In February, Julie and I had our first chance to visit Reading’s Old San Juan Cafe for a taste of Puerto Rico.
We loved the simple little counter-service restaurant in the old Outlet District.
So when, just a few weeks later, it was announced that Old San Juan would be expanding into West Reading, we got more than a little excited.
On our walks through town, we kept tabs on the progress at the corner of Sixth and Reading Avenues until the grand opening celebration in mid-May.
Two months later, we made our first visit to the brand new El Morro Cafe.
The setup is much the same with entrees and sides sitting in warming dishes at the order counter. Steph, El Morro’s manager, was more than happy to help us overcome our ignorance of the options.
We felt bad as a small line formed behind us, but we made our decisions and grabbed one of the handful of tables in the “dining room” off to the left side of the restaurant.
Our meals were delivered to our seats, with the plates looking very much the same as they did at the city location. Mine featured a mountain of rice — we both ordered yellow instead of white this time — and a pile of fried pork (chicharon).
The tender meat was covered in a thick fried outer skin with excellent flavor and texture. Black beans were sprinkled in with the yellow rice, and while I enjoyed it, it was just too much for me to handle both the rice and the meat (and I wasn’t going to let any of the meat go to waste).
If I have one complaint, it’s that the plastic cutlery wasn’t strong enough to cut through the hard fried shell around the meat.
Julie enjoyed her stewed chicken from Old San Juan so much that she ordered the same thing at El Morro.
The dark meat chicken (her request), along with the chunks of potatoes and carrots, absorbed a lot of flavor from the broth. It’s hard to pick out the spice(s) that make it so good, but it is definitely worth a try.
Each meal also includes a choice of salad. And, just like in the city, I went with a boring side salad while Julie had an excellent potato salad. It still had the bell peppers mixed in, but wasn’t as creamy. Instead, it ate almost like a mashed potato.
What’s most amazing about El Morro is that even with two drinks, our total bill was less than $20. I can’t remember the last time we ate dinner for less than that outside of a quick-service restaurant.
Not only is El Morro Cafe a great extension of Old San Juan Cafe, it fills a much-needed niche for Puerto Rican food in Reading’s western suburbs.
The fact that we can walk to it from our house is just an added bonus.