I have been traveling to Puerto Rico quite often in preparation of my upcoming book, Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico and in doing so have experienced some delicious meals. There are so many places to eat in San Juan and the list gets longer as friends rave of new restaurants popping up in the city. Just as in many other countries, there has been a culinary revival in Puerto Rico, especially rehashing old recipes and utilizing local ingredients. I made this list combining not only my favorites but also asking my friends and family who live on the island for their picks.
Dining Traveler’s Picks: Places to Eat in San Juan
Santaella: The Placita (farmer’s market) of Santurce has been a center of Puerto Rican food for decades. Lately, there’s been a crop of amazing restaurants popping up in that area. One of them is Santaella. I recently dined there and the menu is deliciously inventive. Try the crab on a large bed of fried shredded plantains (aranitas) and the fried red snapper. Dining Traveler Tip: The restaurant is quite busy in the evening, lunch service is much more relaxed.
St. Germain: Old San Juan is one of my favorite places in Puerto Rico. With its colorful buildings and its narrow cobblestone streets, it is popular with locals and tourists alike. St Germain has a hip fresh vibe merging European and Puerto Rican cuisine. I had a deliciously colorful salad with skirt steak and local veggies. Dining Traveler Tip: My friends rave about their brunch, be sure to make a reservation.
Pirilo Pizza Rustica: Another local favorite in Old San Juan is Pirilo Pizza Rustica. Located in Calle Fortaleza, it is a tiny spot beloved by tourists and locals alike. I enjoyed their large pizzas which arrive on a pedestal at your table. The prices are reasonable, especially for Viejo San Juan. Not to miss: their sangria. It has a unique touch of crushed anise, delicious.
Casa Cortes Chocobar: Cortes Chocolate has been a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine for many years. I recall dipping thick slices of gouda cheese into my hot chocolate cortes as a kid growing up on the island. This classic combination (at least for Puerto Ricans) comes alive in their chocolate grilled cheese sandwich. When I saw it on the menu I was intrigued and it did not disappoint. It took me back to my childhood. Not to miss: The art gallery onsite.
1919 at Condado Vanderbilt: Looking for a decadent dining space? 1919 is the perfect backdrop for a special occasion with its sexy dining room with rows of glimmering crystals on its flat chandeliers. Some of the highlights of the refined menu of Chef Jose Cuevas include local seared duck and a rich chocolate cake for dessert.
Soleil Beach Club: Back in 2008 I had my 30th birthday party at this institution in the Piñones neighborhood of San Juan. Everything was perfect: the flawless lechon with its crispy skin, the morcillas (blood sausage), and arroz con gandules. I was surprised and happy to see that Chef Juan Carlos still keeps this delicious menu alive (and consistent) eight years later as I recently attended a wedding at this restaurant. Dining Traveler tip: head there midday for great views of the beach.
Budatai: Some of my favorite cuisines: Thai, Japanese, and Puerto Rican come together at this local favorite in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan. This is a favorite of one of my friends who lives nearby. Their menu is a creative variation of the traditional Puerto Rican restaurants you may encounter when looking for places to eat in San Juan. From their sushi selection to their pork guisado dumplings, the menu caters to every palate.
Kasalta: There’s a place that I never miss on my trips to Puerto Rico. The name is Kasalta. Sometimes I literally land, pick up my rental, and end up at this place as my first stop. This panaderia (bakery) is an institution at the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan. Even President Obama has eaten here! My favorite item is the medianoche (midnight) sandwich. It’s a grilled soft baguette with fresh roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. Just magical. I always end my lunch with a cortado coffee with a quesito (puff pastry filled with cream cheese).
Asere: Another favorite among friends, Asere brings the flavors of Cuba to Puerto Rico at La Placita de Santurce. New to the San Juan restaurant scene, it has quickly built a following. Chef Marino has included recipes from his grandmother to the menu to include grilled octopus, Cuban sandwich, and cod fillet with tomatoes and melon. Dining Traveler Tip: have a drink at their lounge and take in their gorgeous Spanish design.
Niche Bistro: This tiny restaurant tucked away at Acacia Boutique Hotel, in my opinion one of the best kept secrets in San Juan. French Chef David Chaymol has created a “Francorican” menu merging French classics with Puerto Rican ingredients. I still think about the duck confit plantain pastelon I had, it was one of the best dishes I’ve had on the island. Save room for dessert: the soufflé made with Mallorca bread and a berry sauce is not to be missed.
There are so many places to eat in San Juan that the list can go on and on. It has been interesting to see the evolution of Puerto Rican gastronomy throughout the years. From unlikely cultural combinations, to the classics, there is no shortage of where to dine in the capital of Puerto Rico.
What are your favorite places to eat in San Juan? Share in the comments!
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