From traditional (think seafood paella) to trendy (pancetta dust on your white bean soup), the Puerto Rican capital is a tastebud treat – particularly if you explore the Old San Juan area. Bring an appetite.
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If you’re like most visitors to San Juan, you’ll want to hang out in the Viejo neighborhood – known as Old San Juan – with its easy-breezy, seaside atmosphere. Bursting with color, it’s bulging with art and history, and prides itself on its diverse culinary scene. If you want scrumptious food – Italian, Mexican and of course Puerto Rican – and unique menus, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the best restaurants in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Here’s a long-running, family-owned casual diner with authentic Puerto Rican food. You step in to find an eclectic mix of art set against walls painted in bright blues, pinks and yellows. Food is cooked and fried to perfection – order the red snapper, skirt steak or beef stew, each served in large portions. El Jibarito is popular with locals and tourists – this means there’s often a wait – and it’s earned a reputation for having some of the best mofongo (mashed green plantains) in the area.
One of the best-regarded restaurants in San Juan, Marmalade is about attention to detail. Many items on the international menu are hormone-free, pasture-raised and locally sourced. We recommend starting with the tiny white bean soup made using scallions, truffle oil and pancetta dust. Alternatively try the lamb tagine presented with chickpeas, roasted almond pomegranate and spiced green olives. Get a reservation well in advance as this place is a hit with locals and visitors.
This is another gem in Old San Juan to place high on your list of must-visit spots. A corner restaurant, it looks pretty unassuming from the outside, but its interiors reveal a kaleidoscope of art and color ricocheting around the walls. Like other well-loved Puerto Rican restaurants, the menu – on a chalkboard near the door – changes often, but all food is filling and home-made. If you have the chance, order the pulled pork or churrasco steak – both are tender and delicious.
311 Trois Cent Onze
There is French fine dining in San Juan, and you can find some of the best at 311 Trois Cent Onze. As you might expect it has an elegant feel, with dining tables all set under tall ceilings of exposed beams, hung with stately chandeliers. Top tip: if it’s available, order the coq au vin (chicken in a wine reduction stew), failing that, try the bouillabaisse (fish and shellfish stew). There’s a great selection of wine from Chile, New Zealand and, naturellement, France.
You may not think of pizza when you think of San Juan, but Pirilo has a loyal following with its freshly made artisan numbers, served against a backdrop of rustic red walls, bricky details and soft lighting. The menu aims wide – tapas treats include setas rellenas (mushrooms with manchego and mozzarella cheese, green onions and bacon). Besides the classic cheese and pepperoni pizza, there’s a tasty one made with smoked salmon, mozzarella and goat cheese.
This no-frills diner has been around for more than 70 years and it’s no wonder. Open seven days a week, it does classic, reasonably priced Puerto Rican dishes. Standouts are the mofongo stuffed shrimp and the breaded beef steak. The home-made desserts are worth a mention: bizcocho de pistachio (pistachio cake) or flan to coco (coconut custard). Breakfast is tasty and fulfilling. Order the salmon omelet or the Cuban sandwich and you’re all set for sightseeing.
Princesa – Cocina Cultura
Step back in time at this charming restaurant, inspired by Puerto Rican recipes from the 1800s. The menu sticks closely to local ingredients, and the seafood is especially fresh. We recommend the paella marinara made with a delectable medley of shrimp, octopus, calamari, grouper, mussels, clams and prawns. You’re assured a relaxing time – guests dine outdoors on a patio surrounded by plants and trees, and there’s a rum bar stocked with island specialties.
Café El Punto
For almost 30 years, Café El Punto has been turning out Puerto Rican food just like Puerto Rican matriarchs have made for generations. This restaurant is a bit of a secret find – from the outside, it looks like a souvenir shop, its entrance filled with gifts and knickknacks for sale. But step beyond and you’ll find a restaurant doing comfort food that locals and visitors can’t get enough of including fried cheese with aioli, butter lobster tail and baked empanadas. Bring an appetite.
Just a three-minute walk from Castillo San Cristóbal, this Mexican favorite is an easy place to find, with its lime-green exterior. It’s lovely inside – jauntily blue and white with plenty of bar seating – but if you can, grab a table outside, in the fresh island breeze. La Madre serves food with Mexican appeal: crispy fish tacos, tasty duck quesadillas and mini chicken or pork burrito rolls. For dessert, order the cinnamon-and-sugar sprinkled churros served with vanilla ice cream.
Sophia’s Old San Juan
San Juan fans of pizza, pasta and steak all agree: this is one of the very best places for Italian food in town. If you fancy the classic likes of lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, you’ll be in seventh heaven. Try Tony’s risotto, made with churrasco strips and mushrooms in truffle oil or a moreish Otto’s pizza with shrimp and scallions. One of our favorites is tortellini Loren, featuring mushrooms, sweet peas and prosciutto in vodka sauce. There’s plenty of patio dining outside.
Check out the best restaurants in all of San Juan, and make sure to spend your day by the most beautiful beaches in the city or visiting the top attractions. Book your accommodation with Culture Trip now, with great offerings from luxury all-inclusive hotels to cozier bed and breakfasts.
This is a rewrite of an article originally by Chanel Mowatt.