After starting 2017 with two amazing charters that involved things like stage diving, midnight missions to kidnap other guests, and drunkenly eating chicken wings with your toes – Captain Cowboy and I were ready for a little down time detox on our month off. Instead, we had a rotating cast of drunken friends coming for visits, including Handsome, who 15 minutes into his arrival got to experience riding in an exploding Jeep. Welcome to the Islands!! (And this one had nothing to do with my Asian driving damnit!)
A week of drinking that memory away later, it was time to get some boat upgrades so it was off to Puerto Rico. Six hours of sailing (read: motoring) later, we arrived at Puerto del Rey Marina in Fajardo, the largest marina in the Caribbean.
After an hour of waiting, the nicest, friendliest, customs officers ever, came and checked us in, apologizing profusely for the delay. Cheerfully, they chatted with us about things to check out on the island, and mentioned that we had unfortunately just missed a festival celebrating the end of Christmas (mind you this was January 24). They also casually mentioned that a coast guard officer had been shot during the festivities. Was that a warning, or an introduction to how Boricuas party?
Being legally docked and ready to indulge in some local food, we wandered the marina, only to find out that the closest restaurants were about a mile away. The guard then offered to take us into town, and said if we had things we wanted to see or do tomorrow, he was off and willing to take us around. Captain Cowboy immediately commented on how nice of a gesture that was – especially in comparison to people in St. Thomas who take more joy in nearly hitting you with their car than offering you a ride in it. The New Yorker in me just thought “kidnaping plot.” Potato potato.
Starving, we wandered into the only restaurant in the marina, La Cueva del Mar for some empanadas and Mofongo/Yuccafongo, a Puerto Rican specialty consisting of an orb of garlic mashed plantains, or yucca, packed and overflowing with a delicious sofrito based stew. Wanting something different, I decided to go with the Can Can Chuleta, figuring protein with a small salad would be a nice compliment to pilfering from the boys’ dishes. I’m not gonna say the chuleta was a poor decision, but it was certainly a one of American proportions. The pork chop was a double cut portion, not to mention the foot of fried pork belly attached to it. They also forgot the salad. Fortunately, options for leftover pork chop and pork belly are endless, so I wasn’t too sad to take home a souvenir. Tomorrow’s breakfast special would be Arroz Chuleta de China AKA pork frieeeddd liceeeee.
The next day, Handsome and I rented a car, with the intention of taking a few days to explore the island. Alfredo “as in the sauce” had recommended the Kioskos de Luquillo as “a bunch of street restaurants in front of the beach. They all serve typical fried Puerto Rican food…Beer is pretty cheap.” Fried local food and cheap beer?! Count this fat kineza in!
When we arrived, I had one mission on my mind. Alcapurrias. I’d never even heard of them until my previous visit to Puerto Rico where I stayed with Olive and her husband, and they introduced me to these adorable bundles of savory, crispy, melty, meaty, seafoody, deliciousness. Even after asking Uncle Google, I still can’t explain WTF they’re made out of but they’re just fucking delicious and you should eat them. When I was with Olive, we saw the ladies put the mealy dough in a banana leaf, fold in the filling, and wrap the dough around it. This may not sound too advanced, or exciting, but this is by far my favorite food in Puerto Rico.
I had read good things about Kiosko #24, Coral Seafood, so we headed that way. Becoming a round-eye at the sight of alcapurrias in the window, we ordered one crab and one beef and sat at a little plastic table where I was gently wiping drool from the corners of my mouth in anticipation. We also ordered “carne frita” which for all intents and purposes can be described as “fried pork chunks.”
To be honest I was a little afraid that these new alcapurrias wouldn’t live up to my first experience.* What if my beautiful beach prince, with a perfect baked (fried) tan, and a soft snuggly inside had turned into a retired overcooked, over oiled, soggy wrinkly turd? I started to get a little anxious.
Fortunately my true love hadn’t aged a day. The alcapurrias were magical moments of salty, crunchy, flavorful, fried goodness that melted in my mouth and made me want to quit my job and become their kitchen bitch just to better understand its artistic process. It didn’t hurt any that we kept seeing locals come in just to order them. The pork dish was also delicious, but I was already totally enamorado with my alcapurrias.
After that we decided to walk the strip to see what else the kioskos had to offer. Quite a few spaces were closed or vacant, but there were also some intriguing locations from a Peruvian ceviche restaurant (tried it later in the trip, and according to Captain Cowboy “possibly the best ceviche he’s ever had”) to a bar that offered tattoos in the back. But most importantly towards the end of the lot, there was a tent declaring “Tito’s Ostras.”
The oyster spot was literally, a plastic tent the width of a parking space over a pickup truck with two coolers in the back, and a dude serving fresh clams and oysters on a plastic card table. We sat down and ordered half a dozen of the largest oysters I’ve ever seen in my life. Unlike certain other things, the bigger, the better does not apply to oysters. And by other things I mean my delicious Can Can Chuleta. Nevertheless, the oysters were delicious if a tad more watery because of their size.
As we slurped up the fresh bivalves, Eduardo, a retired Cuban-Puerto Rican, and Tito’s Ostras unofficial hot sauce sommelier, with a love for travel, engaged us in conversation. He had both lived in New York, and visited Copenhagen, and had traveled tons of other places in the world. We hung out with him for about an hour both over oysters and at the kiosko across the lot where his granddaughter dutifully served up plastic cups of scotch for him, and cold beers for us. We talked about Puerto Rico, travels abroad, life and relationships, but my take away message from all his wisdom was about women. He told Handsome “don’t argue with them. They’re wiser. You have to kiss them. Keep them happy.” Got that Handsome?
Not wanting to leave Eduardo and Tito, but also wanting to see some of old San Juan we regretfully had to leave his company and head over to Old San Juan with promises to come back in the future. Also, alcapurrias.
*After spending almost two weeks in Puerto Rico in total, trying every alcapurria I encountered, I’m pretty confident that those were THE BEST I’ve ever had. If you know anywhere better – I will travel for food. And please feel free to invite me to your grandparents’ houses.