, you gotta eat, right?Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05
La Cueva del Mar, Ocean Park
Our first stop was Ocean Park, a beachfront community in Santurce. The up-and-coming Calle Loíza (Loiza Street) is a vibrant mish-mash of upscale businesses and local hang-outs. La Cueva del Mar is the latter -- one of three locations of a local chain. It is known only to tourists who know how to find it, and it is a gem.
Since it was after noon, we were justified with starting our meal with a refreshing Don Q rum with orange juice. I was soon served an empanadilla (“little empanada,” or meat pie), which comes with a large choice of fillings, including no less than four kinds of fish. I’m pretty sure I had a bacalao, or salted cod, empanadilla. Whatever it was, it was tasty.
Then came the fish taco, for which La Cueva del Mar is known. The fish of the day was conch, and it was fresh and delicious. The breading had a healthy dose of cilantro blended right in, and the crunchy coleslaw and soft tortilla provided a pleasing array of tastes and textures.
It was so good that I returned to La Cueva del Mar with my friend a couple of days later, and enjoyed the same dish. Yum!
La Cueva Del Mar
1904 Calle Loiza
San Juan, Puerto RicoContinue to 3 of 5 below.
03 of 05
Soleil Beach Club, Loíza
Next up was a drive to Piñones, a famous stretch of beachfront restaurants and kioskos (kiosks, or small food stands) in Loíza, a small town on the coast, east of San Juan. We went to the Soleil Beach Club, a gorgeous oceanfront restaurant composed entirely of outdoor seating.
I was served fresh coconut water—that is, a straw in a coconut. This couldn’t have been more different from the packaged coconut water that’s become all the rage stateside: This coconut water was mild, tasty, fresh, and refreshing as could be—perfect for a muggy Puerto Rican day.
After enjoying the view and the breeze for a bit, I was served mofongo: Puerto Rico’s famous national dish, usually made with a plantain crust and meat filling. This mofongo was made with yuca (cassava) rather than plantain, and the meat was a savory, tender, and perfectly-prepared skirt steak. It was garnished with a tangy chimichurri (a green sauce for meat, usually finely-chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, and white or red wine vinegar), which I poured generously over the whole dish, an action I did not once regret.
Soleil Beach Club
Carratera 187 Km 4.6
(Loiza's Piñones Sector)
Loiza, 00772, Puerto Rico
(787) 253-1033Continue to 4 of 5 below.
04 of 05
Café Don Ruiz, Old San Juan
For our next stop we looped back into Old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s original city and touristy historic district. As in the other areas we visited, Paulina gave us a short walking tour, full of culture and history, which served as a nice breather in between servings of food.
We ended up at the Cuartel de Ballajá (Ballajá Barracks), a former nineteeth-century military barracks. The government of Puerto Rico acquired the building in 1976 and has been restoring it for cultural, educative, and touristic purposes ever since. Today, the Ballajá Barracks houses several educational and cultural organizations, and there are music and dance schools, a library, and shops.
One of these shops is Café Don Ruiz, a renowned specialty coffee maker. Its café space is cozy and inviting, its coffee delicious. Though hot coffee is their staple and recommendation, it was a particularly hot day and the New Englander in me just couldn’t handle a hot drink! Instead, I got a frozen coffee, which was perfect: cold, creamy, and just sweet enough.
Café Don Ruiz
Calle Norzagaray, Esquina Morovis Primer piso Ballajá
00901 San Juan, Puerto RicoContinue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
El Picoteo de Tapas, Hotel El Convento, San Juan
Continuing our walk through Old San Juan, Paulina brought us to Hotel El Convento, a luxury hotel that, as the name hints, used to be a convent. Within the elegance of the hotel, in the main outdoor courtyard, lies El Picoteo de Tapas, a picture-perfect venue for Spanish tapas (small plates).
This was my dessert stop. I received small tastings of the chef’s specialty vanilla flan and tres leches cake. This was the perfect cap to a great meal that was spread over several hours, experienced in several settings, all while gaining a wealth of knowledge about Puerto Rican culture, history, and, of course, cuisine!
El Picoteo de Tapas
Hotel El Convento
100 Cristo Street
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901