Recently, I had a gig in Puerto Rico, and since it was my first trip to any place in the Caribbean, I was, naturally, curious to try comida criolla in its natural habitat. So, after a day of rehearsals at the Ferré Performing Arts Center, my flutist friend Josue suggested we go to "pizzeria" – the local moniker for Diana’s Pizza. Since I have virtually no filters, my first response was, "I did not come to Puerto Rico to eat pizza." I was assured I would be happy, and I most certainly was.
The food here is about as homemade as it gets for a small restaurant, made by someone who definitely knows what she's doing. It also made me realize just how bad most of the Puerto Rican and Dominican food in New York really is.
Carne guisada is surprisingly tender chunks of beef simmered with potatoes:
It’s a stew rich with the bright flavor of sazón, tomato, and onion – no muddy brown sauce here.
The arroz con pollo was marvelous – shreds of chicken in some beautifully seasoned rice (with side dishes of red beans, and a plate of tostones in the background):
Rice and beans are standard sides here, and in Puerto Rico, red beans are the norm. The beans are palpably homemade, and utterly delicious. Platanos maduros (ripe plantains) are called amarillos in these parts, and they are infinitely better than any I've ever tried elsewhere. For one thing, they are cut completely differently – into ribbons, rather than the mushy chunks one gets in New York (seen with a bottle of the signature Puerto Rican beer, Medalla):
And I have never actually enjoyed eating tostones (smashed slices of unripe plantains fried until crisp) before – I have no idea what the secret might be, but they make 'em the right way here.
126 Avda. De Diego – Santurce, 00911, Puerto Rico
(near the Doubletree San Juan hotel)