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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.