Dinner in Loíza: El Nuevo Acuario…PLUS: Driving After Dark in San Juan!

Fourth in a series on Puerto Rico.

Rachel and I built up an appetite while hiking in El Yunque National Forest.  We had been disappointed with the two restaurants we’d eaten at in San Juan the day before.  Since we had a bit more mobility with the rental car now, I decided to drive to Loíza, north of the main San Juan International Airport, in order to visit a restaurant I’d come across rave reviews for, El Nuevo Acuario (the New Aquarium).  I’d been studying Google Maps and saw a restaurant symbol labeled “Best Food in Puerto Rico” with no name or further explanation.  Intrigued by this superlative claim, I looked on TripAdvisor and found El Nuevo Acuario listed as the top local restaurant.  I’d never seen a restaurant that got the best possible score on all 56 reviews on TripAdvisor without even one dissent (it’s now 70 out of 70!).

Punta Cangrejos, Loíza
Punta Cangrejos, Loíza

Curiously, it did not seem to have an address.  Google gave the address as “Bicycle Route 1, Campamento Piñones, Loíza 00983” but that wouldn’t go into our Garmin.  When we called the business to try and get an address for navigational purposes, they offered to text us the GPS coordinates as a Google Maps pin.  In case you were wondering, the coordinates are 18° 27′ 35.3″N, 65° 59′ 29.0″W, on an access road off PR-187 near the Loíza welcome sign.  We arrived shortly before sundown.  The access road, in an area labeled Punta Cangrejos on the map, has a collection of restaurants.  There’s also  a path along the shore for some distance to the east, though it was unfortunately too dark by the time we finished our meal to walk.  The man we had spoken with on the phone (I believe he was both owner and chef!) met us as we walked up.  Like many restaurants in Puerto Rico, the place is open air.  It certainty looked more like a dive than a five star restaurant.  The mosquitos were a little bad before the breeze picked up but they had insect repellant on hand!  Our host sat down with us and went over the menu, which is in Spanish only (laying to rest any doubts that the restaurant just catered to the tastes of tourists).

Nuevo Acario meal - local crab, rice, and plantains
Nuevo Acario meal – local crab, rice, and plantains

As the name implies, El Nuevo Acuario is a seafood restaurant.  The prices are reasonable – as I recall, the most expensive item on the menu is a whole fish at about $30.  I went with a meal of local crab and rice with fried plantains.  They use vegetable oil in their cooking (I made a habit of asking at restaurants because I’d heard lard was common in Puerto Rican cooking).  While we waited I was thrilled to see a Magnificent frigatebird soaring down the shore, my first sighting of this giant seabird.  The food was worth the wait, and it was immediately obvious that the restaurant’s reputation was deserved.  It was an elegant and very flavorful meal.  It was so good that I not only polished off my meal but helped Rachel finish her conch and octopus.  I thought about giving it a 4/5 review on TripAdvisor but I just couldn’t bear to be the first person to give anything but a 5.  (For the record Rachel emphatically said it deserved a 5/5…)

We headed back to San Juan after dark.  Up to this point, driving in Puerto Rico hadn’t been a bad experience (despite the horror stories I’d heard).  After dark, it seems, all bets are off.  At one intersection, my light turned green.  As I started to enter the intersection a car came from the right and made a right turn on red without stopping, cutting in front of me.  Simultaneously, a car turned left in front of me without yielding.  No sooner did I clear the intersection when a pedestrian casually stepped in front of my car.  I couldn’t help laughing at what seemed like a scene out of a cheesy defensive driving video.  It was a relief to get back to our guesthouse.  The relief was short lived.  I found a spot on the street and was backing up to get closer to the curb and avoid blocking any driveways.  A large pickup truck did a 180° right in the middle of the road and then started backing toward us at a good clip even as I was backing my car up at a much slower speed.  I finally honked when he got too close for comfort.  He stopped with about a foot or two to spare from my front bumper, got out and went into one of the nearby houses without saying a word.

Lesson learned Research confirmed:

  • Do not skip buying comprehensive insurance when renting a car in Puerto Rico!

Series about Puerto Rico

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