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 new of any good Mexican restaurants in the area. She took us to her favorite, 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 yet narrow street in a working-class part of town. Parking is only available on the street, but there always seems to be plenty of it. Inside, the restaurant is fairly small upstairs, with six tables and a small counter area. There is additional seating downstairs, though, where they also hold concerts and special parties. The decor is simple but fun. Bright colors are splashed on walls where odd artifacts of Mexican heritage hang, including the required sombrero. The tables are a woven, almost wicker-like design, probably hand-made.
But the food and drink is why we end up there almost once a week. The margaritas are the best we’ve tasted in a very long time. Made with fresh lime juice and good tequila, they are easy to drink before, during, and after a meal. The food is typical Mexican fare, with tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and other standards. You start with the standard chips and salsa, both of which are very good. For appetizer, we like to get Queso Fundido con Chorizo, which is melted cheese and chorizo sausage bits, or Pico De Gallo, which is tomatoes, onions, cilantro, cheese, and avocado. Our favorite entree is the Tripleta Burrito, which combines chicken and steak and bacon (healthy!!) along with lettuce, tomato, onions, and cilantro. The burrito is then covered with a large portion of melted cheese and some decorative chips. Tripleta Tacos are hand-fried corn tortillas filled with only the meat filling. If you still have room after that, try the Flan de Tequila; subtle hints of tequila in a creamy flan. Prices are all very reasonable (if you don’t have too many margaritas).
The owners of El Charro just recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary with an evening-long party opened to everyone. Puerto Rican musicians Descarga sat outside and played wonderful music while guests enjoyed great food and wonderful drinks.
El Charro is not located 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. The locals of San Juan know a great restaurant when they find one. And based on the number of return diners (it seems like the owner knows everyone that walks in the door), El Charro is one of those great restaurants.