© Jen Murphy
Ola Lola's in Isabela, Puerto Rico
I thought the excellent food at Isabela’s Texaco station would be the most surprising food find of my recent Puerto Rico surf trip. Apparently, the best food is in the most unassuming places. My friends and I stayed at an awesome (and affordable) oceanfront apartment at Villa Tropical. The superfriendly Canadian owner, Trevor, recommended a local hangout up the road called Ola Lola’s.
Locals refer to it as “the green shack” because the restaurant is little more than a small roadside shack with a few bar stools and a handful of tables. It’s only open from 3 to 9 p.m., Friday to Monday. When it’s closed, it looks like a shed—but when it’s open, people are overflowing into the streets.
The draws are both the crazy-good food and the adorable owners, Elaine and John. The Kalamazoo, Michigan natives took over Ola Lola’s three years ago. John tends the bar, while Elaine (who remembers every customer’s name and greets return guests with a hug) cooks and runs the food. Not-to-be-missed signatures include an out-of-this-world Asiago-artichoke dip (Elaine says it went through some many variations to reach perfection that John, her guinea pig, won’t touch it) and the bizarre-sounding, yet delicious, peanut-butter burger. John’s frozen piña colada may be the best I’ve ever tasted—supersmooth and made with real coconut—and he has also stocked a laudable selection of craft brews, like Ruedrich's Red Seal Ale from California’s North Coast Brewing Company. Elaine puts a fun twist on the banana split, skipping the ice cream and actually splitting the banana and filling it with toppings like chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallows. I noticed that John waves to every person who walks or drives past. When I commented that he must know the entire island, he confessed, “I have no idea who that was. I wave to every single person who passes. Eventually, they stop in. It’s a no-fail marketing plan.”