As our dinner party agreed one night, there’s not much that doesn’t benefit from being deep fried. And when you’re eating in Puerto Rico, the fryer is your friend. Case in point: the plantain. Delicious on its own, but mashed and deep fried into a crispy tostone turns this banana cousin into culinary goodness that appreciated by even the pickiest toddler.
Puerto Rican fare is hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kinda food – savoury meats served with rice & beans, the aformentioned tostones, and our favourite: mofongo. Mofongo is mashed green plaintains filled with veggies and either seasoned beef, chicken, or shrimp. Yes, it is as good as it sounds.
In Puerto Rico, food is a big deal, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat Puerto Rican food. Every type of cuisine is available here, as well as your usual fast-food suspects. And although we didn’t have a chance to eat there, apparently El Hamburger kicks the Golden Arches’ butt.
(**note** We’ve never eaten there while traveling, but the familiar McDonald’s golden arches are a welcome sight when you’re wandering through an unfamiliar place and you hear “Mommy, I need the potty!”)
But I digress…
Interested in a Puerto Rico restaurant? We ate at a bunch of great places and they were all baby or kid-friendly to boot!
La Vista Restaurant & Ocean Terrace
(lower level of the San Juan Marriott hotel)
As we were hosted by the San Juan Marriott, of course we ate at their restaurants! La Vista is about to be renovated, but we were given sneak taste of their new menu plus their kids’ options as well. The food was really good – a couple of stand outs being the Puerto Rican pulled pork with rice & beans, and the shrimp ceviche was delicious. The kids’ menu wasn’t just relegated to chicken fingers & fries, and Megan really enjoyed the little mini-burger and the chicken cordon bleu. If your little traveler is not an adventurous eater, you can request simpler fare with no issues or attitude.
The menu wasn’t finalized yet so I can’t speak to price, but the food was great, the service was very friendly, and the view of the Atlantic Ocean is priceless. Once the renovation is complete, La Vista will certainly be a destination restaurant in itself.
(in the lower level of the San Juan Marriott hotel)
Also located in the San Juan Marriott is the Ristorante Tuscany. I am a big fan of Italian food, so I was expecting to enjoy my food. I wasn’t disappointed. The pear and gorganzola salad was divine and so was the Fettuccine Michelangelo. The prix fixe menu is good value, and there is complimentary valet parking if you’re not a guest of the hotel.
Jam Rum Bar + Bistro Moderne
1400 Magdalena Ave., San Juan 00907, Puerto Rico (787 721 5991)
(in the Condado section of new San Juan – within walking distance of most Condado hotels)
Jam doesn’t look like the type of restaurant I’d typically take my kids to. Don’t get me wrong, they’re mostly well-behaved so long as they’re not too tired… But Jam looks trendy and modern and so does its clientele, who didn’t look overly thrilled to see a gaggle of kids enter the restaurant.
The cocktail menu had a kids’ section, and my daughter enjoyed a virgin pina colada before her dinner. Other kids’ cocktails included milk “chocotinis”, which come in a fancy glass. Selections on the children’s menu ranged from traditional Puerto Rican fare (my daughter loved the Churrasco beef and tostones) to plain pasta or chicken fingers.
But the real bonus of Jam (and probably why our fellow diners breathed a sigh of relief) is their playroom.
Stocked with movies, crayons, and blocks, the playroom allowed the grownups to linger over dinner and dessert while the kiddos were occupied in the adjacent room.
Jam’s Latin-fusion menu was amazing and reasonable. I had Puerto Rican pork on a bed of pumpkin risotto with carmelized onions. It was fantastic. The white bean soup as a starter deserves an honourable mention too – I was sad when it was finished!
If your baby is on table food, most of the dishes were soft enough or could be easily mashed for little mouths. They did have a high chair, but no change table in the bathroom. There is a bench outside the playroom that, in a pinch and with a mat, could be used to change baby.
Ordinarily we wouldn’t give a restaurant like Jam a chance with our kids in tow. I’m so glad to see how welcoming they are to families.
Recinto Sur St #315 Old San Juan PR 00933 (787-289-2121)
It’s a fun restaurant in a touristy part of Old San Juan, but the mofongo was delicious and the atmosphere is very festive. The staff and servers are dressed in traditional garb, and the food and drinks are served in tin dishes and cups. It’s close quarters inside but doesn’t feel overly crowded (we were there at lunch and it was quite full). The washrooms are surprisingly spacious and do have change tables.
In addition to our group there were a number of families with babies and toddlers eating there, as well as quite a few locals. Again, the kids’ menu was mostly Puerto Rican fare (Churrasco strips & tostones for Megan again!) with the usual suspects available as well. I had the garlic shrimp mofongo, and it was great. A side of rice & beans was also delicious, but the portions are so large we would have been better off sharing. The children’s portions are so large that even though my daughter ate quite a bit, her plate looked untouched. Mostly this is just me being picky about wasting food!
The menu is a bit on the pricey side for dinner, but the lunch specials are exceptional and well worth the money. Go for lunch, order a bunch of different things, then get a doggie bag and you’re set for dinner as well!
Normally when we travel, we try to limit eating out to just dinner. The Walgreens in Condado (right across from the Marriott) has a full grocery section that was very handy for milk, cereal, crackers and cheese. I was able to pick up juice and snacks there as well. The baby food section offered organic choices (Gerber, I think) and even the Baby MumMum teething crackers that Bub loved and I was unable to find in Florida.
There are plenty of cool treats on the hot streets of Old San Juan – coconut ice cream from vendor (yum!) and especially Piraguas – shaved ice with syrup. There are more flavours in San Juan than at home. The lime is highly recommended.
Aside from a few tight spaces, most places (even in Old San Juan) were accessible and fairly stroller-friendly. In terms of feeding a family, Puerto Rico is an easy destination with loads of options at every price point. My only complaint about the food in Puerto Rico is that my clothes were a little snug on the way home 😉