Travel insights from Jenna Buege, senior editor of The Compass
Recently, I had the pleasure of exploring beautiful San Juan, Puerto Rico, and, if there was one pressing thing on my to-do list, it was to taste the incredible Caribbean flavors of the island destination. Lucky for me, The Spoon Experience, a local tour operator, had just the thing to fit the bill, their Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour. Here’s what you need to know about the mouth-watering adventure.
Stop #1) Don Ruiz Coffee
Did you know Puerto Rico was once the sixth-largest producer of coffee in the entire world? To sample a taste of the region’s caffeine-fueled bounty, we kicked off our tour at Don Ruiz Coffee, a cozy little cafe near El Morro National Monument. Here, we sipped on lattes made with fourth-generation coffee harvested in southwest Puerto Rico and huddled around a map to learn more about the area’s java-filled history. Our guide, Pablo, filled us in on all the deets surrounding the destination’s mountainous region — perfect for growing coffee — and the different crops that thrive there.
And while the coffee was worthy of a visit in and of itself, this stop turned out to be a twofer as Pablo headed back to the counter to grab a tray full of Pan de Mallorca, which may or may not be the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. Delicate pastries filled with ham and cheese, the winning combination of sweet and salty tickled my tastebuds as I sunk my teeth into this powder sugar-covered treat. It was light yet decadent, breakfast-worthy yet dessert-like, it was the pastry of my dreams.
Stop #2) La Taberna Lupúlo
Next up, in the heart of Old San Juan, with its colorful buildings and cobblestone streets, we found stop number two, La Taberna Lupúlo. The first bar in the city to import and serve flavorful craft brews from around the world, La Taberna Lupúlo is a favorite spot among beer connoisseurs with over 50 taps and 150 bottles of local, Belgian, English, German and American craft beers available all year round.
On a day with soaring temps paired with a healthy dose of humidity, we were happy to find a refreshing beer-liquor concoction waiting for us as we took our seats. Upon further inspection, Pablo informed us the delicious drink was a mix of Mambo beer from Ocean Lab Brewing paired with Puerto Rico’s very own Don Q rum. He went on to explain the ins and outs of Don Q’s distilling process and informed us the company only sources ingredients locally, meaning it does not serve spirits with artificial flavors. To complement our thirst-quenching drinks, we were given San Diego-inspired fish tacos which were perfectly fried and topped with a generous serving of fresh fixings.
Stop #3) Deaverdura
I was starting to feel contently full by the time we approached stop three, but the show had to go on, this was a food tour after all. We made our way on foot past popular nightlife spots like La Factoria and La Sombrilla Rosa before arriving at our next restaurant, Deaverdura. A cozy little hole in the wall serving traditional Caribbean fare, Deaverdura, with its festive table tops and relaxed atmosphere, seems to be a well-loved spot among locals and visitors alike.
Now, I’ll be honest, I can’t exactly remember the name of the dish and cocktail Pablo had prepared for us, but there’s one thing I do recall for certain: it was delicious. A platter consisting of pulled pork, beans and a side of white rice, these regional staples paired fabulously with Deaverdura’s homemade salsas of which we could choose from mild or hot. We chowed down and sipped on pear-flavored adult beverages as Pablo filled us in on the island’s pork history — did you know a pair of pigs used to be an ideal wedding gift?
Stop #4) Juanes Restaurant
At this point in the tour, I was straight-up stuffed, but we still had to try one of San Juan’s most famed dishes of all: Mofongo. A plantain-based creation born on The Island of Enchantment, Mofongo is a marrying of Spanish, Taino and African influences. The dish was sweet and savory with the plantains offering a potato-like consistency that paired beautifully with a flavorful sauce and juicy chicken. I enjoyed every bite with my only regret being we didn’t stop at Juanes Restaurant sooner so I could devour the whole thing.
As we slowly savored this unique dish, Pablo shared with us the essential ingredients of any Puerto Rican meal: garlic, onions, peppers, culantro, cilantro, oregano and other native veggies. He also explained how European settlers associated different spices with different health benefits and how they believed mofongo, with its reddish hue, to be a hearty and healthy dish.
Stop #5) Señor Paleta
Of course, what’s a food tour without a little something, something for your sweet tooth? For our last and final stop, we walked uphill to Señor Paleta, a local popsicle shop with no shortage of delicious flavors. From fruit-based sweets like lemon and strawberry to more decadent offerings like birthday cake and Nutella, this place has something for everyone.
As a fan of all things rich and sugary, I opted for the birthday cake flavor, which did not disappoint. To conclude our tour, we hastily ate our now melting paletas in the Puerto Rican sun as Pablo shared with us more stories and began his goodbyes, but not without offering a wet wipe to those who needed it first.
About the Author
Senior Editor for VAX VacationAccess and world explorer, Jenna loves writing about all things travel. When she’s not busy creating content, she spends her time exploring the great outdoors, cuddling with her two black cats and researching her next big (sometimes strange) adventure.
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