There are some foods that are worth missing a plane for. They’re worth the trouble of navigating unmarked streets in bad neighborhoods outside of Old San Juan, worth the stress of missing several highway exits and getting turned around, worth the anxiety that builds when you know you’re lost in an unfamiliar place, and can barely speak the language of the locals who can only point you in the right direction—literally.
Okay, so my sister and I didn’t actually miss our plane that day, but we came close. And now that the intensity of the moment is over, I can say that it was worth it just to have the chance to try the crispy, buttery, cheesy treats they served at the humble-yet-famed joint called La Bombonera, which has now closed, I’m sad to say.
La Bombonera was one of Puerto Rico’s oldest restaurants. When we visited in the late morning, the breakfast rush was just ending. Seated at the counter, we watched the cooks prepare our mallorcas, which are essentially grilled cheese sandwiches made with a buttery, slightly sweet pastry instead of regular bread, and topped with a generous portion of powdered sugar. (Ours had no meat, but the ham version seemed to be popular among carnivores.)
What charmed me the most about the restaurant was its homey, almost dumpy diner feel. Like so many other things in Puerto Rico, it seemed a little run down, but hadn’t lost its sense of pride or heritage.
My sister and I each scarfed our sandwiches between sips of fresh squeezed orange juice and a creamy café con leche, and to our surprise, the cook/waiter presented us with a freebie: a mallorca without cheese or any other filling besides thick slabs of quickly melting butter. I enjoyed my cheese version, but this was perfect. Hovering somewhere between savory and sweet, it was the ideal brunch fare.
If we’d known how frantic we’d be only 30 minutes later, we probably would not have lounged for as long as we did in that humid café. But I guess that’s the beauty of not knowing what lies ahead. You can truly enjoy what it’s front of you.
RIP, La Bombonera
259 Calle de San Francisco
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00933