Finding the perfect flan in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
A creamy slice of almond flan at Café Puerto Rico in Old San Juan.
As a serious dessert lover, trying the local specialty pastry or traditional dessert is something I always strive to do when visiting a new country or city. On a recent visit to Old San Juan in Puerto Rico I got lucky, as one of my favorite desserts, flan, is a traditional dessert of Puerto Rico.
Many countries have their own version of this creamy caramel custard — some use more eggs and some add different ingredients like cheese, coconut or coffee, to alter the flavor and texture. My first introduction to flan was by my mother-in-law, who, being from Vietnam, was familiar with the Vietnamese version, a light, custardy flan soaking in black coffee for a great contrast of bitter and sweet. After my first spoonful, I was hooked, and ever since I've been eager to try other versions of this satisfying dessert.
In Old San Juan, flan can be found on the menu in basically any place that serves food. A very common version served in the city is flan de queso, or cheese flan, in which the addition of cream cheese gives the flan a velvety, thick, texture reminiscent of a cheesecake. On my four-day stay in Old San Juan, I tried a flan for dessert every day, at least once — all slightly different, yet all delicious. On the last day of my visit I enjoyed a lunch at Café Puerto Rico, and saw something new on the menu I just had to try: almond flan. And I am happy I did, as it turned out to be the best flan of the trip, creamy and rich with that wonderful taste of almond paste.
Do you have a travel photo that you would like to share? A mouthwatering food or drink and the perfect place to get it? Send over photos and tips to esaatela[at]thedailymeal.com.
St Germain Bistro and Café in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico is located off the beaten path, this hot spot for lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch is popular among both locals and tourist.
Punto de Vista Restaurant & Bar
Punto de Vista Restaurant & Bar has earned the reputation of serving the best 'Mofongo' and Mojitos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now located at a new rooftop locatio.
Discover Princesa Gastrobar, great food, the most complete line of Puerto Rican Rums in a unique setting adjacent to walls that are over 100 years old.
La Parrilla Restaurant
Looking for where to eat in the Eastern Region of Puerto Rico? Anchoring the row of Food Kiosks adjacent to world renowned Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico, La Parrilla Restau.
Greengos Caribbean Cantina
Greengos specializes in Sonoron Style Mexican Cuisine and has the largest selection of Tequilas in all of Puerto Rico.
Famous gathering spot in Old San Juan, great breakfast and brunch selections and of course excellent Puerto Rican coffee.
La Madre is your best choice for Mexican food in historic Old San Juan. Open late on weekends and one of the best brunches in San Juan Saturdays and Sundays.
AL FREDO Old San Juan
Al Fredo in Old San Juan serves the best tasting Empanadas in town! Delicious Steak, Shrimp or Crabmeat fillings will leave you wanting more.
Ajo Del Pais
A little bit of Guavate, Puerto Rico in Old San Juan! Guavate is known for the "Pork Route" a stretch of road that features some of the best roasted pig restaurants in th.
Cinema Bar 1950
A unique concept in Puerto Rico, Cinema Bar 1950 offers excellent Puerto Rican Cuisine, a Cinema Theater and Special Events with a lot of surprises designed to make your .
Tamboo Tavern & Seaside Grill
The Tamboo Seaside Grill in Rincón, Puerto Rico serves appetizing Caribbean and American cuisine based on local market fresh ingredients. Our menu frequently changes to.
Create New Guide
Login to create your guides for Puerto Rico.
Add to My Guide
Create New Guide
Located at Recinto Sur Street in Old San Juan, Cuatro Sombras (‘four shadows’ in English) serves coffee which is harvested in the southern Puerto Rican town of Yauco, before then being processed through their on-site micro-roaster. In addition to visiting the bricks-and-mortar store in the historic San Juan district, it’s also possible to buy their coffee and coffee mugs on their online store.
Where to Eat and Drink in San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan has enough fried food, meaty offerings, and boozy rum concoctions to bust any diet. Would you expect anything less from the birthplace of mofongo , cuchifritos , and piña coladas ? Thankfully, such gluttony is tempered by an abundance of tropical fruit, legumes, and fresh fish, which pop up on many a plate. Another godsend of Puerto Rico’s Caribbean geography? Coffee. Most of the beans are harvested in the mountainous interior, which benefits from cool trade winds, highland rainforests, and rich soil. Drink it black or con leche throughout the day and you just might be able to power through this culinary cheat sheet to the colonial city.
Jessie Pascoe has always found traveling to be synonymous with great food and strong drinks. When she is not dreaming up future trips, she tries to jog off past ones in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
Popular Food Tours in San Juan
Popular Restaurants in Condado
1919 (American Cuisine) – lobby of The Vanderbilt Hotel, 1055 Ashford Ave., Condado
Ali Baba Turkish Rest. (Middle Eastern, Mediterranean) – 1214 Ashford Ave., Condado
Budatai (Asian Cuisine) –1056 Ashford Ave., Condado
Perla (Seafood) – 1077 Ashford Ave., Condado
Pikayo (Latin American) – Condado Plaza Hilton, 990 Ashford Avenue, Condado
Ropa Vieja Grill (Cuban, Latin American) – 1021 Ashford Ave., Condado
Ummo Argentinian Grill (Argentine) – 1351 Ave Ashford, Condado
Yantar (Spanish, Modern European) – 1018 Ashford Ave., Condado
Popular Restaurants in Miramar
Augusto’s (French Cuisine) – Courtyard Marriott, Ave. Ponce de Leon 801, Miramar
Casita Miramar (American-New) – 605 Miramar Avenue, Miramar
José Enrique (Latin American, Puerto Rican) – 176 Calle Duffaut, Miramar
Santaella (Seafood, Latin Amer., Puerto Rican) – 219 Calle Canals, Miramar
Popular Restaurants in Ocean Park
Kasalta (Spanish Cuisine) – 1966 Calle McLeary, Ocean Park
Nonna Cucina Rustica (Italian) – Calle San Jorge, Suite 103, Ocean Park
Pa’l Cielo (Caribbean, Peruvian) – 2056 Calle Loiza, Ocean Park
Popular Restaurants in Old San Juan
311 Trois Cent Onze (French Cuisine) – 311 Calle Fortaleza, Old San Juan
Barrachina (Latin American, Caribbean) – 104 Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan
Café El Punto (Latin American, Mexican)– 105 Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan
Café Puerto Rico (Caribbean) – Calle O’Donnell, 208, Old San Juan
Carli’s Fine Bistro & Piano (American + Jazz & Blues music) – 500 Calle San Justo
Casa Cortés ChocoBar (Chocolate Cuisine) –210 Calle De San Francisco, Old San Juan
Casa de España Restaurant (Spanish Cuisine) –Ave. Constitución #9, Old San Juan
(787) 724 1044 / (787) 722 3611
El Jibarito (Latin American, Puerto Rican) – Calle Sol 280, Old San Juan
La Mallorquina (Latin American) – Calle San Justo 207, Old San Juan
Marmalade (Caribbean, French) – 317 Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan
Punto de Vista (Latin Amer., Puerto Rican) – 307 Calle Fortaleza, Rooftop of Hotel Milano
Popular Restaurants in Isla Verde, Carolina
Ceviche House (Peruvian) –79 Isla Verde Ave., Isla Verde
El Alambique (Latin American) – 5806 Calle Tartak, Condado Racquet Club
Yamiko Sushi Bar (Sushi, Japanese) – 5960 Isla Verde Ave., Isla Verde
Note: There is no smoking permitted at indoor or outdoor restaurants in Puerto Rico.
These addictive fritters may look like stick-less corn dogs, but they're less sweet and, if done right, spicier. A pimiento-tinged ground-beef filling is enveloped in a taro and green-plantain batter, then fried to a golden brown. The best place to sample Puerto Rico's prized beach food? Across the street from San Juan's see-and-be-seen Condado Beach, at Café del Angel.
You'll find these kabobs (typically chicken marinated in adobo seasoning) sold from makeshift stands all over the island, but for the quintessential San Juan pincho, you must head to La Placita de Santurce. This square is a quiet market during the day that turns into a huge party after the sun goes down. The late-night food of choice is a hot-off-the-grill pincho from whatever cart has set up shop.
On the mofongo trail in Puerto Rico
This beloved dish pays tribute to the Caribbean island’s rich history and its embracing culture, both of which continue to permeate its food and its people.
From urban Old San Juan to the beaches of Isla Verde, past the cities of Bayamón and Ponce, through lush rainforest and striking coastlines, mofongo proudly stands as Puerto Rico’s unofficial national dish.
At its most basic, mofongo is made of fried green plantains mashed with garlic and chicharrones (deep-fried pork skin), served with a buttery-garlic or a peppery- capsicum-tomato Creole sauce. Typically the mash is stuffed with a protein, such as chicken, steak, shrimp, lobster or crab – at which point it becomes known as mofongo relleno. Although green plantains are most common, sweet plantains or cassava can also be used, meaning that no two mofongo look the same and there is a little agreement on what constitutes the most traditional.
Searching San Juan
My plane touched down in the early morning near Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan to stormy skies and steamy heat. Exiting the airport alongside anticipatory holidaymakers and tearful reuniting families, the mission that lay ahead was seemingly simple: to traverse the city streets seeking out the most delicious and most authentic mofongo.
Bright pinks, greens, turquoises and yellows colour the houses and shop fronts in Old San Juan, a colonial neighbourhood that dates to the 1500s. Here the hilly streets wind up and down around busy seaports on one side and the 18th-century Spanish fort Castillo de San Cristóbal on the other. Lofty palm trees and emerald tropical plants dot the sidewalks and the charming plazas. History runs deep here, and on the hunt for mofongo, Old San Juan seemed like a logical start.
Ducking in to El Jibarito on Calle Sol, Puerto Rican flags hung proudly from the walls. A television playing a telanova (Spanish soap opera) was perched precariously above the handful of wooden tables, adding to the cacophony of Spanish and English. Like many San Juan restaurants, the lines between a tourist haunt and a local favourite were blurred, but the love for El Jibarito’s mofongo was not – with many claiming it the best in the city.
Here, the green plantain mofongo was served as a side dish, the perfect starchy accompaniment to fried chicken or pork. It was dense and cut nicely by the outrageously garlicky and salty white sauce served alongside. Their cassava mofongo was particularly light, tasting like flash-fried crispy mashed potato. But their “trifongo” – a mash-up of sweet plantains, cassava and green plantain – was the winner. The hint of sugar from the sweet plantain blended perfectly with the fluffier cassava and the savoury, starchier green plantain. Without stewed chicken or shrimp, this naked mofongo put the root vegetables at centre stage to resoundingly positive reviews.
Down the street in Old San Juan’s eastern end sits tiny Café Puerto Rico on Plaza de Colón, a pleasant square that dates back to the first Columbus expedition in 1493. Another local-meets-tourist favourite, the mofongo here comes stuffed with meat and fish choose from fillings as diverse as diced pork to octopus, grouper to chicken. My cassava version carried abundantly flavourful chicken, stewed in a garlicky creamy white sauce made with lashings of butter and white wine and speckled with herbs. If you did not look too closely, this mofongo relleno could have passed as a chicken potpie, with the cassava masquerading as pastry crust.
But pinning mofongo to a specific place in Puerto Rico is challenging, if not outright impossible. The country is a small island and the dish is found throughout, plucking ingredients and techniques from all over.
A multi-cultural history
Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the stunning island of Puerto Rico is steeped in African, Spanish, Taíno and North American cultures. Mofongo epitomises this cross-cultural narrative, though its story admittedly began as an oppressive one.
When the Spanish conquistadors landed in Puerto Rico in the early 1500s, harsh colonisation of the Taínos, the island’s indigenous people, ensued. After exhausting and depleting the local population, colonialists looked across to West Africa and began importing slaves, who brought with them fufu, mofongo’s culinary ancestor.
A staple of West and Central Africa, fufu is similarly made of starchy root vegetables – cassava, yams and plantains – that are boiled then pounded into doughy balls and served with sauce or soup. When brought over to Puerto Rico, fufu merged with the gastronomic traditions of the Taíno and Spanish to create the now revered mofongo.
From the Taíno came the mortar-and-pestle-like wooden pilón that is used to mash the dish’s main ingredients. Recent excavations of Taíno sites near the city of Ponce, 120km southwest of San Juan, found evidence of the pilón’s pre-Columbian use, revealing its deeply rooted history. From the Spaniards, mofongo pulls from the Iberia-influenced sofrito – sautéed onions, peppers, herbs and garlic – which is commonly used in the plantain mash. And mofongo’s basic ingredients, such as green plantains and sweet capsicum, are grown in abundance in Puerto Rico. The addition of chicharrones speaks to the country’s modern-day adoration for fried pork skin, sold most famously on street-side wooden carts in Bayamón, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, 19km southwest of San Juan. Together, these influences have fused to produce an iconic Puerto Rican dish as diverse as the country itself.
Learning to cook mofongo
Though pinpointing mofongo’s exact origins is a challenge, the connection to the Spanish conquistadors who settled in the capital makes San Juan a worthwhile place to learn how to prepare the dish.
Flavors of San Juan is a group of in-the-know locals who host cooking classes and food and cultural tours throughout the city. At their mofongo course, Puerto Rican chef Kathy Libier spoke knowledgably about the importance and irreverence of mofongo on the island, while simultaneously cooking her version. Chopping cilantro, sweet Cubanelle peppers, garlic and onions, a Spanish-influenced sofrito took shape. Green plantains were peeled, chopped, fried and then mashed in a pilón as the sofrito and a rich chicken stock were added. As a paste began to form, a handful of chicharrones were tossed in. The mix was then moulded into a small bowl, inverted on a plate and topped with shredded chicken that had been stewed in a Creole sauce of sweet peppers, tomatoes, spices and onions.
Libier’s version was unlike the mofongos at Café Puerto Rico or El Jibarito, both in taste and texture. Hers sang with loud flavours, bringing depth and sophistication to the dish. And though Libier dismissed the others as inauthentic, there appear to be no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to mofongo.
Beachside in Isla Verde
This hypothesis was reiterated elsewhere. About 10km east of Old San Juan in the Atlantic Ocean sits Isla Verde, Puerto Rico’s answer to Cancun. Hotels line the beach and holidaymakers sip on piña coladas (another San Juan-born favourite), while alternating between the casinos and the ocean.
Ask any local here – and there are many – where to find the best mofongo, and their eyes light up. A unanimous favourite is Platos, a charmless, contemporary restaurant with a mofongo that garners rave reviews and loyalists. Their skirt steak mofongo with Creole sauce offers a nicely balanced flavour that carries depth and richness. The thinly sliced meat is well executed, cooked to just pink in the middle, then hidden beneath a volcano of buttery, garlicky mashed green plantains.
Once again, mofongo presents itself different than before, but no less Puerto Rican.
What to skip
If you&rsquore pressed for time, you&rsquore probably wondering what you can exclude from your Puerto Rico itinerary. The TPG Lounge had a few suggestions for that, too.
One TPG reader, Adam, called the Bacardi Tour &ldquoa simulated distillery.&rdquo Some travelers find the island of Vieques boring, yet it&rsquos just as popular with others. As for me? It&rsquos on my 2020 travel list.
My personal skip suggestion: Old San Juan. I know, I know. It&rsquos beautiful. Stunning, really.
But I don&rsquot recommend spending more than a day there. I didn&rsquot expect it to be similar to Old Havana, which I loved when I visited Cuba three years ago, but I found it to be heavily commercialized with numerous chain restaurants and even a Marshall&rsquos.
During my time in Old San Juan, I decided to focus on the history and culture. I went shopping at an Afro-Latino art store and visited the Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista, one of the oldest buildings in the city. The food was great &mdash it&rsquos where I had the fantastic mofongo, remember? &mdash but I personally wouldn&rsquot spend longer than a day here.
SoFo Food Festival – Christmas Edition
Christmas in Old San Juan would not be the same without the annual Christmas Edition of the SoFo Food Festival. This year the events runs from
December 3 – 6, 2015
As usual the food festival will include:
- 40+ Restaurants
- 5+ Streets: Fortaleza Street, Recinto Sur, Tetúan Street, San Francisco Street, O’Donnell Street
- 1 Huge Christmas Food Party in Old San Juan complete with Old San Juan’s Famous Christmas Lights
Details are sketchy at the moment, but expect to see the usual suspects participate in the Christmas Special: Parrot Club, Agua Viva, Toro Salao, Café Puerto Rico, Pirilo Pizza Rústica, Vaca Brava, Raíces, Café Berlín, J Taste, La Madre and many more.
Expect restaurants to serve up some extra special festive dishes during the four day event.
Live Music at various locations
Stage A: Fortaleza & O’Dinnell
Stage B: Plaza Arturo Somohano
Stage C: Recinto Sure (in front of relojeria)
Stage D: Recinto Sure (near J Taste)
Stage E: Recinto Sur (near Vaca Brava)
Stage F: Fortaleza (near Milano & Pirilo)
Stage G: Fortalez #319
Stage H: San Francisco #308
Stage A – Daniel Diez y su Tripamndero
Stage B – Debora Brum
Stage C – Alex Lopez Duo
Stage D – Janice Maisonet Trio
Stage E – Luis Rodriguez
Stage F – Blues Band
Stage G – Bebo Rivera Trio
Stage H – Tipico del Monte
Thurs Dec 3
Stage A – DJ with Edgar Abraham
Stage B – Manolito Rodriguez
Stage C – Martin Nieves en Bohemia
Stage D – Ericd Figuero, Mr Montuneo, Tropical Music
Stage E – Melvin Padilla
Stage F – Manolito Rodriguez Salsa Trio
Stage G – Daniel Diez y su Tripamndero
Stage H – Debora Brum
Plaza Colon – El Gran Combo
Stage A – Debora Brum
Stage B – Manolito Rodriguez
Stage C – John Santana
Stage D – SM Quinteto
Stage E – Manuel Berrios Trio
Stage F – Saxitud Tropical Music
Stage G – Turista
Stage H – Danny and the Groove
Plaza Colon – Pupy Santiago
Stage A – Manolito Rodriguez Salsa Trio
Stage B – Danny and the Groove
Stage C – Orlando Cardosa
Stage D – Rafael Fabian Quartet
Stage E – Rey Montanez
Stage F – Siglo XXI Steel Band
Stage G – Bando
Stage H – Banny Diaz y su Tripandero
Plaza Colon – Giovanni Hidalgo
Stage A – Danny and the Groove
Stage B – Alexandro Lopez y Nuevo Son
Stage C – John Santana
Stage D – Daniel Diaz
Stage E – Edgardo Villafanez
Stage F – Aires Bucaneros
Stage G – SM Quinteto
Stage H – Eric Figueroa
Plaza Colon – KIds & Music
Ever since I moved to New York, a big mission of mine has been to find out who makes the best burger in town. I have definitely chewed my way through more than just a couple of naughty (as in deliciously and eye-rollingly good naughty) burger beauties throughout these two years, but when talking about the top of the pops, only a few of them can truly qualify.
After discussing where to find the ultimate New York burger during a slightly moist and way too late night a couple of weekends ago, I figured it was time to re-start my mission in order to get a closure on this topic. To make the ultimate New York burger list, the nominees must be felt, smelled, and indulged for real.
As you are invited to join in on the adventure you should prepare yourself to drool over some pretty juicy feeds from now on. More specifically, you may begin the preparation right away.
Beyond excited to start the treasure hunt, I invited an awesome bunch of fellow foodies to bite through the very first candidate this previous Sunday. We agreed on going somewhere none of us had been before, making sure we’d leave every biased feeling behind.
To get to be the first one featured in this major and incredibly important competition is nothing less then massive. And after thinking back and fourth and up and down, we ended up with choosing this buddy:
As a well-appreciated contestant on the West Coast for over a long time now, Umami Burger is not unknown to the burger enthusiasts. Californians has been chewing and loving Umami’s house-ground patties for years and years, but for us East Coasters, the company has sadly kept a cold distance up until last summer when they finally made the move to open a location in the apple. I was thrilled to hear the news!
The place itself is nothing fancy. Not quite the restaurant vibe, but still a step up from the highway diners.
More importantly, my amazingly allies and tough critics of the night in photos:
…who of course had to be the annoying one to take close-ups on everyone’s pick before they got to do their business: After all, I know how much you appreciate it!
I hope you have started drooling already? Otherwise, scroll up again, stop and stare thoroughly, and come back down again. (I wont tell anyone if you need to wipe off your keyboard.)
I have heard people raging over the Truffle Burger when discussing Umami, but in spite of that I figured I’d go with an original for the first day out in the competition. Turned out to not be such a bad idea:
Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and ketchup of the house. BAM. I also had to pair them with an order of the sweet potato fries. SO FREAKING GOOD!
We nommed and yummed, rolled our eyes, licked our fingers, fork fought over each other’s plates, chewed and smacked, and finally sank down into our post burger positions ready to sum up the experience.
Every judge around the table nodded a yes in satisfaction beyond any normal burger pleasure. Everyone agreed that the burgers did their very right as contestants and nominees in this big mission being cooked to perfection, and very well paired. Out of a total of 5, we all landed on a solid 4. Not at all bad to be the first one out!
And for those who wonder, the Manly might have been the especially dirty delicious one.
I promise to be back again to try the Truffle Burger. (And tell you if you should too).
Rating: 4/5 — ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Plus: Well-paired combinations and well-cooked (all except from mine, which sadly went a little over medium)
Minus: The bun fell apart while eating (but still tasted good)
PS. PLEASE COMMENT BELOW IF YOU WANT ME TO TEST OR FEATURE ANY SPECIFIC BURGER. ANY TIP IS APPRECIATED!