This past weekend I had an opportunity to experience the many pleasures of Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan neighborhood. Ringed by massive stone walls and the imposing El Morro fortress, the historic heart of this former Spanish colonial capital provides a virtual feast for the senses. As I meandered the area’s narrow cobblestone streets, I passed by block after block of majestic, pastel-colored colonial facades. My ears picked up strains of salsa music cascading from upper story windows, while groups of old men sat chatting, playing dominoes in the area’s tiny local parks.
But perhaps the most overpowering sense was the delicious smell of baking bread that came when I opened the door to La Bombonera, arguably Old San Juan’s most famous bakery and cafe. This old gem has been churning out homemade pastries and bottomless cups of coffee for tourists and San Juan regulars since it opened in 1902. The menu is just the basics – coffee, pastries, simple entrées, and what is arguably the house specialty, the mallorcas. Mallorcas are a sweet pastry which is typically grilled and buttered, then topped with a generous heap of powdered sugar. If you’re feeling particularly ravenous, grab one with ham and cheese in the middle. The sweet of the powdered sugar and dough combined with the savory taste of the ham and the cheese is heavenly. I ended up ordering two. I’m told the house coffee is also superb – they brew using a monstrous contraption brought from Havana in 1898. Take that, Starbucks.
So if you find yourself in Old San Juan some ungodly bright Saturday morning, hungry and hungover from one too many piña coladas the night before, make sure to stop by La Bombonera. But get there early – the line is probably already out the door.