The fastest way to Puerto Rico via Cleveland

Cleveland skyline

My last visit to Cleveland was March ’07. It seemed to be about 30°F and my California winter coat did nothing to protect me from the brutal lake winds. On this visit, it was days away from the official start of summer and despite the downpour when we first arrived, it was sunny (although a tad humid for my liking).

Despite the five-hour drive from Detroit to Cleveland — which included a pass through Hell — I was saving my appetite for Cleveland. My brother, the only reason I would ever visit this city twice, always has an eye out for food that he thinks I would like in the city.

Cleveland is the home of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and later I found out, the setting for The Drew Carey Show and Harvey Pekar, the cranky underground comic book writer featured in American Splendor.

True to form, immediately upon arrival in Cleveland, my brother Warren ushered us to Rincon Criollo, a Puerto Rican/Cuban/Caribbean restaurant. Seriously though, I think Warren took us there for the potato balls or rellanos de papas.

Rellanos de papas

For any long-time reader of this blog (is there any?), I’ve posted about my obsession with potato balls at least five times. A few months ago, I even dragged my poor brother on Los Angeles daytrip to have a potato ball experience himself. And despite the heat, distance and exhaustion that overtook of all us, he agreed with me that the potato ball is the perfect combination of carbs and meat.

So I guess after a long drive, Warren thought nothing would satisfy me more than potato balls.

Once we got to Rincon Criollo, it wasn’t the potato balls the caught my attention but the chicarrones.


Frankly, I think we ordered more appetizers than actual entrees. We placed several orders for rellanos de papas, empanadas and chicarrones before we even considered anything else on the menu. I think I was a little obsessed with chicarrones because recent episodes of Top Chef featured Puerto Rican food and chicarrones.

Warren complained that the chicarrones were not true chicarrones because it had too much meat attached to the skin. But I was perfectly fine with it. It made me feel slightly better that it wasn’t pure, luxurious fat. Even Paul, a burgeoning foodie but never much of a pork guy, acknowledged that the chicarrones were “alright” and “better than he thought.”

Seriously, pork is underrated and this dish only highlighted what I like about the swine. Bacon, anyone?

As for the rellanos de papas, they were a bit larger than what I’m used to, almost to the detriment of the taste. Too much potato and not enough filling.


I should have saved room for the jibarito, a steak tip sandwich with lettuce and served between strips of fried plantains. It’s a house speciality at Rincon Criollo and I was told it was delicious; further evidenced that there were no leftovers to try later.

Pekar's address

Prior to the visit, Warren had been bragging to me that he found Harvey Pekar’s address in an old phone book (the torn page is now in my possession). We did a simple drive-by. No Pekar sighting at all.

11 thoughts on “The fastest way to Puerto Rico via Cleveland

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  1. i love chicharrones. we have a version similar to this in the philippines we call "crispy pata". hmmmnn… i love eating it dipped in vinegar and soy sauce. anyways, great post.

  2. your friend is totally right. when i saw that pic of the chicharrones i noticed all the meat on it. BUT, that doesn't mean it's not absolutely DELISH. it almost looks more like a pork belly preperation instead of true Puerto Rican chicharrones. oh my god, deep fried pig fat… how the hell could you go wrong! great post!if anyone out there is interested in make chicharron at home, check out a link on our post (go to step #4 on the recipe and click the link):

  3. Jescel–I know crispy pata! We actually were thinking of requesting vinegar while we were eating the chicarrone help break down the fattiness.We Are Never Full–Thanks for the link on how to make it at home

  4. Small correction for this post: Potato balls are typically called papas rellenas. Literally filled potatoes.And I LOVE them too. Grew up eating them here in Miami both at home and on the street.

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