As I mentioned in previous posts, Nancy and I stayed in Condado. It’s an area of high rise hotels and good restaurants, many of which I had researched in advance. La Joya is a pretty new place within 100 yards of our hotel. I had not researched it and didn’t pay a lot of attention until I walked by and saw a large object out front wrapped in black plastic and with a metal pipe sticking out of each end. I walked on, then turned around and went back to double check it. I went in and asked, “Is that a pig?” Indeed it was, and they planned to serve it that evening. I don’t need to be told twice, and …. well, Nancy wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I keep telling her, “If a man says he’s going to do something, he is going do it, and he doesn’t need to be reminded every six months.” That aside, Nancy certainly would agree that I don’t need to be told twice about pork, and we went back that evening for dinner.
I had finally figured out that with my huge complimentary hotel continental breakfast, there was no reason to eat lunch, so I had an appetite. We started with the fish taco appetizer. La Joya has another appetizer of tiny filets of juvenile red snapper which they fry for only 10 seconds. (The main course whole fried red snapper takes longer of course.) At any rate, they use the flash-fried baby snapper for the fish tacos, and they are just delicious. The fish is lightly coated with corn meal for that nice touch of crunch. The fish are topped with cabbage and a light and very flavorful sauce. Excellent, and only $12 for three tacos, enough to make a full meal.
I highly recommend La Joya.
But then there was the pig.
Nancy and I both followed our delicious appetizer with the set roasted pork plate. It came with pork, a healthy piece of pork skin, morcillas (blood sausage), a pastelle (a sort of tamale with meat in smashed green bananas rather than corn meal, and cooked wrapped in a banana leaf), plantains in a garlic and onion eschabeche, and a rice and peas mixture.
Let me repeat here that La Joya has a lot of very good points. The menu is interesting and they do a lot of things well in addition to the snapper. The morcilla was quite good, with none of that off-putting iron taste. The pastelle also was very good, and the rice and peas were fine. Prices are very reasonable. If you’re staying in Condado, you definitely should think of going there. But you should, metaphorically speaking, fill your ears with wax as Odysseus did for his crew, lest you succumb to the siren song of a whole roast pig.
I asked the manager for some meat from the pork cheeks, but was told that, as a practical matter, they had to start from the rear of the spitted pig (the hams): if they removed a cheek, the whole face would fall off. That struck me as a mere aesthetic concern, but I decided not to argue. I should have thought for a minute and ordered something else, perhaps the shrimp with orzo carbonara — that sounds good, doesn’t it? But I was star-struck, and stayed true to the pig. As a consequence, I wound up with pork from the ham, a relatively lean chunk of pig.
And, as it happened, La Joya had picked up a roasted pig early that morning out somewhere near Guavate, and then started reheating it over a gas fire around 6:00 p.m. Worse, they had neglected to read my invaluable advice on how to re-heat large chunks of pork, including in bad weather. The pork skin was fine, nice and crisp and flavorful. Between the low-fat ham and the re-heating, however, the pork itself was dry, and its flavor a mere shadow of its pristine self. Thinking of Orozco, I asked for some hot sauce to liven the pork, but their hot sauce turned out to be pure heat with no flavor. The eschabeche helped some, but it was not nearly as lively as the similar but scotch bonnet-infused escovitch we had at, say, the Heritage Cafe in the Caymans.
I know, I know. I should have thought through the situation and ordered something other than the pork, but consider my situation: I had discovered that I wouldn’t be able to go to Guavate. There were no rental cars available in all of San Juan, nor were there any day tours running to Guavate. Well, there was one that would have run $300 for transportation, and I have my limits. With my great pork hopes dashed, I was in the posture of an alcoholic about to resort to swilling cooking sherry for lack of anything drinkable.
So the pork was a bust, but then it was sort of tacked onto their menu. I would go back to La Joya in a heartbeat for that fried snapper, and to explore their menu more broadly. I’d go on a weeknight, when there’s no whole pig to distract me. La Joya is a very good place if you stay within their specialties, and skip the gimmicks. Go there carefully.
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