Puerto Rico is hands down one of the best places to be during the Christmas season. Why? Well, for starters, we have one of the longest holiday seasons in the world. They begin right after Thanksgiving and continue up to the middle of January. Typically ending after we celebrate our yearly “Fiestas de San Sebastián” in Old San Juan. Second, the variety of iconic Christmas foods including but not limited to roasted pig, rice with pigeon peas, blood sausage, pasteles, potato salad, and pickled green bananas (guineitos en escabeche), and tembleque are sure to not only expand your waistline but to keep you coming back more. Third, the weather is spectacular. Here in Puerto Rico it is summer all year round, so throw out that jacket, scarf, and gloves and get ready to enjoy the holiday season at the beach. Jealous yet?
In Puerto Rico, it is almost impossible to avoid getting into the Christmas spirit. You can feel it everywhere you go and is extremely contagious. But there is one place in Puerto Rico where it feels like Christmas all year long and that place is “La Ruta del Lechón” (the Pork Route) in Guavate. Located in Cayey, it is the home to some of the best lechoneras in Puerto Rico. What are lechoneras? They are mostly restaurants that specialize in making the deliciously addictive roasted pig as well as traditional Puerto Rican side dishes.
I always like start my holiday season with a visit to Guavate. Even though there are many lechoneras to choose from, one of my favorites is Lechonera Los Pinos. I am not alone in my love for Lechonera Los Pinos since both Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman visited the joint and sang its praises.
When we arrived at “La Ruta del Lechón” the scene was bustling. It was full of music, people drinking, dancing, and of course eating. We stuck to our game plan and made our way to Lechonera Los Pinos. The layout of Los Pinos is similar to a cafeteria in that the food is already prepared in warming trays behind a glass. You get in line, decide the items you want to eat and the size, and pay at the end of the counter. Then sit down at the table to enjoy the goodies and live music with your beverage of choice.
We ordered the roasted pig with cuerito (pig skin), rice with pigeon peas, blood sausage, fried sweet potato, and pickled green bananas. The roasted pig was scrumptious! It was moist, tender, and packed with flavor. The skin was perfectly crispy and deliciously greasy. The rice with pigeon peas was delicious!
The blood sausage was delightful and had the right kick of spice. The best part is that it was fried just before being served.
The picked green bananas (guineitos en escabeche) were a treat. The green bananas were pickled to perfection in the garlicky escabeche sauce. The balance of flavors complemented the roasted pig beautifully.
As our final side dish, we had the fried sweet potatoes. They were to die for! They were crispy on the outside, yet soft and densely textured on the inside.
It is clear to see why Los Pinos is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. If you are looking for cheap, quality Puerto Rican food then look no further than Los Pinos. So if you live here in Puerto Rico, or just visiting, make sure to stop by and say hello. Oh, and of course, come hungry!