Rincón — Spanish for corner — is on the Western side of Puerto Rico, a two hour’s drive from San Juan.
Waiting for us was an enigmatic and as yet faceless man known only as Carlos, whose condo we’d be renting out. I’d texted with Carlos throughout the day and he’d informed me that Rincón was easy to get to, but hard to navigate once there — because the little surfing village doesn’t really have many road names. Using our GPS was useless as well. It was almost as if Rincón didn’t exist. I was intrigued.
One road name stuck out, however, and would foreshadow our entree into town.
Evening fell as we entered the village. We followed Carlos’ instructions of turning this way and that at specific landmarks and against all odds we successfully located a trove of oceanfront condominiums. Carlos met us ever so briefly at the front gate to exchange keys before speeding away in a fancy little car.
We were starving, but before we could leave the house to explore, a little disaster occurred. Not within 15 minutes of us being inside the condo, the toilet exploded.
There was a geyser, a lot of screaming, frantic running … Water gushed for minutes until we finally turned off the water valve in the bathroom. We got Carlos on the horn and he vowed a plumber was on his way.
Treading an inch of water throughout the house, we got the hell out.
But where to go?
The sleepy town of Rincón was almost fully dead, as it was the off-season. Restaurants shuttered and no one walking the streets, we managed to find the downtown area and wandered into a place called Brothers Pizza for a late slice.
The local ne’er–do–wells were congregated there and happy to engage us and provide the evening’s entertainment.
The older gentleman of the bunch asked us to meet him at the pizza parlor the next day at three, where he would feed us moringa tea and it would cleanse us and maybe we’d have some psychedelic experience … I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about.
But you know I was into the idea, anyway.
As for Anne. Not so much.
The skies darkened as we left San Juan. With crippling hangovers, we held the hope of pork before us — pork, that magical meaty cure, that salty warm bite, that crave-worthy combo of grease and protein that could surely transform our alcohol-induced woes into a thing of the past.
We had a date with Guavate, the pork capital of Puerto Rico.
Even Anthony Bourdain made this sacred trek from San Juan, down highway 52, and then onto PR-184, also known as the pork highway:
After the city’s bustle waned, we entered Guavate, a mountainous and lush region famous for its lechón, or roast pig. The idea is to cruise along the main road where lines of smoky, open-air lechoneras beckon. On Sundays, throngs of locals come out for merrymaking, Medalla Light, and dancing. While it’s almost impossible to choose which lechonera to dine in, we took a stab at Lechonera El Mojito, glowing like a beacon of hope, with its three kings.
I speak Spanish, but I couldn’t identify anything other than lechón, salchicha, arróz, and maduros. Foods were displayed in simmering metal squares, cafeteria-style, and I pointed out what we’d be trying — a little of everything. When in Guavate, after all.
Talk about cheap, delicious, and filling. Oh, and healing, too. After gulping such delicious grease down with a Coca-Cola, the hangover began to taper off. Just take a look at that crispy chicharrón and tell me that’s not a miracle.
After, we decided to hit up the store next door, Mi Ricon Salsero. Dedicated entirely to salsa artists, you can buy towels, t-shirts, jewelry, virtually anything emblazoned with the mugs of famous salsa stars. Did I know who any of them were? Absolutely not. But this store was by far the most charming I’ve ever been to. The prices weren’t the lowest, and I definitely need up up my ante when it comes to Spanish haggling, but who could resist this portrait of hip Jesus?
Not so fast.
“Señorita! Señorita!” shouted the owner of Mi Ricon Salsero.
We stopped in the parking lot and watched as he popped the trunk of his car and emerged holding a coconut … with a spigot.
Shotglass in one hand, he poured for me what’s known as pitorro, or moonshine, illegal in Puerto Rico and sketchy coming from a stranger — so of course I had to have it.
Like that, my hangover was finally gone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In San Juan or going there? You must visit José Enrique. It is exquisite.
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:
Check out this interview with Chef Jose Enrique at NBC Latino.
Yesterday I had one of those days that reminded me that I do truly love my job and the people I get to meet for a living.
Lured into the square by coworker and photographer Rose Lincoln, who had a scoop on a local shoe store selling new, limited-edition Harvard-inspired sneakers, we set off to see what the fuss was about.
What we found was a real life “sneakerhead” campsite: Throngs of mostly young men had come from both close and far to sleep outdoors and brave the weird weather as of late to purchase “Three Lies,” a collaborative shoe designed by Asics and Harvard Square shoe store Concepts. The shoe went on sale this morning at 10 a.m. with a limited run of 800 pairs.
The guys I met were warm, funny, candid, and, as always, I was ready to dive in with both feet. Pun intended.
Read more about the shoe and the campers from my story published today in the Harvard Gazette.