Is America’s best restaurant in Puerto Rico?

Bacoa’s kitchen amplifies its stove with a buren, traditionally a clay and stone griddle used by the island’s native Taíno people. Menus are seasonal, of course, but may include rabbits from a neighboring farm; brined, smoked, grilled and served in lettuce wraps. Or perhaps a wedge of roasted chayote or pumpkin lashed with olive oil and swaddled in fermented cashew ricotta. and hopefully casserolea sweet potato dessert that nods to the island’s African roots (I hate sweet potato but could’ve eaten that dessert all night).

Bacoa’s continuation and re-popularisation of burén cooking is a win for Puerto Rico and its tourists, according to the most venerated chef on the island, María Dolores de Jesús, who runs a burén restaurant of mostly pre-contact Taíno dishes. “I feel very satisfied to see younger generations connect with older traditions and older realities, older truths,” she told me.

Bacoa’s most winsome metrics are also its most imprecise: the pitter-patter as children scamper and the decibels of their delight. Unlike most fine dining or hipster haunts, Bacoa is for families and other large parties because it serves feasts, not meals.

“Any family can go there. It’s not $200. It’s affordable even though it’s a very cool experience,” said Crystal Díaz, who runs El Pretexto, a Bacoa-like bed-and-breakfast in the mountains.

On my visit, I gorged on blood sausage (blood sausage) sandwiches and cod fritters served with “crack” ketchup (lifted by cilantro and slow-cooked garlic), along with gulps of crab funchea grits-like stew, and crunches of pork rind (fried pig skin) with citrus horseradish gremolata. I scribbled a note at dinner: “Bacoa puts the epic in epicurean.”


Leave a Comment