Puerto Rico: Piñones

by jenjenk on March 10, 2013

pinones-11The measurement of distance is subjective.  I learned this on my quest to find Piñones in Puerto Rico last summer. I had finished my work for the day and had a few hours of free time to discover for myself if Piñones, off highway 187 just outside of San Juan, was really the fried paradise that it was cracked up to be. I managed to squeeze myself into a pair of shorts, throw on my tennis shoes, grab my cellphone, some cash and a credit card and headed down to the lobby of the hotel.

“How far is Piñones?” I asked the valet.

“Hmmm…it’s about…well, about a mile away or so,” he responded hesitantly.

“Are you sure? I’m thinking about running to Piñones and if it’s too far, I might die.” I declared dramatically.

“Umm.  Let me check…hey guys,” he called to his colleagues, “how far do you think Piñones is…”

“Oh, it’s like a 15-20 minute walk,” a young American valet with perfect hair answered confidently, “you just have to get to the bridge and it’s right passed the bridge…it’s a….uh….20 minute walk. 2 miles, tops.”

I tried to give him my best piercing stare but I don’t think he fell for it.  He did offer to get me a taxi, which I turned down.  One of the best ways to get to know an area is by foot and considering that today’s destination was a deep fried food paradise, I felt it was imperative that I get some exercise before my quest.

After running for about 20 minutes [surely I run faster than people walk, so shouldn’t I have hit the bridge at least 10 minutes ago??], I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach, which had no relation to my hunger. To my right, I see cars stuck in a traffic jam worthy of Los Angeles, to my left I see tons of families picnicking happily at the beach on the Sunday afternoon heat. Dead ahead, I did not see a bridge.

I slowed my pace to admire the views, to take in the sound of laughing families, and to breathe in the smell of the barbecue grills filled with meats.  I halfway hoped that THIS was Piñones and I was just directionally confused.  The curious stares that were pinpointed on me as I inched closer to the grills were indication enough to me that I was not at Piñones.

The first indication that I arrived at my destination was the colorful murals of slaves that splashed on the walls of an old building. The area was originally the settlement of the African slaves that were brought in to work the sugarcane fields.

pinones-13Along route 187, kiosks lined either side of the highway, filled with banana, cod fritters, pork, and chicken roasting over open flames ranged in price from $2 – $3.

PinonesfoodLooking at the kiosks, it’s hard to gauge what the food and safety ratings are…somewhere below an “F”.  Some keys to picking the right kiosks:

  • crowds of locals,
  • lots of families with kids eating at the kiosk [what parent wants to deal with a sick kid?]
  • frequent turnover of food,
  • constant grilling/deep frying of new food [if they aren’t cooking anything, you don’t know how long it’s been sitting around]
  • the dreaded line, if there’s a line, there’s frequent turnover and people are there because they like it

vendorsDon’t be afraid to ask the patrons what their favorite thing from the vendor is.  People will even volunteer information when you’re torn with indecision.  Or just have one of everything.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ayngelina March 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm

That looks like my kind of place. I would definitely have one of everything.
Ayngelina recently posted..Thriving on uncertaintyMy Profile

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jenjenk March 11, 2013 at 8:32 pm

seriously – i would love to go eat street food with you!! we could go head to head! :)

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Lauren, Ephemerratic March 16, 2013 at 11:31 am

Great suggestion to ask the locals what their favorite food at the market is! I mean, if you ask a group of San Franciscans where the best burrito is, we’ll probably talk about it for ages and get quite opinionated about it. Can’t wait to try this out in Oaxaca’s markets.
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jenjenk March 16, 2013 at 4:53 pm

HA! if I asked a San Franciscan where the best burrito is, there might be a brawl! :)

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