Groups traveling to Puerto Rico almost invariably come back raving about the large portions of delicious food that they find at virtually every turn.
Some popular dishes are mofongo, containing mashed plantain, seasonings and a broad choice of fillings; arroz con grandules (pigeon peas with rice), which typically includes ham, pork, chorizo, red peppers and olives, along with sofrito, a secret Puerto Rican sauce; and lechon, a holiday specialty made by slowly roasting a whole pig on a spit.
These foods were available at many of the restaurants I visited on a recent media trip to Puerto Rico that included lodging at two impressive properties—El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo and The Condado Plaza Hilton in San Juan. We also visited nearby Palomino Island for some water-sports fun and spent several hours touring famous churches and other historic sites in Old San Juan.
Catering primarily to mainstream tourism, Old San Juan also is fantastic for true adventurers. Outside the main tourist hub are small, modest shops and restaurants that surprise you with their unique, often inexpensive offerings from Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.
Old San Juan also features some intriguing new spots, such as ChocoBar de CasaCortes, an innovative restaurant where chocolate is king. Used in many menu items, it’s paired with some atypical partners, including pork tenderloin, croquettes, vegetable dishes, and even grilled cheese and other sandwiches.
The restaurant is part of the Chocolate Cortes company, founded in 1929. It exports cocoa and chocolate products to Hispanic markets in the United States, Spain and throughout the Caribbean. “We’re a very old company that is bringing some new products in to modernize,” says Sergio Bevilacqua, general manager of the restaurant. “Our chocolate dishes are becoming more and more popular.”
But the building at 210 Calle San Francisco in Old San Juan isn’t just about chocolate—or even the restaurant. Above the restaurant sits the Chocolate Cortes Collection, an art gallery that features a wide variety of works from the Caribbean and Latin America. During my visit, an intriguing, cutting-edge exhibit depicting women of the Caribbean and Latin America was on display—but I didn’t see a hint of chocolate anywhere!