Restaurant Takeover: José Enrique

That night at José Enrique was one of the best meals of my life.

If only I could remember it.

Somewhere between the glazed chicken wings and the introduction of apio, a potato-like root vegetable, and the 900 mojitos I drank, things got hazy.

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En route to Jose Enrique

But before all that was the myth of José Enrique itself — the chef was recently named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine and the restaurant is lauded as THE place to eat when in San Juan.

We had to go.

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Chef Enrique!

Nestled in Santurce — San Juan’s largest neighborhood — Chef Enrique’s award-winning restaurant looked nothing like the glitz-spattered facades of San Juan’s restaurant-lined streets. In fact, the exterior was practically indistinguishable from the homes the restaurant borders — there’s no signage to guide you, and the area is dim, a tad rough around the edges. I wondered momentarily if the GPS had steered us wrong. But this aesthetic is wonderfully misleading, even charming, and speaks to the chef’s focus on ingredients and not glamour. The no-frills restaurant even reminded me of Mexico’s cocinas economicas — essentially someone’s house-turned-public dining room by day — as Jose Enrique was outfitted with a gate out front, a porch, front steps, a small dining room, an L-shaped bar, and a kitchen visible from it all.

photo(41)As soon as we sat down, the drinks came. And came. And never stopped. Behold, Marisa, bartender extraordinaire and friend for life.

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Sunburned, drunk, red.

My filmmaker friend Lydia Hyslop actually introduced Marisa and I. When Lydia learned I was headed to Puerto Rico, she connected us via Facebook. I’d never heard of José Enrique until Marisa told me it was a must do. She was obviously right.

photo(45)And her mojitos were mind-erasing wonders.

We were handed no menus; rather, the night’s offerings were scrawled on a dry-erase board. They change daily.

But I can tell you that Chef Enrique is known for melding traditional Puerto Rican staples — we were presented with a huge side of pigeon peas and rice — with the island’s abundant seafood.

In between dishes, we had shots paired with cinnamon-dusted orange slices. A first.

photo(47)And it was all downhill from here. We arrived early and stayed until closing where we effectively took over José Enrique. See Stacy’s Vine below.

We harassed waiters, patrons, took a tour of the kitchen, met a famous businessperson, ate ice cream, and Stacy somehow managed to keep it together enough to drive us back to our apartment.The next morning a vomit showdown ensued between Anne and me, but we both agreed our night at José Enrique was one of the best of our lives.

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Popping in to greet the kitchen staff.

In San Juan or going there? You must visit José Enrique. It is exquisite.

Remember to:

Drink Marisa’s mojitos.

Have a shot.

Be prepared to wait — Jose Enrique doesn’t accept reservations. Or, if you’re lucky, find a seat at the bar like we did. The service is impeccable and the kitchen view ain’t bad either:

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 Check out this interview with Chef Jose Enrique at NBC Latino.