Mofongo is like the non-existent snowflake in the Caribbean, with no two being alike.
Every guide book and article on Puerto Rican cuisine raved about the mofongo as a must-try dish. And you definitely should try it. Prior to having it presented in front of me in Loquillo, I had little conception of what it was or how it would taste. Travel books describe it as mashed plantains combined with a meat. With each restaurant presenting a different variation, it’s tough to generalize the dish. The prices were mostly $12-20 for mofongo. Some places we saw charged more. The cost also depends on the meat you select.
Here’s my run down on what you can expect from mofongo.
#4 – La Parrilla
Luquillo, Puerto Rico 00773
This was our first foray into the world of mofongo. After some misadventures earlier in the trip with restaurants that no longer exist, we found our way to La Parilla after a day at Loquillo beach. There is a string of kiosks offering souvenirs and food. La Parilla, which means the grill, had high reviews and looked to have decent prices. The service was like the weather, warm and inviting. The chicken mofongo wasn’t what we had expected, not bad, just not what our mouths were anticipating. At La Parilla, their interpretation on the staple dish is more like a pork chop suey or Chinese chicken with peppers. It was still tasty, but not the garlic-filled wonderment we had hoped for. The portion was plenty for two people if you get a few appetizers. The plantains tasted more like mashed potatoes or yucca than plantains. We went during the week, so we lucked out to have both the beach and restaurant to ourselves. Their appetizers were OK. Nothing stellar.
Overall, this was our least favorite mofongo. If you’re in the vicinity after a day at the beach, I’d suggest going there. Otherwise, La Parilla is not worth the trip east for their Asian-inspired mofongo.
We ended up here on our hunt for Lechon, the other dish touted by all the guide books. Lechon is a roast suckling pig. I didn’t see it on any menus or featured in any dishes. I suspect this may be a local thing more so than tourist sampler. We asked our hotel if they knew where we could get some on our last night and they suggested another spot up the street. When we got to that restaurant, we checked the menu and asked the hostess. She advised us to go to Hennessy’s. Walking east on Recinto Sur while searching for Hennessy’s on my phone proved futile. It turned out the restaurant is called Genesis. Genesis is definitely more of a local spot than the other tourist-leaning locales. Think of your favorite tacqueria vibe. They have two TVs; one had an NBA game and the other Telemundo. The waitress was friendly and spoke english well. I normally use group think to help influence where I dine.
If it’s packed, you probably won’t yack.
There was a table of about 6-8 younger folks in a celebratory mood. A few other tables were occupied with families. The restaurant was more empty than full, but it smelled good. The food took a while to come to our table, but the waitress kept us updated on how much longer it would be. While we were hungry, I would rather food is made fresh instead of fast.
We ordered two pig dishes: smoked pork chops and then asked if we could get mofongo with pork. At first look, the mofongo looked light on pork chunks, but after some forking into it, we discovered more in the plantain mash. Their rustic mash tasted the most pure or authentic versus all the others. The missing factor was a sauce. The mofongo was surrounded by iceberg lettuce and two tomato slices. If there were a gravy, this would have been in the running for the crown.
I’ll admit, the photo doesn’t look the best. The green hue and ambiguous milky sauce don’t speak to the flavor of this mofongo. We had wandered around looking for a good spot and saw a lot of closed places. Insider tip: most of the restaurants are toward the south and east of Old San Juan. Fefo’s had a sign for happy hour. Leann and I love a good bargain AND we were hungry, so we sat down near the window looking out on Tanca. This had more of an upscale dive feel, if that is a thing. The happy hour drink special runs all day and is for 5-6 different drinks. We got two margaritas. Mine was with bitter passion fruit and Leann’s a sweeter local fruit.
The sauce made this #2. It was liquid garlic, but soft. The chicken was moist and tender. It looked and tasted like it had been poached in broth. The smashed plantains were tasty and chunky. We closed Fefo’s down before our nightly stroll through the streets.
Carretera 987 Kilometro 4
Fajardo, Puerto Rico 00738
Remember my adage about following the line? This was the first restaurant we tried to go to in Fajardo. Navigating Fajardo at night definitely requires GPS. La Estacion is off a two-lane road 987. There will likely be tons of cars outside and you’ll hear the din of a hopping restaurant. They were full to the red snapper gills our first night, so we ended up severely settling for Wendy’s. At a day of flying and driving, you don’t really care where you eat, just that you do.
Not to be deterred, we asked our hotel to make us a reservation after our Bio luminescence kayak adventure. What we failed to realize was we would be soaking wet, so we opted not to smell like mangroves while eating dinner. After a shower and dry clothes, we hit the road for La Estacion (the station). Their parking area wasn’t as full as our first night, but still lots of people. The restaurant was reminiscent of some of Chicago’s hot spots with a cocktail list and kitschy-tiki bar decor.
We ordered some apps and skirt steak mofongo. The server asked me how we wanted it cooked. I said medium rare and he responded with “medium.” We did this dance once more before he explained that getting skirt steak medium rare would be very chewy. I hadn’t intended on a verbal dance with the waiter, but after sipping our cocktails and munching small apps our mofongo with skirt steak arrived and my irritation passed. Maybe it was working up a huge appetite kayaking, or the steak or the cocktails, or maybe their mofongo was just that good. This was also the day we had our first mofongo near Loquillo. The steak was well-seasoned and the mofongo came in a wooden cup that looked like a molcajete. The cup was deceptively deep. Their plantains and yucca combo also had minced garlic. The steak created the sauce and the plantain mash was moist versus the others we had that were somewhat dry.
This was one of those dishes where as soon as it hits your tongue you look at your dinner partner and say “dios mio.”