I just want to go on record as saying that, even though I am a (guilty) carnivore, I do like to go meatless sometimes. But finding good vegetarian options can often be difficult when traveling. Before I went to San Juan, I had read about this little cafe that served quite a few vegetarian options called Cafe Berlin. I never made specific plans to eat there, but as it turned out, it was one of the closest eateries available when I cut short my visit to Fort San Cristobal because my stomach was growling out of control. (My stomach is a beast. I know better than to make it wait.)
Cafe Berlin is a cute little cafe on Plaza de Colón, very tastefully decorated in warm colors and attractive artwork, with dining inside and out. It was a very hot and humid day, so I chose to dine inside, where ceiling fans circulated cool air. While there is a long bar here that would be ideal for solo dining, I chose to sit in the front of the restaurant, which seemed more inviting thanks with its large, sunny windows. I chose an unobtrusive corner seat so I could spread out my camera gear and journal.
My waitress spoke excellent English, so I didn’t have the opportunity to practice my Spanish, except for trying to eavesdrop on the two women next to me holding a rapid-fire conversation in Spanish, but their speed was beyond my skill level. Most of the clientele seemed to be tourists, including a table of young women in their twenties, a couple, and a table of three businessmen who asked the waiter to take their picture. I was the lone solo diner at lunch that day, but it didn’t bother me (or anyone else that I could tell).
The menu is indeed filled with creative vegetarian offerings (many of which are also on the pricey side for lunch). I decided to go for one of the cheaper options, the aptly named Vegetarian Sandwich, so I could also have a mojito without busting my lunch budget (which I did anyway). It was a strong and flavorful mojito, packed with mint leaves and lime. I liked it very much. (No, I don’t know if they made it from a machine.)
The veggie sandwich was also delicious. It was layered with tomato, sprouts, red onion, lettuce and cucumber slices, served on a soft, warm roll smeared with an excellent hummus that tasted freshly made. It was served with some tortilla chips on the side. The amount of food was perfect for me. (Cost: $18.99 before tip.)
My experience here was sort of the opposite of that at Cafeteria Mallorca, where I was in a hurry to get going, but the service was so incredibly slow. Here, the mojito, my well-fed tummy, and the background music–an eclectic combination of latino music, old standards, and gospel-infused R&B–put me in a relaxed mood that made me wish to linger a bit. This was the first chance I’d had all day to collect my thoughts in my journal on what I’d seen and experienced so far.
But every time I put down my food and picked up my pen, my waitress was in my face, asking me if everything was all right, if she could get me something else, if I was done eating, would I like the check. I kept assuring her everything was fine and I’d let her know if I needed anything. She was incredibly earnest and polite about it, but she didn’t seem to understand that I just wanted to take my time over lunch. The restaurant wasn’t full, so I don’t think there was any concern about turning over the table. Maybe she was worried I was a food critic. I really can’t say. All I know is, I finally gave up and asked for the check and left.
In any case, if you’re looking for some good grub (including vegetarian) in a nice atmosphere in Old San Juan, you can definitely get it here. Just don’t expect it to be cheap and don’t expect to linger.