A Food Tour of Vieques Puerto Rico! - Updated for 2020
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Since everything is impermanent, I have updated the Vieques tour based on our trip in 2020. Some things added, some things removed, some things no longer available....
Chris and I love the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques. We recently returned from a vacation there and this post describes the wonderful food we had on the island. Vieques is remote. The beaches are pristine, the water clear and you will never see a busy beach. For example, La Chiva beach is about 1 mile long and during our walks of the beach we might see 1 dozen people. No houses or hotels are built on the beaches, you just get nature. They also have the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. From a foodie perspective, one benefit of being remote is that none of the restaurants get prepared food. Everything is made from scratch. There are also amazing food trucks that have full menus or just specialize in daily roast chicken, or pizza.
Since the hurricane, Vieques has worked hard to recover. The water and electricity is back from mainland Puerto Rico, so no need for generators. A lot of businesses have yet to reopen or may never reopen. Two main hotels the 'W' and Blue Horizon are still closed. I think Blue Horizon will reopen but no plans for the 'W' to reopen. We think there were less people on the island than our past visits, but everyone is extremely friendly.
To get to Vieques we take a flight from Newark airport directly to San Juan Airport. From there you have two options. Take a small puddle jumper airplane or take a cab to the east coast and hop on a ferry to the island. The ferry can be unreliable in terms of schedule and the planes are so small (6-10 Passengers) that if weather gets bad, they will be grounded. We opt for the planes be cause of convenience and because Chris can have seasickness in rough waters.
When on the island we make our own breakfasts and bring lunch to the beach most days. We do not cook dinner. Which brings us to our traditional first night dinner, Coqui Fire Cafe in Isabella II. This is a Mexican fusion restaurant that has amazing food. They also make their own hot sauce in about 20 different varieties and level of spiciness. I recommend the Coqui Fire Margarita to start. You get to pick which hot sauce gets added to it. Chris likes Papaya Lime and I go for Mango Garlic. You can buy the hot sauce in the local Vieques grocery store.
For dinner, our starters were a salad and a pork taco. And then we followed that up with Churrasco and Shrimp Fajitas. It was excellent. Highly recommend the friendly atmosphere and food. It's a small place so most times we wind up seated at the bar and have good conversations with other travelers. If you go here, make a reservation they get booked up and they are only open Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Below are pictures from out meal. As you can see, we were too excited by the entrees to take clean pictures of them and the picture of the Churrasco would have been of an empty plate :)
The next two nights we setup dinner experiences. Wednesday nights in Vieques brings Paella night at Waldo's. Waldo is the chef, and he has been making Paella for folks on the island for many years. For now (2020) Waldo has stopped offering an Airbnb experience. Airbnb allows people on the main island to book it and therefore he had lots of cancelations at the last minute. From Airbnb you can book a spot for his Paella experience evening. You are invited to his lovely home, where you watch him create the dinner from scratch and gives you all the secrets to Puerto Rican Paella. Dinner in on a beautiful covered porch overlooking the hills of Vieques. Chris and I loved the evening and conversation with Waldo and the other guests. There were 10 of us that evening. The pictures below say more than any of my words can. The Paella is amazing! Waldo uses Puerto Rican Longaniza Sausage in his Paella and if you click the link you will get to my recipe and attempt to recreate the sausage.
The following evening took us to a private 6 course dinner for 12 people put on by Aguacate Catering. Most Thursday evenings they host the 6 course meal at their amazing home designed by John Hix. Contact them from their website to make a reservation. Happy hour consists of passed hors d'oeuvres with cocktails and then soup, salad, fish course, meat course and finally dessert. Another amazing meal that meant more beach walking and swimming to try to work off some of it. Amazing food, sunset views and whole evening is supervised by their friendly cats.
The next day we went to Sunbay beach. This is the most popular beach on the island and is close the the 2nd town on the island, Esperanza. We didn't bring lunch because they have a small Cafe at one end of the beach and we wanted to try it. Cold Cerveza and fresh food. It was excellent. I had the Cassava Pork Tamale with rice and beans and Chris had the shredded pork quesadilla. Great lunch. You also get to feed the chickens as part of the entertainment. In 2020 they also have some days with Whole roast pig, facebook will tell you when, don't miss it.
That evening we moved onto the food trucks for dinner. Rincon Del Sabor outside of Isabella II is awesome. Chris was especially looking forward to her first mofungo of the trip. Mofungo is made from plantains, garlic and other wonderful spices. I also like the mamposteao which is a stew of beans and rice. Chris topped her mofungo with garlic octopus and I had creole shrimp on my rice. We started the evening off with chicken wings drizzled with homemade guava sauce. As you are beginning to see, we don't go hungry on vacation!
Another day of sunshine and the beach leads to our first meal in the town of Esperanza. The main part of town is a single road that has one small hotel and is lined on one side with restaurants that overlook the water on the other side of the road. The Malecon is a waterfront walkway along the main drag looking out over the water. The sunset views from here are wonderful. We rent a jeep while on the island so that we can easily drive the dirt roads to the various beaches. At the beginning of the main drag there is a couple large dirt parking areas. When parking in Vieques, people never lock there cars. Just don't leave valuables in the empty car and who cares if someone looks in. That night we ate at El Guayacan. It's a tiny outdoor space with fresh food. We started with shrimp arepas and then Chris had more mofungo with shrimp and I have the fresh fried grouper with rice and beans. Another winner!
Sunday night brings another fun night in Vieques. The Sunset Dance party at Hector's by the Sea is tons of fun. Hectors is west of Esperanza and they setup a bar, DJ and dance floor for the night. The grounds of the home/rental units are so beautiful. If you look at the website link above the pictures to no do it justice. A fresh taco food truck comes to the site and people dance the early evening away. (It starts at 4pm and only goes till 8PM). Its a great evening and a great way to get some of the calories burned off. We had a blast this year.
UPDATE 2020 - Unfortunately, Hector has been ill and has not been able to host the parties, Chris and I hope he recovers soon.
My prior version talked about El Local at this point. However the 2020 version of the blog takes them off the list. There really don't serve dinner on their lovely patio anymore. The main dining area inside is dark and uninviting. I think they won't last long unless they totally renovate inside to bring in air and light. Everything is impermanent.
Three new places to talk about. The first place looks very unassuming from the outside, but it has a wonderful bar and great food at very reasonable prices. Bigotes (Mustache in spanish) is a new must for 2020. They are located on the Isabella side of the island outside of town. Chris and I went there twice. They make an excellent coconut sangria to enjoy with your meal. We had whole fried fish, ribs, kebabs, and churrasco during our multiple visits. Everything was yummy. Below are some of the pictures of our food.
The second new place for 2020 to explore is in Esperanza. Ranco Choli was shut for a couple of years because of the hurricane, but now they are back in business. They specialize in Roast Pork (they roast the whole pig in specially built concrete grill/ovens. Also they have great fresh fish. One special we had was a pork and pumpkin tamale, that was made from the pumpkin plants growing right next to the outdoor backyard seating area. Ranco Choli is located one street of the Malcon in Esperanza. If you drive down the main street in Esperanza, turn at Lazy Jacks to get there.
The final new place for 2020 is a Sunday night replacement for Hector's by the sea. Ricks Cafe in Isabella II is only open on Sunday and Monday nights and they get packed. Get there early to get a seat. The menu changes each week based on what is available on the island and fresh. They have a wonder menu of small plates. Everything we ordered was excellent. The bartender at Rick's is a professional. She has a bunch of amazing Martinis on the menu that were developed by her and make use of her herb garden and local vegetables. We tried a Beet martini and it was very enjoyable.
Other meals of note was the meal we had at Bili in Esperanza. Ceviche and bacon mofungo balls for appetizer and then seafood paella for Chris and Puerto Rican paella, sauteed plantain and salad for me. (Puerto Rican paella had sausage, chicken, and churrasco in it) A wonderful meal accompanied by house made red sangria.
All in all we had a wonderful time and look forward to returning back in 2020. I recommend a visit to the island to anyone who loves the beach, quiet, and good food. Support the continued recovery of Puerto Rico by visiting.