Recinto Sur Street #315
Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico
In her opinion:
My foodie motto to live by is very simple..."If it's good enough for Anthony Bourdain then it's definitely good enough for me!" I watched the Puerto Rico episode of No Reservation in order to prepare for this holiday...we all have our quirks...and watched Anthony enjoy some really good Puerto Rican cuisine at Restaurant Raices after getting his ass kicked by a Puerto Rican boxer. Flash forward a month or so and here we are walking by easily the busiest restaurant in Old San Juan and totally forgetting that this was the place.
Restaurant Raices is very popular with both tourists and locals. It's been featured on a few television shows. But most importantly is the fact that Raices serves some truly authentic Puerto Rican cuisine amidst a kitschy theme of costumes (traditional long white dresses and head wraps for the female staff and white pants, shirt and Panama hats for the male staff), decorations, traditional pilons and stainless steel plates and cups.
We were a little hesitant to try this place...the line ups were long but Edgar reminded me that AB had had dinner here...we definitely needed to try it! So on a Monday with no cruise ship in port and a little drizzle falling we were able to get in without waiting.
Our waitress, Ladimalinda (of course that is spelt wrong but that's how it sounded to me) was very attentive and super friendly, She took our drink orders right away...real diet coke is available in Puerto Rico...not the Coca-Cola Lite that has spoiled many of my holidays...so, of course I ordered one! It was delivered in a tin/stainless steel cup.
I knew that I wanted to try the Monfongo here. After perusing the menu, I settled on the speciality of "Monfongo Relleno com Churrasco al Chimichurri" (mashed plantains with stuffed with chimichurri style skirt steak). But before that was served a waiter brought us a very simple salad of lettuce and tomato with a house made dressing.
It was served in a traditional pilon (mortar) after it has been mashed by the pestle. The skirt steak was melt in your mouth delicious. Well cooked and seasoned just right to compliment the mashed green plantains which I had been a bit cautions about since my past experiences with plantain have not been the best. I really enjoyed this monfongo...it truly lived up to my expectations.
To end our meal, we decided to share a "Flan de Queso" or cheese custard.
This was just excellent. Beautifully presented but most importantly tasting absolutely delicious! It was creamy and tasted like an extra creamy cheesecake.
Overall, it was an really really good dinner. I now know why this place is so highly recommended to tourists and why locals love it so much!
In his opinion:
One of the things that really impressed me about vacationing in Puerto Rico was the food. It surpassed all my expectations that were already pretty high going in. Truthfully, it would be hard to expect average food from an island cuisine that mostly boasts a mix of Creole and Spanish food, but one never knows.
One of the frustrating parts of eating at the many great food spots in Old San Juan is the lineups, especially on cruise ship days. Most restaurants don't take reservations and the "Flies of the Day" as cruise ship people are known to locals, make the most of the few hours they have in port in nearby restaurants.
After a few days of walking by and not being able to even see the front door because of the crowds, we finally got a table on a non-cruise ship day, of course.
Raices is one of those places that is able to stay grounded and authentic even though is it sought after by the not so informed tourists that fill it everyday. It is popular and a bit tacky but it is a slice of Puerto Rico and good enough for Anthony Bourdain as Julie previously pointed out.
Stepping inside, the restaurant tries to emulate the "roots" of Puerto Rico, with decorations to match the theme and a gift shop in the back for customers to be able to buy craft items and sweets. The waitstaff are also dressed in a full theme wardrobe. Artwork on the walls is symbolic of those times as well.
The menu is predominately traditional Puerto Rico food with emphasis on Mofongo and large cuts of meat. I first glanced at the Kan Kan Chuleta (Porkchop) dish on the menu thinking that it would be a great day for a good cut of meat, even though it had the word "huge" in it. So I ordered it along with the local beer, Medalla Light which had became the standard beer for my whole vacation.
I was definitely not prepared for the "huge" size of this pork chop that measured roughly 14 inches by 6 inches at its bigger points. You know you are having a big food portion when the customers at the next table all pull out their cameras to snap pictures of it. The pork chop was very well seasoned, well cooked and the rind on the chop was very crispy, almost like "Lechon skin", another of the islands specialties. It is cooked in advance and then deep fried to achieve its crispiness.
It was served with fried green plantain and 2 dipping sauces that I didn't even use, given the great taste of the meat. I did indeed finish all the meat (just like Adam from Man vs Food television show), but couldn't really eat all the fat....even though I gave it a great run.
Stuffed from my "Brontosaurus" like pork chop, I could only manage to "share" dessert and we opted for the Flan de Queso, or Cheese Custard. The presentation was better than the taste, even though I still gave it passing marks. It was creamy with the feel of a cheesecake gone wrong.
The Good: Great food, authentic, tasteful food with a feeling of homemade. Portions are large and the location is perfect.
The Bad: Sort of tourist "trappy", huge lineups most days and the food is slightly overpriced. Service was good but rather slow.
The Verdict: A must try when in Old San Juan. Regardless, if you see it as a tourist trap or not, the food is good, authentic and the servers make your experience a good one.
I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 Olives as rating