The Best Restaurants For Local Flavor In Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the oldest city in the United States
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the oldest city in the United States
Bethany Stuart

The Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico, Spanish for ‘rich port,’ was originally inhabited by aborigines, known as Taíno, until 1493, when Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain. The island was transformed by European culture, the remnants of which can still be seen in the beautiful historical architecture and diverse culinary scene of cities like San Juan. Here is an updated listing of the 10 best cultural restaurants in the country’s capital.

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Ali Baba Restaurant

Turkish kebap with side dish

Ali Baba’s Turkish restaurant, renowned for its excellent service, attracts a loyal and satisfied customer base. Conveniently located in the Condado Village, the restaurant offers a taste of something different in the heart of Puerto Rico’s capital. Try the iskender, thinly sliced lamb in a tomato sauce served on a fresh pitta and with yogurt on the side, for a truly authentic flavor of the Middle East. Wash it down with a pitcher of the house’s secret recipe sangria to bring you back to the Spanish flavors of San Juan.

Cafe Cola’o

It has been the mission of Cafe Cola’o, since its opening in 2006, to promote the passion of Puerto Rican coffee bean growers and the sensational quality and taste of their produce. Locals and tourists can enjoy tasting the different local varieties in this unique and specialized café, set alongside the beautiful old port area of San Juan. Perfect for those wishing to while away a few hours before exploring the old town, Cafe Cola’o provides a warm and charming ambiance in which to sip a café con leche with a delicate, flaky pastry and watch the world go by.

Marmalade Restaurant & Wine Bar

Marmalade’s menu is a diverse and vibrant mixture of flavors ranging from vegan friendly choices to complex meat dishes and fragrant oriental classics. More than just somewhere to eat, Marmalade is a cultural destination in itself and offers a 15 course group sharing menu for the adventurous, inquisitive diner. It includes white bean and black truffle soup with pancetta followed by warm banana and butterscotch bread pudding served with Brazilian nut and rum ice cream. Chef Peter Schintler sticks firmly to his ethos of using only the finest locally sourced organic ingredients, helping to support the small Puerto Rican producers as well as ensuring that the best flavors reach the plate.

Don Ruiz – Roastery, Museum & Café

Cafe Don Ruiz is a newcomer to the artisan coffee shops of the old town, located in the beautiful Cuartel de Ballajá. Complete with its own museum, it showcases the traditional methods and antique equipment involved in the coffee making process that Don Ruiz and his family have been mastering since the beginning of the twentieth century. Still a family operated organisation, every cup has generations of craft and passion poured into it. Whilst emphasis remains on the strong, potent flavor of the coffee, customers can enjoy a simple accompanying menu of homemade pastries, sandwiches, thin crepes layered with cream and even specialty drinks and cigars.

Santaella

Out of a run down handy store comes an architectural triumph. With an internal tropical garden in the center of the restaurant and beautiful abstract wallpaper, Santaella is a delight for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. A stone’s throw away from the traditional local farmer’s market, or ‘La Placita,’ the menu prides itself on its locally sourced, organic ingredients. One of the best tapas restaurants in the area, popular dishes include the ahituna skewers, marinated in oriental spices and served with rice paper fritters, baby octopus casserole with chorizo and chickpeas, and the fried Nutella dessert.

St Germain Bistro & Café

Located in a beautiful colonial building just off of the old town, St Germain Bistro and Cafe offers a European dining experience, paying homage to the Parisian neighbourhood of St Germain-de-Pres. Its location means the cafe relies largely on the advertising of its regulars, so tourists will be warmly invited into an authentic San Juan restaurant much loved by its locals. Fresh, delicious and reasonably priced dishes occupy St Germain’s menu, including gourmet sandwiches, salads and a taste of the Caribbean with an exquisite shrimp ceviche. There is also a separate Sunday brunch menu for lovers of classic dishes such as eggs Benedict, L’epinard and Floreli, a perfect justification to enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon European-style.

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