“Sounds of a San Juan night, drifting across the city through layers of humid air; sounds of life and movement, people getting ready and people giving up, the sound of hope and the sound of hanging on, and behind them all, the quiet, deadly ticking of a thousand hungry clocks, the lonely sound of time passing the long Caribbean night.”
-Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary
Old San Juan and Los Angeles - two cities in contrast. One is a gorgeous colonial jewel, an unhurried lady, one of the best-preserved cities in the world, nearly unchanged for centuries. The other is a sprawling, heavy-handed, modeling-clay chameleon, where urban agglomeration growth is unending and multilingual voter guides get amended global renderings before the ink ever dries.
Forget that Los Angeles is recognized as the most culturally diverse large city in the world, with a greater metropolitan area swollen with 20 million residents...the City of Los Angeles has never had a Puerto Rican restaurant...until last weekend.
Old San Juan Restaurant has officially opened in Atwater Village. Owners Ramon L. Galindo and Luis Castro (executive chef) have proudly filled the city's Puerto Rican dining vacuum, and seem encouraged so far by the entusiasmo from local Puerto Rican expats and other devotees of the cuisine. Puerto Rican restaurants have had a tough go of it in L.A.'s outlying communities, as West Indies dining endeavors have been notoriously short-lived. Chef Castro was a kitchen consultant for Jennifer Lopez when she launched Madre's in Pasadena. Unfortunately, J.Lo attempted her venture in the South Lake Avenue district, an area that for years has been chilly to new business, with no help from persnickety Pasadena diners. Madre's limped along in obscurity for several years before its unnoticed closure.
Old San Juan's food is authentic cocina criolla, as natives call their cuisine. Chef Castro has created a straightforward, traditional menu honoring dishes established in the 1800's, bearing the confluent, time-tested influences from African, Spanish and native cultures, the roots of Puerto Rican cooking.
Among their dishes are: Classic Monfongo (mashed plantains with meat, cheese or vegetable toppings).
Platillos de Carne, Pollo or Puerco accompanied by choices of sweet plantains, Tostones (delicious crispy, plantain patties), garlic sauce, red pepper sauce, mojo sauce, traditional rice and beans.
There are Pastelones (Puerto Rican lasagna of sweet plantains with layers of ground beef, ricotta and mozzarella cheese).
The Camaron en Salsa de Coco (shrimp served in a coconut-sofrito sauce) is a specialty and
Mahi-Mahi wrapped in Crispy Plantain is served with sautéed Spinach and taro root puree, coconut-sofrito sauce and tropical salsa.
Their classic sopas are highlighted by the Puree of Plantains with Cilantro, Onions and Crispy Plantains.
Try the Sample Plate of Appetizers, which includes a croqueta, pincho, pastelillo, bacalaito, alcapurria, pastel, sorullito, platanutre and malanga.
Entrees are $10-$16. Soups and appetizers are only $4-$8.
The full bar (try the Coquitos - coconut rum eggnog, or the fresh fruit Sangrias) and traditional desserts help sweeten the deal. The Caribbean color-splashed walls and the congenial staff help make this neighborhood eatery a warming island getaway.
Sunday-Thursday 10:00 AM-10:00P
Friday-Saturday 10:00 AM-Midnight
Old San Juan Restaurant
2830 Fletcher Drive
Atwater Village 90039