Puerto Rico has been part of US Territory since the Spanish-American War and you’ll find outstanding cuisine in the capital San Juan, including local delicacies such as the Pina Colada, which was invented here. Here are our top 10 restaurants for a taste of this Caribbean city.
For classical European fine dining and flair, Augusto’s Cuisine is the place to eat out in San Juan. The award-winning restaurant, with its strong French influence, is popular with the city’s elite. The walls are decorated with local art works in the formal, old-fashioned dining room, giving it a spirited, contemporary ambience. Patrons can begin with a cocktail such as James Bond’s vesper martini, or chat with the sommelier to help in the choice of a bottle from the 300 or more varieties on the wine list. Try the cream-based soup of the day, rack of lamb with aromatic herbs and fresh garlic, the lobster risotto, or the medallions of veal prepared with foie gras and Madeira sauce.
Marmalade chef Peter Schintler sources his food from small producers and local farmers who share earth friendly, organic and sustainable philosophies. The menu ranges from raw and vegan to fragrant and complex, ‘with layers of crafted and explosive flavours in between.’ The seasonal, 15-course group tasting menu, for example, is a ‘playful and creative’ combination of tapas-style meals. Dessert consists of a tasting of four different dishes from versatile chef Schintler’s imagination. With a menu inspired by cuisines from the Far East, Mediterranean, Middle East, Southern Europe, and Latin America, and a tastefully ecclectic interior, Marmalade has the art of dining down.
The Garden, a family owned restaurant is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant and wine garden that serves freshly caught fish and seafood and grass fed, farm-raised meats and chicken with no additives or artificial ingredients. The exclusive wine list features organic and traditional selections from North and South America, Australia and Europe. Try the Angus churrasco served with the house chimichurri, with a lavender whiskey sour. End your meal with ginger-vanilla crème brûlée or the carrot cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Fridays and Saturdays chill out with live music, samba or jazz or dj’s after 8 pm.
The Garden, 2413 Laurel Street, Punta Las Marías, San Juan, Puerto Rico+1 787 963-0087
For elegance, romance and fine dining, 1919, housed in the historic Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, is top of the list. The vibrant restaurant is run by people who are passionate about the locavore, or locally sourced, movement, so they aim to provide the freshest local ingredients for their farm as well as sport an ocean-to-table focus. Award-winning Puerto Rican born chef Juan Jose Cuevas has spent many years honing his culinary craft alongside many world renowned chefs, and his menu is full of eclectic and sophisticated dishes. These include coconut arepa with zucchini soup, fresh scallop crudo with frozen, grated radish, and braised veal cheeks over an apio polenta.
St Germain Bistro & Cafe is purposely positioned off the beaten track in the residential area of old San Juan and stands on a quiet cobbled street corner. The French-style bistro relies solely on word of mouth advertising and customer recommendations and the menu is made up of ‘slow foods’ with fresh ingredients, some bought daily from the farmer’s market, all prepared the moment they are ordered. Try the agua fresca, slightly sweet fruit water, for a quick reviver and perhaps choose the mushroom and brie soup, spinach and mango salad with dijon vinaigrette, or grouper and shrimp ceviche. Delights such as the just-baked cakes await, so make room. The wildly popular Sunday brunch is not to be missed, or drop in later in the evening for crepes and wine.
Tiny Café Cola’oon the pier in old San Juan, was the first specialty coffee shop in the area and set the trend for the beautiful Caribbean island’s many coffee outlets. Staff at Café Cola’o serve an excellent cup, and offer customers a choice of a selection of the finest beans.The Puerto Rican countryside-themed shop also serves juices, pastries and other items. Order a beautiful latte or cappuccino with leaf design and throw in a delicious turkey and manchego sandwich panini pressed, a chocolate chip cookie or a tasty powdered sugar covered flaky pastry with warm guava jam inside.
Parrot Club pioneered the drive to modernise local cuisine, and 15 years later the restaurant is still at its peak. The colourful, tropical interiors, the colonial architecture with its huge archways and high ceilings, the art and design, make it a vibrant place. Patrons can look into the open kitchen, or sit out in the palm-filled courtyard for dinner under the stars.The chef borrows from Spanish and Puerto Rican cuisines and combines Taíno and African inspirations. Parrot Club’s seared tuna is San Juan’s best, and the Creole-style flank steak is delicious. Wash down with the frozen blend of Bacardi limon, fresh orange and passion fruit.
Hip little Bagua Resturant in Ocean Park, Condado serve eclectic, artisan fare. The staff is friendly, helpful and love to make everyone feel warm and welcome. The ambience is funky and unassuming, and the restaurant is seen as a local favourite rather than a tourist restaurant. Bagua offers a variety of choices from Puerto Rican, Mexican, Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. The tacoviche starter, a ceviche from a white fish called dajao inside a taco shell made from plantain, is a must; the thicker taco shell provides a nice counterpoint to the sharp taste of the fish. For entree try the pan fried grouper with green salad, onions, peppers and mashed malanga, a root vegetable not quite as sweet as parsnip. The Marley jerk chicken, Jefferies Bay salad and the grilled octopus are also highly recommended.
Café Don Ruiz, one of the newest artisan coffee shops to open in Old San Juan, has a cozy vibe, friendly employees and walls hung with works of art. The furniture varies from antique to modern, with the chairs having been used on the family farm for generations and the décor has a modern and open feel, with outdoor seating overlooking the courtyard of Cuartel Ballajá. The coffee shop houses a small museum showcasing coffee-growing and related antiques. Coffee is a family tradition and has been since 1900 when Don Ruiz began to cultivate the richest and best tasting coffee possible. His legacy remains, with the family taking great pride in its product, inviting visitors to smell and taste it. There are also sandwiches, crepes, pastries and more, including cigars and specialty drinks for visitors to enjoy a relaxing moment in the historical building inside Ballaja. Try a Don Ruiz coconut mocha latte. Delicioso.
For something completely different, try a little spot inside the post office parking lot beside Kasalta’s, in San Juan, at the welcoming community centre and cafe of Mujeres Ayudando Madres, or ‘Women Helping Mothers’, Café Mam. The cafe offers tasty and affordable cuisine to support healthy families and pregnant women. The children can run and play while parents recharge with freshly made juices, coconut milkshakes, and hearty vegetarian and vegan dishes such as a lentil burger topped with mango sauce, avocado and papaya, or a tofu and hummus wrap. The customers are mostly locals and the staff are friendly, the service wonderful. There is also a natural food store offering a buffet spread on Friday, and daily specials include smoothies and juices.
Café Mam, 1958 Calle Mcleary, Unit 1903, San Juan, Puerto Rico +1 787 945 5000