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Review of Vejigante Restaurant in Luquillo, Puerto Rico

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Review of Vejigante Restaurant in Luquillo, Puerto Rico Photo © Zain Deane

A Kiosk Among Kiosks:

First, a word about the Luquillo Kiosks. If you havent' been to this string of 60 or so rustic bars and eateries along Route 3, you're missing out on a gastronomic experience. You can find everything here from gourmet burgers to Peruvian ceviches to, of course, some terrific local cuisine. And Vejigante, or Kiosk #31, is about as good as it gets for gourmet-quality Puerto Rican cooking in a colorful, humble setting. The kiosk stands out for its bright orange, red and yellow sign and its colorful vejigante paintings and masks. But it's the food that will make you remember why you came to the Luquillo Kiosks.

The Setting:

Vejigante is a colorful place, with a bar that opens toward the street (where they serve a potent margarita, by the way) and a colorful main dining highlighted by a mural of dancing masked vejigantes. The room fits only a handful of tables, and at the back of the restaurant is a pool table that patrons can use at their leisure.

On the Menu:

The food at Vejigante isn't your typical local fare. It's Puerto Rican cooking done with unexpected flare. Take, for example, the lobster asopao, or a kind of gumbo, in a saffron broth: it's not your average bowl of soup. Neither are the the trio of salads, itself a rarity on a Puerto Rican menu. Rather than a basic combination of greens, the salads here are a little more complex, like avocado and chicken with baby greens, tomato and plantain strips. As for appetizers, the pan-seared codfish cakes we tried were meaty and flavorful, and the coconut turnovers (a special that night) were out of this world, just sweet enough to pair with a tropical sauce. But my favorite starter was the chicharrones de pollo, or fried chicken. Usually, these are deep-fried, dry chunks of chicken, salty and crispy and generally pretty tasty. At Vejigante, they come drenched in a delicious tamarind glaze and served with a plantain chip.

For the main course, we tried two dishes: the chillo entero, or whole red snapper deep-fried and served with fries, and the trifongo with churrasco (steak). A trifongo is a variation of mofongo, Puerto Rico's most ubiquitous and popular dish. Whereas mofongo is typically made of mashed green plantain or mashed yuca (cassava), the trifongo is a mash of green plantain, yuca and sweet yellow plantain. Smothered in garlic, it was honestly one of the best mofongos I've ever had, and its stuffing of succulent chunks of steak was greatly enhanced with the addition of roast garlic and onion. As for the red snapper, it was a visually striking dish (unlike the trifongo, which is almost never all that appealing a plate of food to look at), and perfectly seasoned and cooked. A flaky and meaty fish, it was enough to satisfy two people.

My one regret was not being able to sample other dishes, like the crabmeat fried rice with stewed beans or sugar cane shrimp kebabs. Each night, a handful of specials is also scrawled on a white board, in case you don't find what you're looking for on the menu. But either way, you'll find inventive flavor combinations and gourmet twists on classic Puerto Rican staples. It's not what you might expect in a kiosk, but then, these are the Luquillo Kiosks, and I've long stopped doubting the talent of the chefs who run them. I recommend Vejigante equally to those who have never tried Puerto Rican cooking and to those who are connoisseurs of comida criolla. And to prove my point, when my family (made up of both groups) visited Puerto Rico, this was one of the highest-rated dinners they enjoyed during a weeklong stay.

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