San Juan Del Sur is for hippies, beach bums, expats, surfers and — it makes me cringe to write it — yogis. And it was research on this west coast party town that solidified Nicaragua for Bethany as a solid choice for our visit to Central America. This blog post convinced her that the place would be the perfect venue to relax and ease out of the daily stresses of social work. With yoga, surfing and a chance to “hike to the world’s second largest Jesus,” I couldn’t say no.
We arrived and immediately found Yajure, the “surf hostel” that a friend-in-passing had recommended to Nina. At the time, we didn’t know the name; we just knew that it was “on the other side of the walking bridge.” (The address on their Facebook page is “Just left of the walking bridge after the Crazy Crab, San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.” Effective.) Shortly after unpacking and scheduling a surf lesson for the next day, we went directly to Nicaragua Beach Lounge for lunch, based on the recommendation of Chely, the hostel’s owner.
I’m skeptical of beachfront dining. Generally, a great view is not usually paralleled with equally great food or service. But Chely’s first (he gave us several) recommendation was pretty much what we were looking for. With a menu filled with Nicaraguan specialties (“Nica” food, for short) and tables packed with Nicaraguan beach goers, we knew, in the very least, our cuisine would be authentic.
We started with beverages. I’ll get this over with: Bethany was the winner. She ordered a cold ginger drink made up of fresh ginger, rice milk and sugar. Spicy and refreshing, we all went for second sips. My choisce, semilla de jicaro, was the Nica version of horchata. The combination of jicaro seeds, milk, sugar and cinnamon made for an interesting, but unfulfilling beverage, partially due to the powdered texture tainting the drink.
Next up, the meals. I ordered a starter and a main. The starter, shrimp ceviche, was perfect. (Though I did find the Nabisco crackers off-putting and a little amusing.) Spice, citrus and seafood make a cool combination, perfect for beach side eating. (Our hostel owner, who had once been a chef, told us that Squirt is his secret ingredient to incredible ceviche.)
My main was a bit more disappointing. Chancho con yuca is described on the menu as fried pork and cooked yuca over a salad of cabbage and tomato. Sounds delicious, no? What I got was nearly rock-hard pork rinds (I literally had to gnaw on them to be able to break them apart to eat), lots of very bland yuca and some coleslaw. All with no sauce. Maybe I was missing something. The table next to me was passionately eating their shared platter of the stuff. I moved mine around a lot and wished I’d been given another packet of crackers to ease my hunger.
This, friends, holds the distinction of being Bethany’s favorite meal of the trip. (And also the best one on our table.) Being landlocked after living in the Philippines, part of her motivation to head to San Juan Del Sur was for fresh fish. (Ometepe was sadly lacking.) A whole fried fish topped with a sweet and sour onion-laden sauce that she can remember two months later and served aside gallo pinto (rice and beans) and fried banana strips, the meal was nothing short of momentous.
Nina went with a single-colored option, the quesillo. A build-it-yourself dish, it came with a corn tortilla, melted mozzarella, pickled onions and simple yet lovely cream.
Pleased with our lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring San Juan Del Sur by foot, stopping for juice and mojitos (respectively) along the way until we were too full to consider hiking to the world’s second largest Jesus. Protecting Nicaragua’s famed party town, the statue watched over us, anyway, as the afternoon light started to fade.