As most of you well know, I love to travel. I try to get away as often as possible. And now that I'm getting older, my vacation locales are getting ever more exotic. Well, exotic for a kid from the south anyway. Last year, I found myself on a long weekend trip with my friend Connie to Puerto Rico.
We stayed at a very nice resort and spent one whole day lounging about the beach. But by the end of the day, we realized we were getting bored. So being adventurous girls, we decided to brave the hazardous local driving conditions and rent a car. Thankfully, Connie, having grown up in Mexico, was very adept at maneuvering the tricky Puerto Rican locals on their less than stellar roads.
Interstate PR-3, just west of Luquillo, Puerto Rico
We befriended our cleaning lady (who brought us unopened bottles of beer champagne, God bless her), told us we absolutely had to go to Los Kioskos for lunch. Los what? We spent a good 10 minutes on the drive over asking ourselves what a kiosko was. Until we saw it.
These are Los Kioskos. The Kiosks. Duh. Little strip mall store fronts entirely dedicated to food. I was in heaven! And this is only a quarter the strip mall. There are literally 30+ little restaurants in this place. Also note the teal Monster Truck. Only in Puerto Rico..
We soon realized that every Kiosko offered some variation of the same. Deep fried Latin goodness. Like Empanadas (Puerto Rican style)
Or Mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish of smashed plantains and garlic, formed into a bowl, deep fried, and topped with shrimp.
We even stopped for a DELICIOUS Batida de Fruta, sort of like a creamy fruit smoothie. It came fully decorated with 3 different kinds of sauce drizzled over the top, 2 different kinds of fresh fruit and a big pink umbrella.
Los Kioskos are actually on the way to El Yunque, the only US tropical rainforest National Forest (apparently there are National Parks and National Forests). There is only one road in and out of El Yunque. The road climbs quickly in elevation from sea level up into the mountains in the middle of Puerto Rico. As you ascend, the temperature drops, and it starts to rain (it IS a rainforest). There are vines, waterfalls, chirping animals and everything else to make you feel like you're in the tropics.
One of the few eating establishments in El Yunque is El Bosque Encantado. If you make it to El Yunque, you should make sure you stop. They have the most amazing deep fried corn cakes, called sorullos, and fresh coconut milk. There even keep a pile of fresh green coconuts and mean looking machete just for your sipping pleasure.
Later that evening, we decided to venture out to the east side of the island to check out one of the natural wonders of the world, a bioluminescent lake. There are only a half dozen or so in the world and Puerto Rico happens to have two. To get to them, you have to kayak from the ocean, through a channel of mangrove trees into the lake. You have to snake your way through the channel in the pitch black with only a glow stick on the boat in front of you to guide your way. But when you emerge into the lake, it a glorious site. Every time your oar touches the water, the movement jostles tiny micro-organisms who emit a glowing compound to protect themselves. As you paddle through the lake, your boat leaves a ghostly glowing trail that is unlike anything I've ever seen before.
When we get back on land, we were Hungry (with a capital H). But unfortunately, we finished too late to catch dinner at any of the traditional dinner spots around Las Croabas. We asked some of the locals and we were directed to a trailer down the road. It looked a little suspect from the road, but we were famished, and it did seem pretty popular. I am SO glad we stopped. Connie and I still talk about this place. It is legendary to us.
Behold! The best restaurant in Puerto Rico, hands down (on PR-987 on the way to Las Croabas and the bioluminescent lake, sorry, those are the best directions I can give you, its Puerto Rico, nothing has an actual address there)
And what made it so wonderful? These:
Shrimp Arepas. They were fresh shrimp, onions, green onions and parsley in a thin but creamy tomato-vinegar sauce. They are seriously one of THE best things I have EVER put in my mouth. I still dream about them. In fact, they are the one recipe I have endeavored to re-create at home with smashing success (recipe to follow in a future blog, sorry!)
So if you come to Puerto Rico, stay off the beaten path and you'll find some real gems.