When we went to Puerto Rico for our holidays, we first spent 3 days in San Juan where our plan was to focus not only on the amazing colorful architecture of the Spanish colonial city but also to taste San Juan and Puerto Rican food. A blend of Taíno, Spanish, African, Creole and American influences has made Puerto Rico’s cuisine unique and diverse and San Juan is the ideal place to taste it as it has got some very good restaurants. While I was looking for some places to eat, I got an idea to do a food tour which I first did in Lisbon and loved it.
After some research, I felt that the walking foodie tour in Old San Juan organized by Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours might be a good fit to our needs and a great way to try some of the best local dishes and get some insider tips, but also to learn about history and culture of Puerto Rico. I reached to them and arranged for an afternoon tour which turned out to be an amazing experience. In this post I will tell you more about this foodie adventure, just please note that my tour was adapted for a vegetarian, while Seb participated as a ‘normal’ person eating everything, so you will see pictures of both options where applicable. 😉
Read also: San Juan: A Colorful Jewel of Puerto Rico
Walking Foodie Tour in Old San Juan
At 3:30 p.m., we met our group near the Old Harbor Brewery. Altogether, we were about 10 people: one family and a group of friends from the US plus the two of us from Belgium. We were welcomed by a passionate and smiling guide Luli from Puerto Rico. After a mutual introduction, Luli said one thing that made everybody feel good, which was that the purpose of this tour was that at the end we would leave with a full belly and a happy heart, and we headed all excited to the first place.
Let’s now have a closer look at how we tasted San Juan during this 3-hour walking foodie tour! 🙂
Our first stop was at Princesa Gastrobar where you can find a bar dedicated to rums of Puerto Rico, connected to a restaurant with a lovely terrace built outside in a harmony with the trees growing there. Not that many people know that the premises used to serve formerly as a jail. Here we had a piña colada, eggplant baked in puff pastry and croquettes/tostones.
The bartender first talked to us about different rums they have and how they use them, as well as about the origins of Puerto Rico’s gift to the world – Piña colada. This sweet cocktail made of pineapple juice, coconut cream, and rum, topped with a maraschino cherry was first prepared in the mid of 20th century and has been a national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978. Then we were seated and each of us received one piña colada to taste. Honestly, this was one of the best ones I’ve ever tried but in general, I have to say that we loved piña colada in Puerto Rico. We stopped later in this bar for other cocktails and loved them too.
What regards the food here. On the first picture, you can see the Chicken & Iberico ham Spanish Croquettes with Bechamel sauce and Eggplant baked in a puff pastry and then topped with chicken stewed with cinnamon (this recipe dates back to 1850’s). While on the second picture, this is what I got here being a vegetarian: Tostones which are basically twice-fried plantains and they were served to me with some spinach, plus I also had the Eggplant baked in a puff pastry and then topped with semi-crunchy veggies stewed with cinnamon. Absolutely delicious!
When we headed up the walls, the sun was pretty intense and it was still very warm. So a perfect moment to hit some refreshment. Señor Paleta is a place where you can get the best pop sickles in San Juan. They have many flavors and are all made of fresh fruit. While tasting the refreshing passion fruit pop sickle, we enjoyed some shade of trees and a wonderful view of the harbor. I really loved these and was back once more another day for a strawberry-mango flavor.
When walking to the following place, we passed by a park full of pigeons. This place is called Parque de las Palomas and both locals and tourists love to come there and enjoy the company of hundreds of pigeons. In front of the park, you can get a bag with feeding for the pigeons in order to maximize your experience. Well, I’d say, don’t go without a hat! 😀
At some parts of Old San Juan, you can still see blue cobblestones. These were imported by the end of 18th century as a ballast of the bottom of the merchant ships coming from Europe. They were made of slag and that is why they have this bluish color. Unfortunately, they are being slowly replaced by new cobblestones.
Café El Punto
We then moved to Café El Punto which is a café restaurant offering typical Creole dishes prepared traditionally with fresh ingredients from the farmers’ market. People say that the food here tastes like if it was prepared by your grandma. The entrance to this place is rather an art craft boutique selling handmade gifts. While Luli was telling us about the symbolism of the typical Puerto Rican masks, we could taste a fresh ceviche (veggie salad for me) and alcapurrias.
Ceviche is a fresh raw fish which is “cooked” in the lemon juice. People said this was delicious. Even though I eat some fish, I was never tempted to try raw fish and therefore I was so happy to get a salad made of avocado, tomatoes, and cheese – not bad!
Alcapurrias are fried pastries filled with either meat, beans or other vegetables and the dough surrounding the filling is made of green bananas or yucca. Everybody got alcapurria filled with meat and myself, I had one filled with a mix of vegetables. Luli came with some spicy sauce and just a little drop of it burned my mouth but gave my alcapurria an interesting taste.
Rosa de Triana
This Spanish restaurant is situated in a building of San Juan’s first city hall and we were seated in the tunnel part which used to serve as a jail. Here we had one of the most typical Puerto Rican dish called mofongo and then another side to taste which was rice with beans.
Mofongo is something that you definitely need to try in Puerto Rico. It is made of fried green plantains that are consequently mashed together with garlic, salt, and oil in a wooden mortar, in order to make a very dense ball topped or stuffed with some good sauce and meat, fish or veggies. This was my first mofongo and one of the best ones I have had since then! Normally when you order mofongo in Puerto Rico, you get the ball already done but here they brought it to us in the traditional wooden mortar and we had to mash the fried plantains on our own. It was so much fun! Once mashed, we mixed it with the garlic. Oh, my goodness!! You can imagine the smell… as I love garlic, I was already slowly falling in love with this dish. And then they brought us the meat and veggies (for me), both in Creole sauce. I was in heaven here.
After that, we were served another typical side dish – Rice with red beans. As I did not want to leave any of the mofongo, I was already quite full here, so I just tasted a little bit of this. Although the beans and sauce were tasty, it just didn’t beat mofongo. 😉
Walking a little again before arriving at the last stop, we passed by Plaza de Armas, the original main square of the city. The main feature of this square is a beautiful four seasons fountain with 4 marble statues representing different seasons. The female statue on the below picture represents spring, the period when we visited Puerto Rico, and behind the statue, you can see the San Juan City Hall.
Casa Cortés ChocoBar
And finally, my favorite part of eating – dessert time! 🙂 We headed to the only chocolate bar in Old San Juan where we tasted Puerto Rican chocolate. As Luli advised us and we also verified that during our last day in San Juan, Casa Cortés ChocoBar is a great place to go not only for desserts but also for breakfast or brunch as they have some great sandwiches or pancakes (among others). Definitely, a place of reference to taste San Juan in a modern light.
Cheese and hot chocolate is a flavor that would have stayed undiscovered for me if I did not take this walking foodie tour in Old San Juan. And believe me, this is a divine combination! Each of us got a square of Puerto Rican chocolate lying on a square of cheddar that we were supposed to dip into the hot chocolate. Does anybody tried that? Can you imagine how it melts in your mouth then?! Wow, amazing and so good!
And the last bite of this food tour were churros that we dipped in the rest of the hot chocolate. I liked those better than the ones I tried in Spain as they were less oily and the chocolate was much denser.
After that, Luli asked us what we liked the most and I have the impression that mofongo and chocolate were the winners. At that moment, we all could say that the promise Luli gave us in the beginning of the tour came true and we all left this place with a full belly and a happy heart. 🙂
Our overall impression
We were pleased to taste San Juan with Flavors of San Juan Food & Cultural Tours and their walking foodie tour met our expectations. During 3 hours, we visited 5 places, tasted more than 10 bites/meals/drinks and learn some interesting facts about the city and Puerto Rico. Our guide Luli was great, speaking fluent both English and Spanish, she knew how to catch attention and enthuse the group. The food was good quality and delicious. Needless to say, we came back to some of those places again during our last day in San Juan. 🙂
And now I want to hear from you – have you ever had a similar foodie experience in the Caribbean? What is your favorite Puerto Rican dish? Let me know in the below comments!
If you plan to visit Puerto Rico and would like to taste San Juan via a similar experience, you can find the types of food tours, prices, and make a reservation on the website of Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours.
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Disclaimer: I reached out to Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours on my own initiative considering this honest review of my experience might be a good fit for my audience. They agreed in exchange for 2 complimentary tickets for which we were very happy. All opinions expressed in this review are our own. I would like to thank Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours for hosting us and also for their flexibility related to my dietary restrictions. Also many thanks to our guide Luli for this amazing experience and tips!