Say Wepa! Now There’s Puerto Rican Food in Mérida

Spanglish Mid Puerto Rican food in Mérida
Rice, tostones and green salad complement a creole shrimp Boricua Bowl at Spanglish Mid in Mérida. The menu rotates regularly. Chef/owner Jannice Santiago is influenced by her Bronx Nuyorican background. Photos: Estefanya Del Cielo Osorio Chin

Bronx native Jannice Santiago started out in Mérida alone but unexpectedly found love — and a new business venture that brings us a certain Caribbean island’s cuisine heretofore rarely found in these parts.

The cuisine is Puerto Rican, and the flavors are authentic. Her restaurant, Spanglish Mid, is the realization of a lifelong dream. 

Spanglish Mid is tucked behind Justo, La Bottega and Matilda on the Paseo de Montejo. Boriqua Bowls, tostones and pastelón are served daily — just watch for the New York subway sign over the entrance on Calle 58A.

It was daring to bring cuisine unfamiliar to most Méridanos, but if her Google reviews are any indication, she’s quickly won them over. Yucatán has hosted plenty of Puerto Rican celebrities, such as Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, Chayanne, and Luis Fonsi, but some reviewers wondered what took so long for food from Puerto Rico to arrive. 

Spanglish Mid Puerto Rican food in Mérida
The entrance to Spanglish Mid, to the rear of La Bottega and Matilda near the Monumento a la Patría, makes an apt reference to a New York City subway station. The restaurant brings all the traditions of a New York – Puerto Rican kitchen to Mérida. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

Puerto Rican food is typically rich and savory but not spicy hot. Its blend of Spanish, Caribbean and indigenous ingredients—plantains, rice, root vegetables, and savory beans—is the ultimate comfort food. 

Without “Goya aisles” in the local supermarkets, there are no shortcuts to building the flavors of Puerto Rican food. Which is fine because all the flavor bases at Spanglish are made from scratch. Achiote oil, sofrito, sazón, and adobo give Puerto Rican food its distinctive, umami flavor. She makes do without red kidney beans, gandules (pigeon peas) and culantro, which can’t be found here. 

Her habichuelas guisadas, or stewed beans, with olives, capers, and bits of potato spooned over rice, are proof that Jannice achieves the flavors that satisfy homesick boricuas.

Spanglish Mid Puerto Rican food in Mérida
At the Spanglish bar, the crew is about to prepare for the dinner rush. From left: chef/owner Jannice Santiago, waitress Christi Monserrat Rodríguez Sima, supervisor Mónica Alvarez, sous chef Julio Cesar León Pérez, and kitchen assistant Evelyn Margarita Sarlat Jimenez. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

The restaurant is named for what Puerto Ricans jokingly call their English-infused version of conversational Spanish. 

“My whole life has been in Spanglish,” Jannice says, smiling while recalling an initial learning curve. “I can speak super Puerto Rican with my island accent, even though I didn’t live there. I’ve learned to improve my Spanish, but you know what? Sometimes a vamo ver comes out, and it’s vamos a ver.”

Jannice arrived here in December 2021 — with two suitcases and her dog — and the restaurant opened on Nov. 24, 2023. There was some serendipity in between.

“I came as a tourist. I wasn’t looking to build a business,” Jannice says, adding that she was teaching English as a second language online.

Along the way, she met a Mexican man who happened to be the owner of La Bottega, where she was eating for the first weekend of her vacation. By her admission, both were armed with their big-city attitudes.

Spanglish Mid Puerto Rican food in Mérida
Beans at Spanglish are cooked with a homemade sofrito, potatoes, capers and olives and served over rice for traditional Puerto Rican habichuelas guisadas. Photo: Estefanya Del Cielo Osorio Chin

“That day, I came in with the dog,” Jannice says, seemingly describing a scene from a Hollywood romantic comedy.  “He comes out and says, ‘Hey, do you want water for your dog?’ and me, like a super New Yorker dog mom, was like, ‘No, thank you. I have water. We’re fine.’ ” 

The next day, she came back again as a customer. He happened to be there. The conversation that followed got a little more relaxed, and a relationship started to blossom. 

“It’s such a great story. I really love love.” 

These days, she doesn’t go far from him when she’s at work. Her restaurant is right next door to his.

Jannice earned her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Fairleigh Dickinson University and gained managerial experience at a major Times Square chain restaurant. 

But of all the places she could have explored four years ago, why Mérida? 

Spanglish Mid Puerto Rican food in Mérida
The colorful Spanglish dining room employs empty Café Bustelo cans — something any Puerto Rican will immediately recognize. Photo: Estefanya Del Cielo Osorio Chin

“Because of the weather,” she answers — in an interview that happened to take place in the hottest and most humid period of the year. She craved heat and humidity, and she found it.

Most home cooks from San Juan to Syracuse just reach for a packet of prepared Sazón powdered seasoning mix. The same with sofrito, the blend of aromatics that are the beginning of any pot of beans. Spanglish prepares fresh batches regularly, blending her mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. 

“We use a lot of sazón and achiote, but we don’t use it like Mexicans use achiote,” Jannice notes. While Mexican cuisine uses achiote paste or a thick liquid, Puerto Rican recipes call for the achiote to be infused with oil.

The food is also guaranteed to be easy on the palate.

“Puerto Ricans are not usually going to be eating something super spicy,” she continues. We have something called pique. And it’s something that’s made at home. It’s like bottles that we put our own peppers, oil, and vinegar in. It’s like moonshine.”

Spanglish Mid brings the classics of Puerto Rico to Yucatán.
Jannice Santiago brought the Puerto Rican food of her roots to Mérida with the restaurant Spanglish. Photo: Estefanya Del Cielo Osorio Chin

But for Yucatecan diners who insist on a spicy condiment, her Cuban-born chef offers “Salsa Spanglish.” 

Of course, any decent Puerto Rican kitchen has some simple demands. Sometimes, you can’t have one thing without the other.

“For Puerto Ricans, having some guisado (stew) is all about the caldo (broth), and with platanos, we have to have rice,” she says. 

Rice is what the tortilla is for Mexican food. Without it, the plate is incomplete. 

“If there’s no rice, I don’t know what you want me to do.”

IG: @spanglishmid

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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