La Mallorquina – Pirate booty, Teddy Roosevelt and Puerto Rico’s first restaurant

300 year old mirrors stolen by pirates, a scene of Spanish resistance during the Spanish-American war, a Wikipedia mention — The world’s first “Puerto Rican restaurant” finally reopens after Maria!

For over a year I wanted to try La Mallorquina in Old San Juan.  Even as a first time visitor, you can’t miss this restaurant that’s located right near the usual spot where taxis drop off in OSJ, but I’d never been since there are so many delicious restaurants in OSJ to choose from.

Last year, one of my friends told me that La Mallorquina is the only Puerto Rican restaurant that her husband’s grandmother, who was born, raised and has lived her whole life in Puerto Rico will patronize.  So I pushed it to the top of my list of things to do on my next visit to OSJ, but then Maria happened.  When I returned to PR in December 2017 and started coming up with a list of restaurants in OSJ for a large corporate event I was planning, I immediately thought of La Mallorquina!  I tried calling the restaurant several times, but like many PR businesses pre and post hurricane, no one picked up.  So I went to OSJ to check it out in person, and was very disappointed to see that it was still closed.

Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend, which is a big beach holiday in PR, so I headed to OSJ as an alternative to get out of the house but avoid crowds.  I was thrilled to see that La Mallorquina was open again!

I didn’t know anything about the restaurant’s history, but a the sign outside mentioned the restaurant’s 300 year old French mirrors and 170 year old marble floors.  We asked the manager about the mirrors and he gave us a brief history of the restaurant:

  • The original owner, Antonio Vidal Llinás, came to PR from Mallorca when it was still dangerous to come to the new world because of unknown diseases, etc. It’s not entirely clear why Antonio Vidal Llinás came to PR, but he opened the first restaurant in Puerto Rico.
  • A pirate ship in the area was caught and all goods aboard were declared property of the King of Spain.  As a gift to Antonio Vidal Llinás for opening his restaurant, the King gave him two French mirrors seized from the pirates.  The mirrors have their own interesting history, as the artisans who made them died due to silver and mercury exposure.
  • During the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt’s troops advanced towards the streets of OSJ towards the capitol building.  Spanish soldiers resisted, shooting at the Americans through doors and windows, including those at La Mallorquina.  Those in La Mallorquina refused to surrender until the Americans rolled a canon up to the entrance– luckily they did not fire, and the original marble floors of La Mallorquina are still intact!
  • Wikipedia’s article on “Puerto Rican cuisine” mentions La Mallorquina as the first restaurant opened in PR –
Oh, and the food, was delicious!  The bartender had to go get mint from another restaurant down the street, but the mojitos he made were well worth the wait! We had traditional fried cheese with guava sauce as an appetizer, I had dorado (mahi mahi) criollo with rice and beans and my friend had bistek (steak) criollo with the same.  There was no room for desert, which means we’ll have to go back again!