251 Calle San Justo
Homey Food in the Cultural Center of Old San JuanI've often taken the eight-minute stroll down the cobblestone streets lined with colorful houses from La Fortaleza (the governor's residence) for a simple lunch in the 60-year-old Cafe Manolin. When my family and I need a break from the sun beating down on us, we sit among the workers scarfing down cod salad. And every time I show my friends around Old San Juan, our afternoon ends with them practically licking off every last grain of rice on the plate. The cafeteria-style restaurant offers "comida criolla," what we locals consider standard Puerto Rican fare that has a taste of home. The specials change daily, but my staples have always been available. For lunch or dinner, I recommend the bifstec, a thin beef steak cooked with plenty of onions. I also drool over the thought of the carne mechada, slices of beef in sofrito (a Puerto Rican seasoning), cooked with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, cooking ham, and laurel leaves. Whatever you order, make sure to try the mofongo (one of the best foods available on the island), which is mashed plantain with lots of flavor. Make sure to leave room for dessert, since the tres leches (three milk cake) and flans are made in-house. Manolin also offers breakfast, which tastes best ordered with freshly squeezed orange juice or coffee made grandma-style.