We first visited Jose Enrique's spot in Santurce while out around La Plazita a few months ago. We had left the usual revolú (clustermess) of La Plazita @ Calle Canals and walked over to Jose Enrique's spot on the corner of Duffaut & Orbeta Streets. We knew we had found an awesome spot when we heard the groovy reggae beats coming from inside. We opened the doors and entered what has become one of our favorite places in Puerto Rico: Jose Enrique. That night we also had the luck and pleasure of meeting an extremely talented young man: DJ Velcro (Andrés). He was the artist responsible for the great beats playing and to which everyone was dancing to. As we got to know the people there we found out Jose Enrique was actually a restaurant. We met Jose that night as well, learned a little bit about his background and food, and vowed to come and try out his food. We're so glad we finally got the chance. Jose Enrique, the man and the restaurant, BOTH rock
We visited Jose Enrique for lunch. By the time we got there, most of our group was already there when we arrived. As soon as we sat down we were offered drinks by Juan, who turned out to be an EXCELLENT server. He and his fellow workers were phenomenal.
Juan said they had fresh juices from Puerto Rico: china (orange), toronja (grapefruit), and agua de coco (fresh coconut water). Fresh coconut water? Like from a coconut? From a palm tree? Yes people, fresh coconut water. Oh the joys of having the Plaza del Mercado a block away.
You see, a huge part of the charm and attraction of Jose Enrique is its proximity to Santurce’s Plaza del Mercado (PR's version of a farmer's market) located a mere block away. Given one can usually find the freshest produce and other ingredients at any town’s Plaza del Mercado, you can bet on Jose Enrique cooking some of San Juan’s freshest food around.
Jose Enrique is extremely casual and welcoming. No stuffiness. Nothing intimidating. Instead, you can't help but to feel at home and among friends when going there. The little art deco house it's located in is in itself unmarked. You wouldn’t know it was a restaurant if you simply walked or drove by it. Fortunately, they have one of Santurce’s biggest commodities – its own parking lot. No need to worry about parallel parking through the tiny, crowded Santurce streets. Just drive up and park the car across the street.
We ordered some jugo de china and agua de coco. They were delicious and refreshing. The color on the orange juice was amazing! Looked fake but was 100% real.
Our friends had already ordered some apps while they waited. They had already eaten some Salmon Chicharrones and were now waiting for some Mejillones (mussels). About 5 minutes later Jose Enrique himself arrived at the table with a steaming cast iron skillet full of freshly cooked mussels. You could smell the butter and herbs wafting from the hot skillet.
We dove into those mussels like they were the last meal on Earth. We didn’t even care to use utensils, preferring to use the shells to scoop up the golden, juicy goodness at the bottom of the pan. Buttery, salty, wine, herbs, what else could you taste? Who cared?! They were delicious! Even the non-big mussel eater couldn’t help from slurping away. Place a loaf of Pan Sobao on that table and one of us might have stolen the skillet and ran down the street to mop up the juiciness in total privacy.
But no. We maintained composure, gobbled down the mussels, settled down, and pondered what to have for lunch. While we pondered out came the server with wipes. Sign #1 you have great service? Little details like this one. They saw we were all over those mussels like white on rice and they brought out wipes to help our nasty fingers get clean. Love it!
Looking at the lunch options we could see they were limited, but encompassed the basics: poultry, beef, pork, fish. Something for everybody. It was also late, after 3:00pm, so who knows what we missed.
Most people went crazy over the Colirubia (Yellowtail Snapper). It seems to be one of his signature dishes. It's served whole, yes, with the head still on, fried, over Batata (Sweet Potato) Mash and topped with a Papaya & Avocado Salsa. One person said they had her at Patitas (pigs feet) with arroz blanco (white rice) and tostones (fried green plantains). The remaining two went for the Churrasco (skirt steak) and the non-listed Corvina (white sea bass).
While we waited, Jose sent out something to snack on: sliced Cabrito (goat) cucumber salad, and pique in coconut water. We pounced - literally - on the goat and cucumber, avocado, and tomato salad like vultures. What the heck was wrong with us? Couldn't help it. Hunger and delicious food are a dangerous combination. But not as dangerous as the Pique (hot sauce) Jose sent out with the Goat meat and cucumber salad. The ajies (peppers) were in coconut water and packed a punch. Delicious though. Loved the idea of putting them in coconut water. Pays to note that a non-usual-goat-eater ate quite a few pieces of the sliced goat meat. It was tender, meaty, and delicious!
Soon after, the Patitas person had a small bowl placed in front of her. What for? "Pa' los huesos." (For the bones.) Oh boy. These people EXPECTED you to suck on the pigs feet!!! What more of a welcoming invitation can you get than that? They meant business. Bring it on! This here was Sign #2 you have great service: more attention to detail by bringing a bowl to place the bones from the patitas.
The Colirubia arrived and made a spectacle of herself. The portion was huge. Not just of the fish, but of the Batata Mash and the Papaya & Avocado Salsa on top. These peeps would not go home hungry. The fish was tender, juicy, still piping hot, crispy, and delicious. Now we understand why some of the diners had been craving this for weeks. Add a squirt of lime juice and you could die happy. Really. Squirt it and die.
Next came the third Colirubia and the Patitas. Holy Pig's Feet!!! These feet looked phenomenal, smelled great, and tasted wonderful. Was Jose Enrique's abuela out back cooking Patitas with Garbanzos? The flavors on these Patitas were classic. Tomatoey broth, rich pork flavor, juicy and tender meat. So darn flavorful. And the crispy tostones, seasoned with salt, were magnificent and excellent for sopping up the juices.
The Churrasco was the length of the plate and was shimmering with a slathering of Chimichurri sauce. A side bowl of habichuelas (beans) waited to be poured over the rice and complete the meal. Delicious.
The Corvina was elegantly plated and cooked perfectly. Crispy, yet tender. Delicious as well.
And we ate. Moans. Groans. Ooohs. Aaaahs. It seems the food had made its mark. The fish was picked and prodded and sucked on; no fin left unturned, no eye left uneaten. Steaks were mauled. Patitas were sucked. Tostones were inhaled. Plates were licked clean. Yes, we're barbaric like that.This was easily a scene right out of a National Geographic special. How joyous is it to be on top of the food chain and enjoy these animals cooked to perfection by Jose Enrique and his team? VERY joyous indeed.
After the plates were cleared the server arrived with what he referred to as "Bili de Piña." (bili, vili, billi, villi - jury's still out on spelling.) It's basically a homemade liqueur made out of pineapple juice. He mentioned how originally it was made from Quenepas (Caribbean Cherries). Let's just say, this thing packed a punch!!!
At the end, although stuffed, we ordered their Flan de Amarillos (Ripe Plantain Creme Caramel/Custard). None of us had ever had it, so we knew we must. It was so yummy. Sweet, simple, delicious, with subtle plantain and caramel flavors. Much drier and denser than a regular flan, as seen through the pictures, but still great. Its texture was like a flan meets a bread pudding. Excellent way to end the meal: sweet and simple.
We got the check, and lo and behold we noticed another reason why Jose Enrique and his peeps are awesome: the suggested tip on the receipt is based on the PRE-tax price. This says a lot about the caliber of these guys and made us appreciate and recognize their labor even further. Not only did we get wipes for after the mussel carnage and a little bowl to place our Patitas bones in after the pigs feet suckage fest. But they also calculate tips properly and ethically. No need to inflate the tip by calculating it post-tax, which is what many people do and we are against. If your service was worth it, you will surely be compensated for it. But don't push it by expecting a tip based on a post-tax total.
Looking over the bill we also came to the realization that we are a bunch of lushes. No doubt about it. But hey, they had some good drink options which merit further investigating. ;-) Maybe next Thursday night when surely DJ Velcro or some other talented Rican artist is playing some beats. As for the food, we're definitely going back. Jose Enrique offers it all: delicious food and great service. Oh, and parking as well!
Jose Enrique (Puerto Rican, Caribbean)
- Neighborhood: Santurce
- Address: 176 Calle Duffaut San Juan, PR 00907
- Phone: 787.725.3518
- Hours: Tues-Fri 12pm-11pm, Sat 6pm-11pm, Closed Sun & Mon; Bar open 'til late w/music
- Payment: Cash, ATH/ATM, Major CC
- Parking: Across the street