On the corner of the main dirt road in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico there’s an empanada shack. It’s close enough to the beach that sand collects on the edge of the road and one can see where the ocean meets the horizon a mere 500 feet away. On a Monday afternoon, the line spirals around the block and awaiting customers fan themselves with their hands, trying to shield themselves from the unending heat of the sun. The menu, tacked up on the face of the roadside spot, boasts a few different flavors: pork, crab, chicken, yuca (cassava) and guineo (green banana). Wrapped in a small piece of tinfoil, staining a white paper plate with grease, the empanada is worth the wait, and happens to be one of the surf town’s delicacies.
Aguadilla, PR is located in the northwestern side of the island, on the opposite end of the country as San Juan, a more popular tourist destination. The city is known for its lengthy beaches and more prominently, for fantastic surfing. The city’s personality is perfectly encapsulated by its inhabitants: surfers. The culture –– from music to fashion to food fits into what the people want, which is how much of the best cuisine is beach-y casual.
The empanada shack–– and the surplus of others like it–– is the perfect example of a quick, casual, inexpensive food one can grab in close proximity to the beach, perhaps without even losing their spot on the sand or diverging from the surf.
The plethora of Puerto Rican street food, specifically in Aguadilla, allows for the townies and visitors to embrace the languid, informal nature of dining in the city. Though of course there are more formal restaurants, the culinary highlights of the tropical destination are overwhelmingly the street food delicacies.
Besides the empanadas, which are golden-fried and packed with a salty crunch, another staple in the Puerto Rican food pyramid is the “pincho.” Pinchos are the Puerto Rican version of kebabs, which can be made out of beef, chicken or pork. There is a vegetarian variation as well, though I wouldn’t recommend it unless a dietary restriction prohibits you from the more gluttonous options. They’re cooked on wooden skewers over a BBQ grill, slathered with some form of sauce (generally BBQ) and seasoned liberally. Pinchos are commonly sold out of the back of pickup trucks with attached grills in the parking lots of some of the major beaches, making for an easily accessible post-surfing (or sunbathing) lunch or snack.
Pinchos are often served with a side of white bread (to soak up the extra sauce) and cooked alongside tostones, which are easily one of the best, most popular street food options.
The tostone is comprised of green plantains that are fried and then mashed together to make a thick, circular, salted patty. Crunchy and distinctly yellow, the tostone is rarely served as a stand alone food, and can be compared to a french fry in the way in which it is often found on the side of an entree. Though they can be enjoyed as a solo dish, they are found to be a bit flavorless, and work better as either an accompaniment to something with excess sauce or dipped into a separate sauce themselves. The most popular condiment found on the side of this incredibly delicious dish is what’s called MayoKetchup. MayoKetchup, unsurprisingly, is a simple blend of mayo and ketchup often mixed with garlic, hot sauce or adobo for extra flavor. Tostones, which can be easily made in a kiosk or a fast-casual dining location, make for the perfect mid-afternoon snack, breakfast or lunch/dinner side dish. There’s something about the texture––oily, salty and wonderfully crispy–– that makes the tostone gluttonous and addicting.
Probably the most famous dish in all of Puertorican fast casual food is Mofongo. Mofongo is a pork and plantains dish, though it has a bunch of eclectic, unique variations. The plantains are mashed with salt, garlic and olive oil, combined with chicharrón (pork cracklings) and chicken broth. It’s served in a dome shape and due to the starchy nature of the plantains, soaks up any accompanying sauces or broths. One can find mofongo at any restaurant or kiosk in Puerto Rico and though it’s a bit fancier than the aforementioned items, mofongo is interesting in that its recipe is particularly flexible. Other variations include vegetables, octopus, beef, chicken or shrimp.
Though one would never call the Puerto Rican fast casual street food “healthy,” it fills a distinct purpose that serves the community of surfers, beach goers and farmers in Aguadilla who need on the go, inexpensive options to sustain themselves over long periods of time. From easy to-go breakfast staples like avena (condensed milk oatmeal) and mallorcas (ham and egg sandwiches) to empanadas and the like, the food fills not only the stomach, but the heart. All these wonderful food options are accompanied perfectly by an ice cold Medalla beer, an afternoon sunshine and company who has nowhere to go but a dip in the ocean.