Puerto Rico is a great place to go sight-seeing, surfing, fishing, hiking, hanging out on the beach, dancing or shopping. But it is also a great place to eat, with many gastronomical options available for every palate and budget. As someone who has dined in and around the capital San Juan -- and beyond -- many times, I have a few favorite places. Below are reviews and information for some of them. Buen provecho!
Key: $ = Inexpensive $ $ = Moderate $ $ $ = Expensive
364 Calle Fortaleza,Old San Juan * 787-977-3886 * $$$
This latin-asian fusion eatery has been in Old San Juan for well over a decade, and shows no signs of slowing down. Always crowded (they don’t normally even take reservations, but calling ahead to get a feel for how busy it is is usually a good idea), but always worth it. It’s in a really old Old San Juan building, and it’s set up inside to kind of look and feel like an old Chinese opium den…dark, cramped and labyrinthine (it has two levels connected by narrow, winding stairways). This may sound less than ideal, but the atmosphere it tries to create really works. Try the chorizo fried rice, the fried calamari or the grilled tuna steak. Or anything, really. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but well worth it.
1105 Marginal Villamar, Carolina * 787-727-0528 * $
You’ll see lots of panaderias (bakeries) all over Puerto Rico, and most of them are at least pretty good. This one just seems to have the best breakfast sandwiches and orange juice of them all, though. Located in the Isla Verde neighborhood of Carolina (across the highway from the hotels and the beach), this place has been around for over 40 years, and it’s easy to see why. They not only have incrediblepan de agua sandwiches (my favorite is the ham, cheese and egg), but they also have paella and other Spanish and Boricua delicacies. A little pricier than most similar establishments due to being in a tourist area, but oh, so good. You can even buy bottled liquor here if you’re so inclined.
Recinto Sur 323, Old San Juan * 787-723-7539 * $$
THE place for mofongo in San Juan (or anywhere else, really). Get somemofongo filled with fried pork, or shrimp, or chicken, or even plain. Their rice and beans are also absurdly good. The décor and ambiance don’t quite match up to the slightly-higher than normal prices, but you won’t regret it. Unless your taste in food sucks. In which case, there’s a McDonald’s a few blocks away. Highly recommended if you want to have some good local food. Did I mention the mofongo??
Zafra Del Caribe
Road PR 189, Kilometer # 5.3, Gurabo * 787-737-2737 * $$
This excellent Puerto Rican/Mediterranean eatery is definitely not in the tourist areas, but worth the 30 minute or so drive from San Juan. Delicious and varied risotto dishes dominate the menu, which also has excellent seafood choices. Paella, poultry, steaks, pasta and local appetizers round out the offerings. A good quiet place to go with family or a date. With many entrees over $20, it is on the expensive side.
Rosa de Triana
72 Caleta de San Juan, San Juan, 00901 * 787-722-1144 * $$$
Rosa de Triana is a real Spanish cultural and culinary experience, albeit with a light Puerto Rican twist. This restaurant and tapas bar, located "downhill" in Old San Juan, has delectable appetizers and tapas, as well as excellent entrees. Although it's a bit on the expensive side (entrees average at about $25), it is well worth what you pay. Try the Chorizos al Vino, the Tostones or the croquettes from their tapas menu. The paella is definitely Spanish. Besides the food, they offer flamenco demonstrations and lessons on certain nights (with plenty of audience participation expected!). It's tough to have a bad time at this place, in my opinion, and it's great for groups. Ole!
Lago Dos Bocas, Utuado 00641 * 787-894-8034 * $$
Getting to Rancho Marina can be quite a trek. First, you have to get to Dos Bocas Lake in the central mountain town of Utuado. At the docks, you can park, and a motorboat will take you across the lake to this charming waterfront eatery. As far as Puerto Rican food goes, the experience and the taste doesn’t get much better than this. I recommend sitting outside, on the patio with the view of Dos Bocas Lake. All plantain dishes are excellent, as are the appetizers, such as sorullos and empanadas . Great steak, pork and fish, but vegetarian options are also available. The atmosphere, straddling a line between informal and sophisticated, was perfect. Recommended.
Other restaurants of note around the island (* = recommended)
Che’s (Ocean Park, Argentinian cuisine/ steak, 787-726-7202) $$
Café Cocina Criolla Espresso Bar (Ponce, Puerto Rican, 787-841-7185) $
Chihuahua TexMex Cantina (Humacao, Mexican, 787-850-2693) $
El Negocio de Panchi (Ponce, Mediterranean, International, 787-848-4788) $
El Zipperle (Hato Rey/ San Juan, Spanish, 787-751-4335) $$$
Gonzalez Seafood Restaurant (Mayaguez, 787-265-7497) $$
Las Vistas Café at Siete Mares Bay Inn (Fajardo, American/ Puerto Rican, 787-655-7053) $$
Marmalade Restaurant & Wine Bar (Old San Juan, Caribbean / International, 787-724-3969) $$$
Ruth’s Chris Steak House * (Isla Verde [in Intercontinental Hotel], 787-253-1717) $$$
Tierra Santa * (Hato Rey, Middle Eastern, 787-754-6865) $$
Zest (Isla Verde [in Water Club Hotel], Contemporary, 787-728-3666) $$$