A note from the Bitches: this restaurant is now closed.
In college, I trekked to Puerto Rico for spring break. This wasn’t your typical twenty-sorority-girls-go-to-Cancun trip. This was just the five of us, landing in San Juan late at night after an epic journey from the middle of Missouri, not knowing where we were going to stay or what we were going to do.
We were young and reckless and clearly living on the edge—as far as we were concerned. But the result was an incredible week.
We met lovely Puerto Ricans who let us stay with them (and cooked us breakfast!). We rented a car and got lost exploring the island. We hiked across rivers and swam under waterfalls in the rainforest. We even walked across old Naval gunnery ranges to sun ourselves topless on deserted Culebra beaches.
Oh, and we ate our fair share of plantains, smoked our fair share of shisha, and drank the island nearly empty of Don Q.
My opinion of the gorgeous island, and its food and its people, is a little bit Hunter S. Thompson’s Rum Diaries with a spattering of Legally Blonde. And when I dine at a Puerto Rican restaurant in D.C., that’s sort of what I expect.
That’s certainly not what you get at Mio Restaurant.
The joint is pure Puerto Rican sophistication. White table clothes, fresh flowers, a sleek wood interior, and well-dressed servers and staff. There’s even a jazz band strumming tunes in the corner. It’s like a fancy D.C. business brunch spot, except with traditional Latin dishes at the ready.
I met Emil, Ashley, Brooke and her beau, Eggert, for brunch there last Sunday. We were seated in a round corner booth, which made this fifth-wheel feel a bit better about the stitch. You know what also helped? The San Juan Bloody Mary.
Mio has bottomless mimosas for $19 (the bottomless does not, sadly, include the Marys), but it’s worth it to venture from the bottomless menu to try their amazing San Juan Mary. The San Juan is like a traditional Bloody Mary but made with chunky sofrito (culantro and cilantro, onions, garlic and tomatoes), which is what makes it Puerto Rican.
That, and the heavy pour of Don Q rum, of course.
Having just visited Peru with Emil, we decided to share the ceviche as a starter. Now that I’ve tasted real, amazing ceviche (best for hangovers whilst poolside, I’m telling you), nothing will ever compare. Mio’s certainly did not live up to our high standards.
This dish had sweet potato, Peruvian corn, and cancha, along with a long fried plantain on top, all served in a rather questionably shaped dish. The result tasted like we were sucking on a lime. Way too tart.
We ordered a few more starters to get rid of the taste. The fried yuca, which arrived stacked on the plate like a Jenga game, were a bit dry but the sauce on the side helped. The bread basket—canasta de panes: mallorcas y quesitos—was lovely. Full of a fluffy, warm selection of pastries and baked bread.
At this point, we were getting a bit irked with the service. Our server seemed perplexed at seemingly straightforward questions about the menu (what was included in the bottomless deal? What type of meat is in this dish?). The appetizers arrived in bursts and our drinks were standing empty on the table. I needed another San Juan Bloody Mary, and we all needed to order our entrees or this brunch was going to lag into the three-o’clock hour.
We had spent some quality time waiting and studying the menu. I loved that it was a bit cheeky, especially with dishes like the waffle Puerto Riqueño, which was described as “like Belgium but better.” It definitely has flavor and personality.
The dishes being placed on the tables around us were wafting over amazing, appetizing smells, and when our server finally (finally!) came back to take our order, I merely pointed to the table next to ours and like true Puerto Rican mafioso said simply, “I want what he’s having.”
What arrived was the New York strip, served with French fries (they were actually more like breakfast potato cubes) and arroz mamposteao, a tasty rice mixture. On top, a fried egg, which was optional, but good God why would you not put an egg on it?
A lovely mojo verde sauce was artistically drizzled on the dish, making it very pretty when it arrived. However, the juicy steak mucked up the presentation after the first bite. It was a good piece of meat and cooked perfectly.
Brooke ordered the arepa, which turned out to be just as artistically presented as my steak and eggs. Sadly, the two corn cakes set on a bed of onions and tomatoes with fried eggs left something to be desired. Though the arepas were filled with queso blanco, they were bland and overly filling.
Meanwhile, the onions and tomatoes had what could be best described as canned, unsalted, and unspiced black beans. Disappointing, but perhaps would be good for a hangover.
Eggert—whom I have brunched with enough now to know he is always going to go for the breakfast sandwich on the menu—ordered the montecristo boricua. To his dismay, he discovered it wasn’t a true montecristo that has been battered, and you had to tackle the dish with a knife and fork, as everything was piled precariously.
The mallorca bread was the bed for a large pile of ham and cheese, topped with a fried egg. They like balancing their fried eggs at Mio. The dish came with a side of potato cubes and fruit, and the entire thing was gone before I could try it, so I suspect it was pretty tasty.
Emil had Mio’s take on “Huevos Rancheros,” with red bean refrito and spicy tomato sauce. It looked like a big mess on the plate, such a departure from the other gorgeous photogenic entrees on the table. While the eggs were cooked well, the whole dish was very runny and lacking in consistency and substance.
Ashley ordered the crusted Mallorca french toast. The tiny sandwich cubes had a guava and cream cheese filling, which was quite decadent. She couldn’t finish the whole thing, and after a couple of San Juan Marys I was willing to take it home for dessert.
The restaurant was filled with families, grandparents, and young children. I felt a bit out of place to order a third Bloody Mary, so I abstained. I would have felt especially more odd downing bottomless mimosas with friends. This is not, after all, the Rum Diaries of my Puerto Rican memories.
The food, overall, was filling and delicious, with only a few misses. (As a Latin American resto, they need to get that ceviche right!) It was the service that was so highly disappointing. It took a while to get our plates cleared, and then even longer to get our checks. And, most importantly, our poor drinks sat empty for most of the meal.
The Bitches say: B-. A great place to bring the parents, but not really a go-to for the bottomless Bitches on spring break.
1110 Vermont Ave. N.W.
Mio Restaurant’s jazz brunch is on Sundays.