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The EAT List

The 11 best restaurants in Puerto Rico

One of the world's great culinary charmers? The best restaurants in Puerto Rico will make your foodie dreams come true

Written by
Suzanne Van Atten
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Eating in Puerto Rico is a delight. No, that word isn’t quite strong enough to convey the true majesty of this experience, so best to just put this list of establishments in your preferred order and start ticking them off. You’ll need quite the appetite to complete them all (especially on the same day, that’s ambitious), but each offers something that you’ll want to taste over and over again.

Puerto Rico’s culinary renaissance shows no sign of slowing down, as innovation and tradition find each other to be increasingly accommodating bedfellows. This is an island of flavours that will seduce every one of your senses, a dramatic statement that doesn’t quite do it all justice. In short, the food in Puerto Rico is very, very good.

Eating options here run the whole gamut, from crispy fritters cooked over an open flame to the celebrity chef-run gourmet joints among the Caribbean island’s many resorts and hotels. The island of enchantment is where foodie lovers encounter nirvana, and these are the very best restaurants that Puerto Rico has to offer.

Best restaurants in Puerto Rico

Where is it: San Juan

What is it: The standard-bearer for contemporary Puerto Rican cuisine located in a converted house with no signage in La Placita.

Why go: You never know what the menu will feature, but you can count on fresh interpretations of traditional Puerto Rican cuisine like picadillo, carne guisado or fried snapper. Reservations are not accepted, so be prepared to wait as long as an hour or more to get in. But you get a beeper so you can wander around La Placita and find a place to have a pre-dinner drink or two.

Price: Blowout

Lechonera Los Pinos
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Angelo R.

2. Lechonera Los Pinos

Where is it: Cayey

What is it: Located on what is affectionately known as the Pork Highway (officially, Highway 184 in Guavate), Los Pinos specializes in whole roasted pig, as well as a number of local delicacies like green banana salad and pasteles.

Why go: Many lechoneras (those would be restaurants that specialize in roasted pork from a spit) have gotten away from roasting their pork on site, but Los Pinos still does it and it is sublime. Also expect live music and dancing to accompany your dining experience on the weekends.

Price: Bargain

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Where is it? Carolina

What is it? The clue is in the name. A contemporary steakhouse straight out of carnivorous dreams

Why go? If you come across a restaurant called The Meat Market, chances are you’re going to make your mind up pretty quickly. Meat lovers will find themselves salivating at the sheer mention of such a place, a steakhouse with a difference that serves up some of the finest cuts in Puerto Rico. The 16-ounce ribeye is a thing of beauty, both aesthetically and taste-wise, while the whole place sizzles with sophisticated charm.

Price: Average

Where is it: San Juan

What is it: Surrounded by high-rise office buildings in Santurce, Lote 23 is a contemporary take on Puerto Rico’s street food kiosk culture, hosting more than a dozen food vendors representing some of San Juan’s most innovative, young chefs.

Why go: Enjoy a variety of items from craft cocktails to doughnuts but, whatever you do, don’t miss Pernilería Los Próceres’ pulled pork sandwich served from an Airstream trailer. If you time your visit right, you can catch some live music or watch a movie as well.

Price: Bargain

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Where is it: Guayanilla

What is it: The birthplace of chuleta can-can, a traditional Puerto Rican dish that combines a pork chop with spare ribs and chicharrónes in one big slab o’ meat.

Why go: Besides the fact that this is the one place you’re sure to get a chuleta can-can properly prepared, it’s a lovely, traditional-style restaurant in an old-fashioned wooden structure tucked into a pretty patch of tropical forest. Best of all: the food is outstanding and super cheap.

Price: Bargain

Where is it: San Juan

What it is: This is a romantic, sophisticated restaurant in Old San Juan that is lit for optimum effect and draped in swaths of jewel-toned silk organza, serving a menu of mostly small plates that fuse flavors from around the world.

Why go: This is the place to come for exquisite cocktails made from fresh juices, herbs and edible flowers, and small plates of kale pasta in a white bean alfredo sauce, pan roasted foie gras with warm blackberry sauce and braised rabbit in a black olive-basil pesto. Consider the six-course tasting menu with wine pairings or order à la carte.

Price: Blowout

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Casita Miramar
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Glen Y.

7. Casita Miramar

Where is it: San Juan

What is it: Potted palms and twinkle lights help infuse a touch of romance into the small, crowded dining rooms of this Miramar restaurant revered for its traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.

Why go: Sometimes you don’t want innovative twists on long-standing dishes. Sometimes, you want the real deal, like the abuelas (read: grandmothers!) used to make. That’s exactly what you’ll get here: downhome arroz con pollo, mofongo, rice and beans and maduros. Begin with a glass of passion fruit sangria and end with fruit-studded tres leches cake.

Price: Pricey

Where is it? San Juan

What is it? A hyper-trendy modern space serving up mouthwatering tapas and colorful cocktails in equal measure

Why go? Another charmer in La Pacita, Santaella is an energetic restaurant that is as popular for its social element as the culinary one. The focus of the latter is on Puerto Rican dishes fuelled by locally sourced ingredients, creating a truly San Juan experience that also happens to be magnificently delicious. All this without mentioning the stunning wall window that gives a gorgeous view of verdant greenery? Santaella is tremendous.

Price: Pricey

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Uma’s
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Joe L.

9. Uma’s

Where is it: Isabela

What is it: An open-air, beachfront oasis on the northwest coast serving stellar cocktails and an unexpected menu of dumplings, kabobs and samsas.

Why go: The second location of a popular Rockaway Beach, New York, spot serves cuisine from Uzbekistan as well as outstanding renditions of traditional Puerto Rican dishes like mofongo and whole fried snapper. It’s a beautiful—if unlikely—marriage of flavors and settings that miraculously works.

Price: Average

Where is it: San Juan

What is it: In addition to a half-dozen glass cases filled with luscious cheesecakes, pies and pastries, this bakery on steroids serves hearty lunch fare and provides full table service for dinner.

Why go: This is the way a Cuban sandwich is meant to be constructed: crusty bread stuffed with Swiss cheese, pickle slices and a thick stack of sliced ham and pork, pressed and toasted. The café con leche is also exceptional and is the perfect accompaniment to a sticky quesito pastry.

Price: Bargain

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Where is it? San Juan

What is it? Experience and enthusiasm aplenty, the husband and wife duo at the heart of Vianda follow these dishes from the farm to the table. It doesn’t get much more local than this.

Why go? A much-loved restaurant in the city, Vianda serves up a small menu of dishes that guarantee the freshest fare in town. The homeliness of the cuisine juxtaposes well with the minimalist industrial interior, bridging the gap between the past and the future in a most delicious way. The tasting menu changes on a monthly basis, and the wine list is among the best in Puerto Rico.

Price: Pricey

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