The 10 Best Restaurants For Local Flavor In Puerto Rico
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.
Courtesy Criolla Shrimp
Punto de Vista Restaurant & Bar
Bar, Restaurant, Caribbean, $$$
Punto de Vista Restaurant & Bar Punto de Vista Restaurant and Bar is the perfect place to watch the sunset, offering a rooftop dining experience above the Hotel Milano, a restaurant setting unique to San Juan’s old town. Owner Michael and his team work to provide efficient service with a warm and friendly atmosphere, complete with dining chairs carved out of barrels. The shrimp and chicken mofongo with garlic sauce comes highly recommended, as do their selection of mojitos which are temptingly and perpetually offered in a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Try the coconut and strawberry flavors as you relax into your evening.
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.
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’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.
Cafe, Coffee Shop, Coffee, Tea , Fast Food, Vegetarian
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.
Regarding itself as the ‘trendiest venue in the Condado beach area’, Oceano offers a three-story experience of the modern Caribbean lifestyle, with breathtaking views of the adjacent ocean. Chef Eric Gonzalez and his team serve up a menu rich with seafood enhanced by ‘tropical accents’, such as the yuca crusted calamari, crispy calamari steak strips with mango sweet chilli and cilantro aioli, and the poke style ahi tuna tacos. For dessert lovers, the ‘ocean of chocolate’ is a must try, consisting of chocolate praline croquatine lathered in chocolate with a dark chocolate mousse and maracaibo cremeux, swirled in an indulgent praline sauce.
Pikayo can be found in the Conrad Condado Plaza, operating under the watchful eye of Chef Wilo Benet. Wilo Benet’s flagship project incorporates his ‘nu+globalmix’ palate, one that is constantly developing and evolving in accordance with his personal travels and influences. Diners rave about the foie gras appetizer with ripe plantains and black truffle honey as well as the popular petit pork belly hamburgers with gouda cheese. Finish off this decadent repast with the chocolate soufflé, completing a true fine dining experience.
Restaurant, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Contemporary, $$$
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.
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.
For a dining experience with a unique atmosphere, Yantar should be your first port of call. Overlooking the beautiful scenery of the lagoon and oozing a youthful, modern and trendy vibe, matched impeccably by attentive and approachable staff, Yantar does fine dining without the pretense, and managing to retain all the glamour. Expect tapas style dishes and the odd complimentary taster, such as artisan cheeses, fish fritters and chocolate desserts, to add to an already satisfying evening. Favorites include the halibut on a bed of creamy risotto and the filet with fois gras shavings. Enjoy these dishes with a tipple from their extensive cocktail menu, also locally considered well worthy of your attention.