On our first day on the island, we were running on virtually zero sleep. One of our bags got placed on the wrong flight, it was incredibly humid from recent rains, and the sun was scorching through clouds at an alarming rate. We arrived in Old San Juan two hours before our hotel room was ready and we were a bit cranky. Our hotel offered to store our luggage while we went about town. Unfortunately, we’d have to do so in clothes that were not weather appropriate (dark jeans and long-sleeved shirts) because we had left Los Angeles on the Red Eye. The desire to roam around in tropical weather was minimal even though the scenery around us just could not be beat.
Enter El Jibarito.
I had been hesitant on putting this place on my dining to-do list after reading a few mixed reviews online about it being too touristy. However, a friend of mine who was born and raised in San Juan assured me that the food was tasty and that for the most part, all the good places would be “touristy,” as the area is quite small. Since it was only two blocks away from the hotel, we gave it a try. I’m a firm believer that a place filled with locals is a good way to go, so luckily El Jibarito had a good mix of vacationers and natives.
We dropped in on a packed house at about 1p.m. As we waited for our table (which only took about 10 minutes), I noticed some folks with their Princess Cruise tote bags in tow as well as Puerto Rican families and older locals who had just gotten out of church. I took this as a good sign. When we were finally seated, I knew that there was only one thing that I was in the mood for: fried red snapper.
Chillo Frito is a common menu item in many Puerto Rican restaurants as red snapper is an abundant local fish. Marinated then fried whole, this golden dish was crisp on the outside and perfectly tender and flaky on the inside. Having grown up in a household that ate whole fish, I knew my way around bones (although a couple a few tables away were not so lucky). Savory and delicious; I barely touched my arroz guisado (yellow rice).
Boyfriend ordered their camarones al ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce) which was served with tostones (fried green plantains) which is another popular dish. Our total order including two drinks clocked in at under $50 including tip and overall we were quite pleased. The atmosphere is casual and the servers were quick and speak great English. Despite the large crowds, the food is fresh and considering they’ve been around for over 35 years, it’s apparent that they know what they’re doing.
El Jibarito is located at Calle Sol 280 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.