World’s Best Chef Slums It
The U.S. Navy stopped using Vieques as a bombing range in 2003. This puts the beautiful, small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico roughly eight years into its development as a tourist destination. That's not a lot of time – though Vieques is no longer the jetsetterati secret it was a few years ago before the W Retreat and Spa opened in 2010.
By way of said W, there's now an Alain Ducasse restaurant in Vieques, miX. And by way of miX, there's an Alain Ducasse in Vieques every once and a while. By nice coincidence, my recent stop there overlapped with his, which gave me the opportunity to sample the island's street food with one of the most celebrated chefs in the world. With help from his team on the ground, he picked the spots.
1. Pinchos Stand, at the intersection of highways 200 and 201. Pincho is Spanish for spike or, in the parlance of eating, skewer. On offer are grilled chicken skewers and a variety of sauces from sweet to spicy. Chef takes his spicy, noting, "very generous portion size." (Pinchos run a dollar.)
2. Pollo Asado al Carbon, across from the marina in Esperanza, run by the family who lives in the house behind the stand. We waited 90 minutes for chicken cooked in a caja china box. Based on the wait — and on locals' overt amusement at our surprise that one generally calls ahead here — it's safe to say that this is the best chicken in Vieques. It’s served moist and spicy with various sides, including rice flavored with pork fat. There's a candy stand in the same lot, should wait-time nibbles be the thing (as it was for Ducasse).
3. Rompe Dieta de Lula, a truck in the marina in Esperanza. "The end of Lulu's diet" is how a local translated the name of this truck, which serves the best papa rellena I've ever had. Also amazing: alcapurrias and pastelillos, the latter a fresh conch variety. If you’re the sort who likes to order off-menu, ask for chicharróns.
4. Sol Food, on route 997 at Garcia Gate. Sol Food is relatively famous in Vieques. How famous? It’s a regular stop for food television crews. (The owners are American.) Not that it's a tourist trap, because it isn't. Ducasse was blown away by the carnitas, commenting on the clean balance of flavors.
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See the locations for this trip. (Googlemaps)