San Juan's fine dining scene is the most varied and developed in the Caribbean. City restaurants serve up excellent Spanish, French, American, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and Asian cuisines.
While tasty Puerto Rican food has always been widely available on the island, in recent years, it has moved front and center at many of the city's finer restaurants. Several of the island's most talented chefs are striving to bring their hometown cuisine to new heights at some of its trendier eating establishments.
A big part of the island's culinary appeal is its diversity. San Juan literally has some of the best steakhouses in the world (BLT Steak, the Palm, Morton's of Chicago, plus a number of superb local Latino steakhouses specializing in grilled meats). And the island has long delivered expert renditions of Spanish cuisine, as well as traditional French and other Continental cookery. Of special note are the Italian restaurants (and local pizzerias), which take their inspiration directly from the New York City area and are competitive with the best in the genre stateside. Many others are Argentinean kitchens, which serve up a lighter Italian fair and delectable grilled skirt steak.
Seafood plays a big role in many local restaurants. Many of the finer San Juan restaurants use local catches or import fresh seafood from off island, especially for nonnative species such as Maine lobster and salmon. Red snapper and dolphinfish (known as chillo and dorado, respectively) are two local favorites, with fresh catch of each being widely available.
What may surprise the visitor is the quality and variety of Asian restaurants in the city, which include several gourmet eateries specializing in regional cuisines of China and top-notch Japanese steakhouses and sushi emporiums. There are about a dozen Lebanese and Arabian restaurants offering great food at modest prices. Many transport diners to the Middle East with Arabian music, belly-dancing, and a sheik's tent decor.
San Juan also has unexpected surprises: gourmet Indian, German baked goods, a Peruvian ceviche house, and an Irish bar and grill plucked out of midtown Manhattan.
The resort hotels along Condado and Isla Verde house excellent restaurants, among them, some of the island's finest. But you will miss out on some of the more unique and memorable dining experiences if you don't search beyond the hotel establishments.
Of course, the pleasures of eating in San Juan go beyond formal dining in restaurants. A fixture in the city is the presence of Spanish panaderías, or bakeries, an excellent choice for breakfast or lunch but an option for dinner as well. They have fresh baked goods, fat deli sandwiches, and traditional Spanish entrees such as caldo gallego and arroz con pollo. You get strong and tasty Puerto Rican coffee, fresh juices, and frappes as well.
Also be on the lookout for fondas, which are basic restaurants, often with just a counter or a few tables, that serve tasty local food at rock-bottom prices. There are a number of these around Avenida Ponce de León in downtown Santurce, which cater to office workers and students. Look to a fonda for an authentic island meal and a chance to brush up on your Spanish and rub elbows with Puerto Rican workers.
The city is one of the fast food capitals of the world, with all the familiar American brands, but also more obscure regional favorites such as Pollo Tropical. U.S. casual, chain-style restaurants also have a big presence on the island, with everything from Chili's to Marcano's Macaroni Grill.
Street-food aficionados will also find solace in San Juan. There are many stand-up only cafes throughout the city serving barbecued kebabs, fried codfish fritters, and turnovers stuffed with fish, spiced chicken, or beef. The Piñones area, east of Isla Verde, has oceanfront wooden stands where the frituras, or fried beach snacks, and kebabs are cooked over open fires.
The restaurants listed in this section are classified first by area and then by price, using the following categories: Very Expensive, dinner from $50 per person; Expensive, dinner from $35 per person; Moderate, dinner from $25 per person; and Inexpensive, dinner under $25 per person. These categories reflect prices for an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and a glass of wine.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.