A few posts back we mentioned a place in Old San Juan we had been dying to go eat at called El Caldero Sabroso. Well, we hadn't mentioned the name per se, just the spot. Both times they had been closed. But to their credit, it was pretty late in the evening. It's located on 366 San Francisco Street, between O'Donnell & Tanca streets, and less than a block from Plaza Colón.
El Caldero Sabroso looks as "mom & pops" as anything possibly could. Well, it's all clean and nice, but we were sold at seeing a lady cooking over the same stove we have at home. Signs of good food? Cooking home-style food in a home-style kitchen. No fancy Viking or Wolf commercial ranges here. Nope. Just a Kenmore stove and some other basic, down home kitchen equipment.
We were meeting friends that evening in Old San Juan and decided to go early and try to catch El Caldero Sabroso before they closed. We arrived later than planned, around 9:00pm, and were delighted to hear from Mari, the cook/server/host that - of course - they were open. Even for a group of 6!!
The place is small, but easily seats more or less 20-30 diners if needed. The side you enter through has a few tables and a long counter, behind which the home stove is clearly visible. We stepped into the air-conditioned room next door and joined two 4-top tables to accommodate our group of 6. As soon as we sat down, friendly Mari came out with menus and asked if we would like something to drink.
They don't serve alcohol, but they are BYOB, so bring your own wine or beer if you like. Fortunately, there's a store right next door where we bought some Medalla Lights. What else goes good with down home Puerto Rican cuisine?
Mari gave us some time to look at the menu. At the entrance they have the Daily Specials posted in a white dry-erase board. The regular menu itself is vast and varied, easily allowing all palates to find something enticing. They have chicken, pork, beef, and seafood. As well as many sides, and some salads.
One person ordered the Bistec Encebollado ($8.95) con arroz con habichuelas (onioned steak with white rice and red beans). Another ordered Carne Frita ($8.95) con Tostones (fried pork chunks with twice fried plantains) while another ordered the same pork chunks but with Maduros/Amarillos (ripe fried plantains). The last three ordered the Mofongo relleno de Camarones ($12.95 - fried mashed plantain stuffed with shrimp) where one person ate the entire thing by themself (Pig!) and the other one was shared by a couple.
Mari herself had recommended the Mofongo when asked for a suggestion. Along with the Chicharrones de Pollo. But something about the Mofongo piqued our curiosity. As well as the fact that we hadn't had Mofongo relleno de Camarones in about a decade. Possibly more. What the heck had we been holding back for?!
As we waited we looked around and admired the decor which stayed traditional to the Old San Juan style of checkerboard tiles, high ceilings, wood beams, wooden shutters, and the such. The food took about 20-some minutes. We weren't timing it to the second, but we didn't get antsy waiting, so we guesstimated those 20ish minutes.
The Mofongo was HUGE! On top you could see about half a dozen shrimp in a "Criollo-style" sauce, usually made with onions, tomatoes and or tomato sauce, and more spices and flavorings. As we ate we easily found at least a dozen or more large shrimps in total. No skimping here, no way! When's the last time you had mofongo with more than a dozen shrimp??? Some bites of mofongo provided crispiness, while others were smoother. Everything was well-seasoned and filling. The salad accompanying the food was unnecessary, but hey, it's always there when eating Puerto Rican food, so we welcomed it as well.
The Carme Frita arrived glistening, piping hot, and covered in some deliciously caramelized onions. They tasted like confit onions. The tostones were nice and crisp while the maduros were golden, delicious, and melt in your mouth soft. The Carne Frita could've used a bit more cooking time to help make it more tender. But the flavors and seasonings were great.
Last to reach the table was the Bistec Encebollado with rice and beans. That too was a generous portion and filled the plate. The beans came on the side. We would've preferred a longer cooked steak to increase the tenderness of the steak, but were satisfied with the flavors and seasoning.
Needless to say, we housed our meals. Devoured. Mari came by often to check how we were doing. Later on the owner showed up, but we weren't able to get her name. She was very friendly, nice and made everyone feel comfortable and at home.
The entire meal came to a little over $56 for 6 people. Not bad at all. We were provided with some yummy food and attentive and friendly service. Although the food was yummy, technique-wise there's room for improvement, specifically with meat cooking. But they're doing fine just as is for being the newest kid in town.
We're just happy we now have a sure-fire GOOD spot for a quick and inexpensive lunch/dinner in Old San Juan. We can't wait to go back and try some of Mari's other specials. They're on their way to being a GREAT in our book if they focus a bit of attention to refining their cooking (i.e. cook pork longer). They've only been there a few months, but we have a feeling - and hope - they remain there for quite a while. We can't wait to return and try more of Mari's yummy food and great service.
El Caldero Sabroso (Puerto Rican)
- Neighborhood: Old San Juan
- Address: 366 San Francisco Street, San Juan, PR 00901
- Phone: 787.948. 6479 | 787.721.3832 | 787.688.8885
- Hours: 7 days a week, 11am-10pm, some nights until midnight
- Payment: Cash, ATH/ATM, Major CC
- Parking: On the street or down on Recinto Sur Street Parking Garages