In late 2020, my husband and I began to see seemingly endless posts on Instagram of a food truck turning out wood-fired pizzas in Santurce, a neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico near where we live. There was a classic Margherita pie with fresh mozzarella on it, another with a cacio e pepe sauce, and a special topped with burrata that oozed out over the crust when cut into. One was dotted with little cups of pepperoni. They were straightforward—and isn’t that what one wants most in a classic Neapolitan pie? Of course, we placed an order. I chose the pomodoro, a cheeseless pizza dotted with thinly sliced fresh garlic. The pie was everything a pizza should be: simple, elegant marinara, a balance of garlic, basil, and earthy rosemary, and a crisp yet chewy crust. The man responsible for these pies is Ángel Rosario, Fidela’s owner. Since I first tasted his pomodoro, the pizza scene in San Juan has exploded.
Rosario didn’t set out to become a pizza-maker. But while working as a bartender and server at Pirilo, a San Juan–based pizza chain, he found himself drawn into the kitchen—and to the process of making pizza crust using a sourdough starter. It was 2013, and slowly but surely, the Neapolitan wave of smaller, bubblier pizza was making its way to the Caribbean archipelago. His newfound obsession led to nights watching YouTube videos on how to maintain a starter, days reading the books of every pizzaiolo he could get his hands on, and eventually the purchase of a food truck with partner Camila Cruz in 2019, in which they installed a wood-fired oven. Ever since, they have been serving pies in the Santurce neighborhood—selling out regularly. Soon, the brick-and-mortar location of Fidela will follow.
Pizza in Puerto Rico is nothing new. Via Appia in Condado has been open since 1976, where crisp-crusted pies are served on a menu that also features comida criolla classics like fried cheese with guava sauce and asopao con gandules—stew with pigeon peas. Loiza 2050, which serves thin-crust pies all weekend, opened ten years later. And there’s Il Sole, which serves wood-fired pies out of the El San Juan Hotel alongside a full trattoria menu. Here, pizza fits in alongside local comfort food.
What Fidela has done, though, is initiate a shift in the landscape, where pizza is the central focus and acts as a canvas for new ingredients and flavors. Since I was first introduced to Fidela, I’ve eaten pizza topped with chorizo-spiced potatoes from La Santurcina, and a pie from Panoteca San Miguel served with merguez sausage and parsley yogurt. Puerto Rico, being car-centric in its transportation, does not have a by-the-slice pizza culture. Here, it’s about sitting down around a table, or bringing a pie home for the family after church or baseball practice. While in the past that pie may have come from a multinational chain like Domino’s or Papa John’s, there’s now the possibility of picking up a top-notch pizza from a food truck parked on a side street, or off the highway.
The understanding of pizza as an event—something worth carving time out to enjoy—has made San Juan ripe for an emergent Neapolitan pizza culture, where the chew and char of sourdough crust and the freshness of toppings are paramount, and sitting down to eat is a communal affair.