One of the things I wanted to do during my most recent trip to the Island of Enchantment was to try new, local food spots. I am not the most experimental eater out there, I have my favorite dishes and I tend to stick to them: I went to Raíces for the first time and had the same “mofongo con carne frita” I always get at Puerto Rican restaurants. I do, however, like to discover new places to eat and eat good–especially when I go back home. This time around I was on a mission; I tried a handful of new places and definitely came back with a new favorite: POKE-Sí.
POKE-Sí is located in the town of Arecibo and is owned and run by a local family. The vibe is very hip–lots of white with pops of color decor against a mural of the Puerto Rican flag and influential figures give the outdoor eating space a very modern yet strong feel. There’s a stage at one end of the courtyard where live music is presented several nights a week. I learned college groups frequent the space a lot for club meetings (think poetry, writing, and other mainly arts-related groups). While there, soft jazz played in the background–it was very serene.
I ordered a tuna poké bowl and it did not disappoint. In fact, it was my favorite meal of the entire trip. I also had a grapefruit cocktail–it complemented my meal well–and activated charcoal ice cream (yes!) which was, to my surprise, really good as well. I’ll definitely visit this place again and I recommend it to anyone visiting the Arecibo area.
Of course, the mandatory food truck fritter run took place the day after I landed. I had an “alcapurria” (a meat stuffed, green banana and taro root fritter) and hunted for a “bacalaito” (codfish fritter) but–shockingly–did not find one (until the very last day of my trip, that is). Thankfully, my aunt made some just for me (craving status: satisfied!). These fritters are by no means healthy, but man are they delicious!
Another great meal was brunch at Bistro Café in Isla Verde (if you’re staying in San Juan, this place is a must!). I mainly wanted to visit Bistro Café for their infamous popsicle mimosas. I picked a kiwi popsicle (a hit!) and it was served with sliced kiwi, strawberry and blueberries in sparkling wine (sadly, no real Champagne is involved in these mimosas–then again, if it were real Champagne I wouldn’t want all that extra sugary treats in it). As far as food goes, I ordered a goat cheese and prosciutto omelette with a (gigantic) side of French toast topped with fruit, Nutella and crème. The combination of great food, cute and quirky decor and fresh vibe make Bistro Café a great brunch spot. It’s also only a few blocks away from the beach so you can lay out to soak the sun before of after your visit. Will I visit again? Definitely.
Travel a few towns west and you’ll find Rancho del Norte, an outdoor restaurant and bar by the beach in the town of Hatillo. I had the opportunity to try Rancho del Norte the night I arrived in Puerto Rico–my only “night out” during the whole trip, actually. This was a very unexpected, very pleasant outing for me–girls, drinks and yummy treats by the ocean… doesn’t get better than that! While I didn’t order a formal entrée to review at Rancho del Norte, they earn a spot in my “favorites” from this trip because of one thing: coconut mojito! I can’t even try to explain how good it was, so just imagine it from looking at the picture. They also had passionfruit mojitos so feast upon that idea as well.
While much of this trip was played by ear, there’s one place I told myself I’d visit: a coffee plantation. Unfortunately, due to bad weather I did not get to visit the actual plantation. I did, however, visit a cute little bistro for Café Lareño (there’s always Café Lareño in my parents’ pantry) nestled on the edge of one of Lares’ many mountains. I had a frapuccino with no added flavor (a first for me thanks to Starbucks’ delicious black and white mocha fraps). Lightly sweet from the ripened coffee beans I opted for, it was a very simple drink (yet super refreshing because of the lack of “over the top” sweetness fraps sometimes have). My side dish? Puerto Rican cornbread–it’s much sweeter and softer in texture than cornbread made in the US (plus I had been craving it for a long time).
Lastly, one of the places I loved visiting and that definitely have to go back to is Lote 23. It’s a small food truck park created by locals who saw what an empty lot could be (and boy am I glad they had vision!). Lote 23 features a variety of food-trucks-off-wheels: from oriental to BBQ, to craft beer and coffee to popsicles, to Italian food to classic American burgers or local Puerto Rican cuisine, there’s something for everyone! I went for the noodles at WOK It! with their secret Ninja sauce and veggies. It was super savory and very, very filling. Lote 23 also features live entertainment and has a super inviting, “here for a good time” feel. During the day they host classes (I sadly missed a yoga class the morning after I was there) and there’s a small, permanent bazaar toward the center-back area of “the lot.” I scoped the place on Instagram prior to my trip and it did not disappoint!
I came back home with tons of new, cool and delicious places to recommend (and to take my family to whenever we fly back together). Food is one of the best parts about visiting Puerto Rico. No matter how many times I visit, it is inevitable to be there and not try a new food experience (even when I order the same things over and over, where I try them makes a big difference).