Overall Experience - 7.7
Summary : The dough is a bit chewy, but the old school pizzeria in an outdoor strip mall serves up otherwise delicious pies.
Last month, I spent a few days in Puerto Rico and I was determined to try the best pizza possible down there. I didn’t have time to do much exploring in person, so I had to leave it up to some discussion boards on the internet to figure out where that might be. Despite the fact that I was staying in San Juan — where pizza is plentiful — my research led me to a place in Caguas, a quaint town 25 miles south of San Juan. The place? Mario’s Pizza Palace.
Although Mario’s might not sound like a traditional Puerto Rican place, I was not looking for traditional Puerto Rican pizza (that would likely include some sort of mashed plantains instead of pizza sauce). What I wanted was the best. And after paying a visit there, I do believe it may very well be the best pizza in Puerto Rico. Here’s the deal. There are a bunch of pizza places named Mario’s in Caguas. The one that locals rave about is the original — located in a non-descript strip mall on Calle Gautier Benitez. I found that foursquare was the best way to pinpoint its exact location.
So with directions in hand, me and some friends packed into a rental car and made the drive down to Caguas. From the outside, Mario’s doesn’t look like anything special at all. But walk in and you’ll discover an old- school pizzeria feel. The menus are, of course, completely in Spanish and you don’t hear a word of English spoken amongst the staff (perhaps not so different than in New York) and customers. When you walk in, on the left hand side, is the kitchen where you can watch the pies being made and order slices. A queso (cheese) slice is $1.90, a chorizo (sausage) slices is $2.00, a peperoni slices is $2.40, and a tocineta (bacon) slice is $2.60.
We opted to head towards the back of the restaurant where there is table service. The restaurant has seating for about 50 people and it was almost completely full on a Tuesday afternoon at lunchtime. We ordered one large cheese pizza for four of us. It came in 10 decent sized slices. The full pies are actually served in four sizes: medium, large, extra large, and sportman. I did not inquire into how big the sportman pie is, but I assume it’s an extra extra large pie. If I was in charge of marketing at Mario’s I might run one of those “finish a sportman by yourself and its free” promotions.
Our pie was solid. It tasted not so different that what you might find at your local pizza place in the United States, with one notable difference. It was doughy and chewy. Very much so. Almost to the point that the dough tasted undercooked. I’m not sure if we had an undercooked pie, of if this is simply how all of the pizza is served at Mario’s. I actually like doughy pizzas, so this is not so much a criticism as it is just a note. But certainly that crunchy, crispy aspect of the pie was lacking.
So is a trip down to Caguas for Mario’s Pizza worth it? For the pizza alone, probably not. But if you’re in San Juan for a week and looking to get out and see the countryside and some other towns, it makes for a nice half day trip. There is much to do in Caguas other than eat pizza and I wish I’d had time to check out museums and do some other exploring. Mario’s might very well be Puerto Rico’s best pizza. But you’ll have to go there yourself to weigh in.