Puerto Rico isn’t only into local cuisine. The Caribbean in general has a long history of cultural interchange, so the Eaters weren’t really surprised at some of the interesting Puerto Rican-fusion cuisine we found while wandering about the island. Here are two of the highlights:
356 Calle Fortaleza
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Indian-Caribbean fusion? Not as crazy as you would think – a number of Caribbean islands have sizable populations of Indian immigrants, which has led to some interesting culinary creations. Tantra, an upscale bar and restaurant in Old San Juan, continues this, although it was pretty obviously created for the tourist crowd. The interior was dark and exotic, decorated with Buddha statues and colorful hookahs, all complemented by generalized Eastern music that was just a little too loud for the relaxed atmosphere they seemed to be playing off of. Sadly, this same dark interior made taking photos of the food a little difficult – but we’ll try our best to paint a good mental picture. M started off with an old classic, Chicken Tikka Masala. For $17, it definitely wasn’t worth it. The food itself was tasty (although a little less saffron would have been nice), but the portions were not any larger than servings you would find at a comparable mainland restaurant for half the price. The dish did come with free naan on the side, thus preventing Tantra from falling into one of the Eater’s big Indian Restaurant pet peeves. L got Tantra Mofongo, a supposedly Indian take on the classic Puerto Rican dish. What they claimed was mofongo had little resemblance to the chicken-filled creation we would sample a few days later. This dish was essentially a tall stack of plantains, mixed with Indian spices and fashioned into an artfully constructed column. Again, the $10 price tag was a little much. We left Tantra feeling moderately satiated, but a little put off by the hipster atmosphere and the overpriced food.
69 Calle Salud
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Later in our trip we would head to the south side of the island, hitting up Puerto Rico’s other culinary hotspot of Ponce. One of the most popular restaurants in town in Rincón Argentina, specializing in Argentinian beef (hence the big cow on the sign outside). Most of what Rincón serves are parrilladas, meaning just about anything that comes off the grill. We were seated outside under the cool Puerto Rican evening, ready to dive into our appetizer of plantain fries. Like the skirt steak we ordered later (the house specialty), the dishes came with some great Argentine chimichurri. M had the beef milanesa, which actually turned out a little thin and bland. Overall, we had a similar reaction to Rincón as we did to Tantra – the food was decent, but decidedly overpriced for what we got (about $15 a dish).
So overall, our Puerto Rican fusion experience was a little disappointing. Interesting food, but overpriced, especially considering you can get better and cheaper stuff on the mainland. If you travel to Puerto Rico, from our experience we recommend you stick to the tried-and-true local places.