Una Conclusion Feliz...A Happy Ending to My Puerto Rico Vacation

In order to learn more about the culture of Puerto Rico, we had to dine somewhere other than Gran Melia--at least once. When we asked Isaiah...

In order to learn more about the culture of Puerto Rico, we had to dine somewhere other than Gran Melia--at least once. When we asked Isaiah, a hotel porter, where we should go for some good Puerto Rican cuisine, he slapped his chest. "Don Pepe's the
place, man."

After one short sojourn at this little restaurant (a square adobe box quipped with iron bars on its top windows and an old yellow-lettered sign bearing its name), I wanted to kiss Isaiah for gushing about it.

While burlap tablecloths and bamboo wall shades evoke a sense of modesty and simplicity, a few additional decorations such as the Puerto Rican flag, the plaques of Puerto Rican all-star players (i.e. Bernie Williams), and the colorful illustration of Latino jesters and magicians manifest the pride and cultural richness of the gorgeous island. I felt comfortable--not like a stranger from the States, but more like a brand new friend. It was easy to sit back, relax and watch the Yankee game on the overhead TVs while waiting for the food.

We did have to wait a while, since everything was fresh and made to order. Man, it was worth it.

So good, we ate there two nights in a row! The prices weren't bad: about $7-25, and the portions were big enough for two to share (a romantic idea if you're with your significant other, and a good way for each who orders an individual meal to have a bite of something new).

On night one, I had the
pollo a la Andaluza--thin grilled chicken breasts in a tangy, silky but light red wine sauce with sautéed mushrooms, garlic, and onions over a bed of summer veggies. The yellow mound on the side is called mofongo, slightly crispy fried (yes, fried) mashed plantains, naturally sweet with a note of roasted garlic in the background. Its texture was similar to a hash brown, but a lot thicker and somewhat chewier.

This was fantastic, but nothing compares to the delectability of night two. I'm referring to the
mofongo con pollo--the side dish you see in the picture above. This time, however, it took center stage, crowned with bite-sized chicken breast pieces, caramelized onions, and red peppers. Not something I could eat every day, and not something I'd suggest for those with cholesterol problems, but my oh my was it amazing. Half of this dish was enough for me.

The first bite triggered an instant burst of endorphins. I felt warm and cozy and happy. I slept so well that night.

If you ever vacation in Puerto Rico, please try to visit Don Pepe. Also, see if you can stop at some local panaderias (bakeries), as well as at the local farmers' markets for mangoes, bananas, and coconuts riper and more luscious than any you've ever tasted.

(For a light lunch the day after eating mofongo, I mixed the cup of non-fat vanilla yogurt I bought at the
Amigo supermarket with slices of fresh banana and mango. On top, I crumbled some of the Kashi TLC Honey Almond Flax bar I had in my carry-on bag. So, so satisfying!!)

While the private resorts are beautiful, luxurious, and relaxing, a taste of the true culture awaits you just a few minutes away.

Yum, yum, yum is the word,

;) Holly


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