When we visited Puerto Rico we were honed into some foods that we wanted to try. Judy sent me an article before our trip, Ten Must-Try Puerto Rican Foods. It included lechon, spit-roasted pig, "a must-try dish for carnivores." Independently, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal, dated December 5, 2014, titled "Where to Find the Best Roast Pork in Puerto Rico." It called lechon asado, the traditional barbecued pig with crisp skin and tender meat, the unofficial Puerto Rican national dish. It is customarily accompanied by arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), another one of the ten must-try foods above, morcilla (blood sausage with rice) and guineos (green bananas). The article identified a number of restaurants devoted to roast pig, lechoneras, and the famous Route 184 in Guavate, 30 miles south of San Juan in the Sierra de Cayey Mountains. Route 184 is called a "rutas de lechon" because of its abundance of pig roasteries.
Los Pinos in Guavate is one of the best known because it has been featured on shows by Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. I recall seeing that Andrew Zimmern show and making a mental note that I would love to eat at that roast pig place some day. Here is that episode. I just now watched the episode with Anthony Bourdain and here is that episode. Having watched these episodes I am salivating and dying to dive in to some roast pork.
We rented a van in San Juan and along with Judy's brother and one of their sisters, and their spouses, we drove to Los Pinos. The area was full of rolling green hills covered in rain forest and Route 184 was dotted with lechoneras.
There is nothing fancy about Los Pinos. It reminded me of a large covered park seating area. A roast pig on a spit is visible in the front window and a cafeteria-like line winds around to a register where you can look at and order your food.
|A cavernous eating area with park-like tables.|
|Pig-on-a-spit in the front window.|
|Roast pig from the other side of the window.|
|Blow-up pigs in the rafters.|
We ordered rib and cheek meat and it was outstanding. The skin was too thick and tough to eat, so I chewed on it a little bit, then got down to the good stuff. It was moist and fatty, particularly the cheek meat which is just about as good as anything gets.
|The plate covered with pork skin.|
|With the pork skin removed, the soft, fatty roast pork is revealed beneath it.|
I saw gandinga, liver stew, on the menu and had to give it a try. Judy felt it was too livery and one taste was enough for her. It was chock-full of liver, but I thought it was pretty good, not overly livery. I had four or five bites, but wanted to save most of my room for pork.
We had some arroz con gandules, the rice with pigeon peas, and it was okay. Just regular rice and nothing stood out about the pigeon peas.
|Rice with pigeon peas.|
I'd read that their morcilla, blood sausage with rice, was bland. I found it very good. The rice provides some texture, the outer sausage casing was roasted and chewy and after a couple of nibbles by Judy, I ate the rest. Marvelous.
|Morcilla or blood sausage with rice.|
|A cross section shows how voluminous the rice is.|
We had batata, sweet potatoes, which were good, but who wants to fill up on that when there is roast pig?
Their potato salad was good and they had tembleque for dessert, a coconut custard dusted with cinnamon that was on the 10 must-try list. It was pretty bland, one taste was plenty. Better was their flan de queso, caramel cream cheese custard, which was more flavorful and had a nicer texture.
|Flan (left) and tembleque (right).|
I really can't think of anything better than a spit-roasted pig or a spit-roasted lamb. Culinary heaven. I'm fortunate not to live near here. I would have a hard time staying away.