CHASING THE MAP

The Isla Nena Cafe At The Vieques Airport

I never thought that I’d find really delicious food at an airport, but I did. The Isla Nena Cafe, located on the property of the Vieques Airport, is one of those unexpected gems you’ll find on Vieques Island. I mean really, who expects to find tasty, reasonably priced, and well portioned items on an airport cafe menu?

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When I think of “airport food,” several things come to mind. First and foremost, overpriced. It would be one thing if the quality matched the cost, but many times that’s not the case. I also think of “cafeteria”, as in school or hospital. Food prepared way ahead of time, soggy, and lacking flavor.

The fact that the locals frequent the cafe is testament to the fact that the food is good. People drive out of their way to the western side of the island to eat and drink here, even when they have no flight to catch or passengers to retrieve.

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The Isla Nena Cafe serves breakfast and lunch. I never made it there for the breakfast, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about the choices and the quality. I did have the good fortune of eating lunch here twice. If I had known earlier what a great place this was, I definitely would have returned more often.

Let’s start with Lyman, the owner of the cafe. He’s such a warm and friendly guy. He’s also funny and engaging. It’s quite clear from his interactions with people that he’s well liked and is a fixture on the island. He also makes sure that you always have a cold beverage in front of you, whether a chilled Medalla or boozy rum punch.

I never met his wife, as she was off-island at the time, but I hear she makes the BEST steamed dumplings, usually offered on particular days of the week. I’ll be back one day, Mrs. Lyman, to taste them firsthand! I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

The cafe is actually located outside of the terminal, right next to the parking lot. Dogs and cats roam the area freely. Don’t be surprised if a customer rides up on a horse to retrieve their take out order.

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The first time I visited the cafe, I was on my way with my friend Jean to the Playa Grande Sugar Mill Ruins. We figured we’d stop to fuel up before our adventure. Jean had raved about the jumbo peel and eat shrimp doused in a liberal amount of Old Bay seasoning. You have to get a minimum of 5 shrimp. At .95 cents apiece, you won’t cry into your beer, and you’ll undoubtedly order more. I sure did.

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We also split the Grande All Beef Cheeseburger, because Jean insisted that if we shared our bellies would be more than full. She was right. It came with fries, and for $12, we definitely got our money’s worth. It was big and it was juicy.

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The second, and last time I visited the Isla Nena Cafe, was sadly on the day of my departure from the island. Faced with 2 layovers before I finally made my late night arrival in New Hampshire, I figured that it would be wise to eat (and of course have a few last libations) before I left paradise.

Lyman suggested the fresh fish wrap on a spinach tortilla with the rice and beans. Both were absolutely delicious and hit the spot. It’s evident that the cafe takes great pride in its food. This is not your average, run of the mill airport eatery.

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The cafe accepts cash, MasterCard, and Visa. There’s a sign which lets you know to inform your server if you’d like the tip added into the amount of your bill. It’s not like the mainland where you can enter your tip after the card has been run. Of course, they’ll gladly accept a cash tip!

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Now that I’ve spilled the beans, I hope that you’ll discover the Isla Nena Cafe sooner than later. It’s a great place for great food and good company. I think it will definitely alter a lukewarm opinion towards “airport food.”

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