One More Bite

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Parrilla brings slice of Puerto Rico to Waco at Cafe Viejo San Juan

July 11, 2011 | Chad Conine | Around Town
Parrilla brings slice of Puerto Rico to Waco at Cafe Viejo San Juan

If I were taking summer school right now, and it kind of feels like I am, I would be engaged in a mix of business classes along with some sort of "world foods" elective.

I'm enjoying both, really, but especially learning about different food from different places. I think I might write my thesis on Puerto Rican cuisine. The title of my paper could be "Yipee Ki-yay, Mofongo!"

Of course, that class is being held at Cafe Viejo San Juan on La Salle, where owner Joseph Parrilla has introduced me to a variety of authentic Puerto Rican dishes.

I dined there today, slurping up some Sopas con Mariscos, which is a seafood soup with shrimp and crab meat in a rich broth. I thought it was similar to gumbo, though I am sure to be corrected on that point by my Louisiana friends.

For dessert, I became a fan of flan, though I have to say it took a couple of bites. I don't know about you, but my taste buds tend to freak out a little when I encounter something that is brand new to me. That's the beauty of acquired taste. Fighting through that initial uncertainty pays big dividends. Such has been the case for me with beer, Wilco, Wes Anderson movies, coffee, straight tomato pizza, working at out Gold's Gym, sushi, etc.

And now Puerto Rican food.

Cafe Viejo San Juan is the only Puerto Rican restaurant in town, which is part of the reason Parrilla chose to open the new restaurant a couple of months ago. Parrilla said Central Texans who hail from Puerto Rico have been known to drive as far as Killeen in order to dine out on authentic dishes from back home.

To satisfy his Puerto Rican countrymen, Parrilla has been democratic with the menu, taking suggestions and making tweaks along the way. He said just last Saturday an 80-year-old Puerto Rican woman requested a dish with chicken, pork and seafood. Parilla happily obliged and has decided to put such a dish on the menu.

Those who haven't been fully versed in Puerto Rican food should try Cafe Viejo San Juan with an open mind. It could take two or three visits to settle into the tastes of Puerto Rico.