So This is Mofongo

by Gray Cargill on April 6, 2010

Menu and Mojito at Raices

One of my goals for my trip to San Juan was to try mofongo, a local dish made of mashed plantains.  I was finally able to do this one night when I had dinner at Raices, a restaurant on Recinto Sur Street which was recommended to me by both locals and a tourist and seems popular with both.

Artwork at Raices

Raices is located on a busy street not far from the cruise ship docks with lots of foot traffic and plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating.  When I approached the hostess, she asked me if I would like to dine at the bar, and I was delighted they had one, so I said yes.  She led me deep into the restaurant, transporting me back to an earlier era in Puerto Rican history: The staff wear traditional Puerto Rican costumes–head wraps and ruffled skirts for the women, and stylish Panama hats, with loose-fitting, short sleeve shirts and slacks for the men. (I’m sure that part is for the tourists.)

Seating in Raices bar area

The bar is not in the main dining room, but its own small room.  I assumed there would be others dining at the bar (or at least drinking), but I wound up being the only customer for about twenty minutes, until a couple came in and sat at the far end.  The bar area, like the rest of the restaurant, is decorated in brightly-colored images of Puerto Rican culture.   There is very loud salsa music playing in the background.   The bar stools were made of wicker, and the barback was lined with liquor bottles.  Sadly, they use a machine to make their pina coladas.  I was sitting right next to it.  Sigh.  In any case, I did quite enjoy my mojito–it was very minty with a strong rum and lime taste.  Almost as good as the one at Cafe Berlin.  I ordered water with my meal as well, and it came served in a large tin mug.  Touches like the wicker barstools and the tin mugs really added to the charm of this place.

Salad at Raices

I knew I would order mofongo here, it was just a matter of which kind.  I decided to go with the mofongo with creole style shrimp and a small side salad. The salad was small, which was fine with me, and despite its simplicity, it hit the spot. But really, it was just a warm-up act for the main show.

The mofongo was served in a wooden vessel that was more like a mug than a bowl, but bigger and without handles.  There was a generous amount of creole shrimp on top of the mofongo and mixed in with it, and it was adorned with a plantain chip.

Shrimp Mofongo at Raices

Having never tried mofongo before, I am at a loss to describe it.  The consistency is mealy, almost like a baked potato, only denser and chewier.  The flavor was mild and not bad, but a bit bland.  Thank God for the creole shrimp, which provided more flavor to the dish.  In any case, I was glad I was able to try it.  It was a huge portion, though, and I couldn’t finish it all.  (Total cost: $27.77 before tip–driven up by the price of the mojito, no doubt.)

Because Raices is situated in the middle of the action in Old San Juan, not far from where the cruise ships dock, it is a busy restaurant and not cheap.  But for a fun atmosphere and good Puerto Rican and Caribbean cuisine, it’s a fine place to dine.  For me, as a solo diner, it would have been more fun if the bar area had been busier.  But that’s not the restaurant’s fault, just the luck of the draw.

MarkPowers October 16, 2010 at 6:26 am

Wish I could remember the name of the little restaurant in Viejo San Juan that served what they called “trifongo” . . . three types of plantains mashed together! And next time, you should also try “mofongo y pulpo” (octopus). One of my all-time favorites!

Anonymous October 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Octopus? Erm….think I’ll pass on that one.

SoloFriendly April 11, 2010 at 12:55 am

Rosa, thank you for your comment. It's a rare restaurant that gets approval from both tourists and locals, so Raices is obviously a good one. I misspoke about the side salad; you are correct, I did not order it, it came with my meal. Yeah, the restaurant struck me as rather loud as well (though the bar was pretty empty).

twinkle365 April 10, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I love Raices. I live in Puerto Rico and love going to Old San Juan or Caguas (where there is a Bigger Raices). It is usually crowded, loud and fun. Foods usually very good (I don’t eat mofongo but everything else I had is super yum! I love passion fruit or tamarind fruit smoothies (yes from a machine but great tasting all the same). By the way… you shouldn't order the side salad because everyone that orders a meal gets a side salad. Anyway I think it's the best place for adventurous tourists who want to try Puerto Rican food. It's also conveniently located for tourists visiting from cruise ships that usually only have a few hours to explore. Raices may be a bit pricey but compared to most restaurants in San Juan it is moderate (kind of depends on what you order). Do not recommend it for a quite, laid back or intimate experience…because it is usually very loud and crowded. But for great art, costumed servers and authentic food in Puerto Rico…Raices can't be beat”.

Sabina April 8, 2010 at 12:22 am

I love plantains. And I like great atmosphere. Thanks for writing this.

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