Making the Most of My Short Visit to Puerto Rico

I went to Puerto Rico, where I lived for 15 yrs growing up, for a long weekend after a 5-year absence.  It is always an interesting trip when I go with the mix of family, friends, and lots of memories.  Most of my family has moved away from there and many friends are no longer there either but I still never have time to see the ones who remain.  Also, I never have enough time to see things I want to re-visit or things that I just plain and simple have never seen before (like La Parguera or the Bacardi distillery, must-sees).  It is funny how that goes!  While this trip was due to a family member’s illness, I did get a little time to go around some.

I had never spent too much time (other than driving through) some of the towns due west of Bayamón.  In particular, I saw more of Vega Baja, Vega Alta, and Toa Baja in a day or two of going from place to place this weekend that the sum of the time I ever spent there before.  It is interesting to see how densely populated some of these towns can be (and how bad traffic can be!).  Yet, along the coast (where the “Baja” towns are) I saw some of the “‘hidden away” beaches I had never been to before, far away from tourist areas and the local crowds (like Los Tubos and Puerto Nuevo, which I hear surfers love).

In terms of food, my Dad took me to a real treat of a place, La Casita Blanca, a small restaurant of typical Puerto Rican food near Barrio Obrero, a neighborhood that had glory days a long time ago but that even in my childhood was already known for higher levels of crime and, therefore, a “must stay away from” area.  The restaurant is quaint and picturesque and is located in a semi-residential, semi-commercial street (Ave. Tapia).

Casita Blanca in Barrio Obrero in Puerto Rico

When you sit down to eat, they serve you not only the typical basket of garlic bread but also fried cod (“bacalaito“), and a small serving of an awesome chicken soup.  When you are done, they serve you a small dose of anise to cleanse the palate.  I had to go for the carne frita (friend pork chunks) and mofongo (friend mashed plantains) – one of my favorite Puerto Rican dishes!  The place was a really neat hole-in-the-wall that had a lot of character, great food, and friendly staff.

Barrio Obrero in Puerto Rico

A house in the old part of Barrio Obrero

Finally, I had to have my “quesitos“, a Spanish-influenced pastry filled with cream cheese that I can’t find at home (though I have it whenever I go to Miami or Tampa).  My favorite place to eat these in PR is La Ceiba on Ave. Roosevelt.  That, a “croqueta de jamón” and a cortadito (coffee and milk) make for a most bodacious breakfast!  A sister bakery to La Ceiba is La España, on Ave. Baldorioty near the airport (next to a cemetery and across from another one!).  So, not only do I enjoy going to La Ceiba but on the way out of the island, I make a stop at La España to eat some goodies, and take some home with me :)

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