That night at José Enrique was one of the best meals of my life.
If only I could remember it.
Somewhere between the glazed chicken wings and the introduction of apio, a potato-like root vegetable, and the 900 mojitos I drank, things got hazy.
But before all that was the myth of José Enrique itself — the chef was recently named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine and the restaurant is lauded as THE place to eat when in San Juan.
We had to go.
Nestled in Santurce — San Juan’s largest neighborhood — Chef Enrique’s award-winning restaurant looked nothing like the glitz-spattered facades of San Juan’s restaurant-lined streets. In fact, the exterior was practically indistinguishable from the homes the restaurant borders — there’s no signage to guide you, and the area is dim, a tad rough around the edges. I wondered momentarily if the GPS had steered us wrong. But this aesthetic is wonderfully misleading, even charming, and speaks to the chef’s focus on ingredients and not glamour. The no-frills restaurant even reminded me of Mexico’s cocinas economicas — essentially someone’s house-turned-public dining room by day — as Jose Enrique was outfitted with a gate out front, a porch, front steps, a small dining room, an L-shaped bar, and a kitchen visible from it all.
My filmmaker friend Lydia Hyslop actually introduced Marisa and I. When Lydia learned I was headed to Puerto Rico, she connected us via Facebook. I’d never heard of José Enrique until Marisa told me it was a must do. She was obviously right.
We were handed no menus; rather, the night’s offerings were scrawled on a dry-erase board. They change daily.
But I can tell you that Chef Enrique is known for melding traditional Puerto Rican staples — we were presented with a huge side of pigeon peas and rice — with the island’s abundant seafood.
In between dishes, we had shots paired with cinnamon-dusted orange slices. A first.
And it was all downhill from here. We arrived early and stayed until closing where we effectively took over José Enrique. See Stacy’s Vine below.
We harassed waiters, patrons, took a tour of the kitchen, met a famous businessperson, ate ice cream, and Stacy somehow managed to keep it together enough to drive us back to our apartment.The next morning a vomit showdown ensued between Anne and me, but we both agreed our night at José Enrique was one of the best of our lives.
In San Juan or going there? You must visit José Enrique. It is exquisite.
Drink Marisa’s mojitos.
Have a shot.
Be prepared to wait — Jose Enrique doesn’t accept reservations. Or, if you’re lucky, find a seat at the bar like we did. The service is impeccable and the kitchen view ain’t bad either:
Check out this interview with Chef Jose Enrique at NBC Latino.