Lunch at Cafe Berlin, San Juan

by Gray Cargill on March 26, 2010

Cafe Berlin

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.

Cafe Berlin

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).

Mojito Cafe Berlin

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.)

Vegetarian Sandwich, Cafe Berlin

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.

SoloFriendly March 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm

To be fair, the price would not have been so high had I not had that mojito. If I had just had the sandwich, the price would have been reasonable. (Alcohol is so expensive in tourist areas!) So I really only have myself to blame. 🙂 Your meal in the Catskills sounds awful. It should be illegal to serve people spray cheese in a restaurant.

grrrltraveler March 31, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I like how Cafe “Berlin” considers themselves vegetarian. tee hee. OMG that waitress could have at least let you enjoy the atmosphere cause it seems like they were charging you rent w/ your sandwich. Maybe it was the import cost of that hummus. But I know how it goes w/ the traveler on the road thing– sometimes, there's not much choice. Once I stopped at a restaurant in the Catskills– boons-vlle. It was very meaty & posh-looking so I ordered their “fruit & cheese” platter. Cost was close to your P.R. veggie sandwich…I got Ritz crackers, spray bottle cheese & 3 slices of cantaloupe! Serves me right for trying to be a vegetarian in the Catskills.

SoloFriendly March 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Wow, 4 months in a monastery? Sounds fascinating. What prompted that? I don't think it would be too hard to go veggie for 4 months as long as the food is good and varied. Just make sure you get plenty of protein.

floreta March 27, 2010 at 10:47 am

oooh i'd love it there! very nice artwork too. I play violin so I appreciate this a lot 🙂

i love going vegetarian even though i am a guilty carnivore. i'm going to be staying in a monastery and going vegetarian for 4 months though! hopefully i can keep it up after the retreat..

SoloFriendly March 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Trust me, it took a lot of will power not to order a second one.

Keith March 26, 2010 at 9:13 pm

That mojito's making my mouth water.

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