Eat This Now: Pit-Roasted Pork at Lechonera Principe

This family-run Kensington spot is the only place in the city pit roasting the traditional Puerto Rican way.

Roast pork at Lechonera Principe | Photo by Alex Jones

Lechonera Principe claims to be the only restaurant in the region that’s licensed to run a proper Puerto Rican-style brick charcoal pit, located in the backyard of their unassuming space at Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Bodine Street in Kensington.

There, owners Santiago and Margarita Principe have been roasting pork and chicken for 23 years, continuing a tradition Santiago learned from his parents in Puerto Rico.

You can see the labor-intensive process they use to get that pork ultra-tender inside and perfectly crisp outside right here:

The young pigs are rubbed with spices inside and out, then racked on a spit and placed in the pit to rotate over natural charcoal for two to four hours, depending on the size of the animal.

The pit roasting process creates deep, dark skin with a ton of crunch and smoky flavor while the meat stays moist and juicy beneath. Sprinkle on some spice in the form of Margarita’s house-made pique, a tangy hot sauce made with garlic and peppers, that’s sold by the register.

In addition to pit-roasted pork and chicken, Lechonera Principe makes its own pastelillos (half-moon-shaped pastries filled with meat), rellenos de papa (fried potato balls stuffed with tender barbecued chicken), alcapuirrias (fritters made with green banana or cassava root), and morcilla (blood sausage) in addition to maví, a root beer-esque Caribbean drink made with fermented maví tree bark, ginger, and cinnamon.

In Puerto Rico, this is special occasion food, but the Principes roast meats fresh every day, with customers coming from as far as Connecticut and New York to get their fix.

In fact, the best time to get it is around 9:30 a.m., when the pork first comes off the spit. Order up a platter with savory, saucy beans and rice for less than $10, or buy meat by the pound to go. You can get whole young pigs to order for special events, too.

Head to Lechonera Principe Wednesday through Saturday between 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. — get there early for the moistest meat and choicest cuts.