Eating like a local can be challenging when venturing to a new country. Language barriers, too many choices, or unfamiliarity with a location’s culture can create obstacles for even the most seasoned of travelers.
During a seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard the MSC Divina, we found ourselves seeking an authentic dining experience while at San Juan, Puerto Rico’s port of call. After talking with a few of the locals, the unanimous recommendation was to eat at Mojito’s Restaurant, which was a short five-minute walk from the Old San Juan pier where the Divina docked for the day.
Upon entering Mojito’s Restaurant, one thing stood out right away: the place was booming with locals. Guests having business lunches were intermixed with cruisers and tourists, with seats filled in the main dining room, outside, and even at the bar. After about a 15-minute wait we were seated. Once we got our table, however, the service was quick and attentive.
Given its name, we knew we had to try a mojito (click here for a recipe), and the restaurant certainly lives up to its cocktail namesake. This was one of the most delicious Mojito’s we had ever had. It was unlike the Mojito’s you are typically served on the mainland. It was original and fresh and flowing with traditional Puerto Rican rum. When traveling, it is our philosophy to eat like a local and drink like a local, so we also ordered a bottle of Puerto Rico’s local brew, Magna. It had a light, crisp taste typical of what you would expect from a Caribbean beer. An additional local beer available on the island is Medallas.
Highlights from the Mojito’s menu included fried calamari, bacalao (fried cod) balls, platano (banana) soup, ropa viega, and mofongo of all varieties. Mofongo is mashed plantain mixed with chicharrónes (or pork cracklings) and chicken stock, which can be served as a side dish or topped with a variety of proteins such as pork, chicken, or shrimp to become an entree. It is Puerto Rico’s beloved national dish and a Puerto Rican staple.
For our meal we ordered pastellilos de carne and authentic Puerto Rican chicken soup. To follow, we went with traditional fare and ordered rice, beans, fried pork, steak with onions, and fried plantains (tostones). Each item was as delicious as the next — authentic, flavorful, and moderately priced.
Knowing how to eat like a local gives you a distinct advantage when visiting a new area. Surrounded by cobblestone streets and the Old San Juan forts, Mojito’s Restaurant is definitely a must-eat stop for those seeking a true Puerto Rican culinary experience. After all, it’s where the locals eat.
Linda Arceo is the voice behind the popular food and drink blog, Giggles, Gobbles and Gulps, where she enjoys sharing easy, relatable food and cocktail recipes, as well as travel and events-related features. Linda is also a contributor to several food, drink and travel sites where she dishes on everything you need to know when it comes to food and traveling.