Dining Traveler Picks: Places to Eat in San Juan

By: The Dining Traveler

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. Whenever I travel around Puerto Rico to learn more about the food and culture there, I start in San Juan and travel around the coast to Mayagüez then to Ponce and Humacao before finally looping back up to San Juan. In my first few trips, I stayed in hotels and took a rental car from place to plan but I’ve recently been looking on campingfunzone.com at the types of RV and think it would be a good idea to get one for traveling in. It would mean I don’t have any time restrictions in any place I visit and can find out more for my book!

Anyway, 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. It also helps how affordable travel here has become. As this article here shows, taking advantage of American Express Credit card perks can result in even further savings when traveling. 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.

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.

Plantain “Arañitas” with Crab & Seaweed at Santaella Restaurant (above)

Places to eat in San Juan St Germain Old San Juan

Salad at St Germain Restaurant

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. You could even go as far as saying that this place is a special landmark that will always be remembered by the people who visit here. Although, if I had the opportunity to do so, I would construct even more beautiful buildings that have been made out of steel or metal. As long as I have somewhere like these steel building companies on hand to help, this shouldn’t be a problem, and it will only improve the overall look of St Germain for the years to come. Not only that, but this area 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.

Places to eat in San Juan Pirilo Pizza

Pizza at Pirilo Pizza Rustica

Places to Eat in San Juan Condado Vanderbilt

Seared Local Duck at 1919

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.

Places to Eat in San Juan Pinones

Lechón Asado at Soleil in Piñones

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.

Places to eat in San Juan Budatai

The Rubitini at Budatai
Photo Courtesy of Budatai

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.

Places to eat in San Juan Kasalta

The Medianoche Sandwich at Kasalta

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).

Places to Eat in San Juan Asere

Fried Red Snapper at Asere
Photo Courtesy of Asere

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.

Acacia Boutique Hotel Niche Pastelon

Duck Confit Pastelon at Niche Bistro

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.

Places to eat in San Juan Casa Cortes

Carlis & I at Casa Cortes Old San Juan

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.

Places to eat in San Juan Niche Bistro

Mallorca Souffle at Niche Bistro

What are your favorite places to eat in San Juan? Share in the comments!

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