Being new to the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, we quickly needed places to eat that would remind me of home. One of our favorite cuisines is Mexican, so we asked a friend if she knew of any good Mexican restaurants in the area. She took us to a favorite of hers, and it immediately became our favorite too.
El Charro, in the Puerta de Tierra neighborhood of San Juan, sits quietly at the end of a busy but narrow street in a working-class area of the city. Parking is only available on the street, but there always seems to be enough. Inside, the restaurant is quite small upstairs, with six tables and a small counter. However, there are additional seats on the ground floor, where concerts and special parties are also held. The decor is simple but fun. Bright colors are splashed on the walls where odd Mexican heritage artifacts hang, including the requisite sombrero. The tables have a woven design, almost wicker-like, probably made by hand.
But the food and drink is why we end up there almost once a week. The margaritas are the best we’ve had in a long time. Made with fresh lime juice and fine tequila, they’re easy to drink before, during, and after a meal. The food is typical Mexican, with tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and other standards. You start with the standard chips and salsa, both of which are very good. For the appetizer, we like to order Queso Fundido con Chorizo, which is melted cheese and bits of chorizo, or Pico De Gallo, which is tomato, onion, cilantro, cheese, and avocado. Our favorite entree is the Tripleta Burrito, which combines chicken, steak, and bacon (healthy!) along with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cilantro. The burrito is then topped with a large dollop of melted cheese and a few decorative shavings. Tripleta tacos are hand-fried corn tortillas filled with just the meat filling. If you still have room after that, try the Tequila Flan; subtle hints of tequila in a creamy flan. The prices are all very reasonable (if you don’t have too many margaritas).
The owners of El Charro recently celebrated their fifth anniversary with a one night party open to all. Puerto Rican musicians Descarga sat outside and played wonderful music while guests enjoyed great food and wonderful drinks.
El Charro is not in an area frequented by tourists in San Juan, but during lunch and dinner it is almost always full. Even in the middle of the afternoon there are usually two tables occupied. San Juan locals know a great restaurant when they find one. And based on the number of returning diners (the owner seems to know everyone who walks in the door), El Charro is one of those great restaurants.