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Riding a wave of culinary excitement and an emphasis on all things local, the restaurant scene in Puerto Rico is thriving. 

Over the past five years, Puerto Rico’s farmers and restaurateurs have echoed the island’s resilience post-Hurricane María, especially in San Juan, one of the Caribbean’s most vibrant culinary centers. From world-class gastronomic temples to no-frills storefronts serving home-cooked staples, a progressive spirit imbues the city's acclaimed chefs, who fuse the island's rich cultural legacy with modern cooking techniques.

Marmalade

Best for gourmet tasting menus and award-winning wines

Located on Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan, the world-renowned Marmalade has put Puerto Rico on the foodie map. Celebrated chef Peter Schintler, an Iowa native, draws on the island's diverse heritage to deftly blend indigenous and international ingredients. 

His prix-fixe menu features playful, socially conscious riffs on classic Caribbean fare, best paired with selections from the award-winning wine list or expertly crafted cocktail menu. Popular dishes include pasture-raised beef tenderloin and pesto-drizzled swordfish with local heirloom tomatoes. 

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1919 Restaurant

Best for a memorable fine-dining splurge 

In the elegant Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1919 is one of the most acclaimed fine-dining destinations in the Caribbean, thanks in no small part to the culinary genius of chef Juan José Cuevas. An alumnus of the Michelin-starred Blue Hill in New York, Cuevas is a farm-to-table pioneer on the island, sourcing local produce where possible. (Case in point, the Vanderbilt Hotel’s eggs all come from Puerto Rico farms). 

You can’t go wrong with the sous vide salmon, vacuum-packed and slow-cooked in a water bath to preserve natural flavors, then given a twist according to the season. For an unforgettable dining experience, opt for the chef’s menu accompanied by sommelier-selected wine pairings. Plush leather seats, mahogany tables, crystal chandeliers and sweeping Atlantic views lend poise and formality to the ambiance.

Medium close up shot of woman and man eating food
Puerto Rico is one of the Caribbean’s most vibrant culinary centers © Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Vianda

Best for exceptional locavore fare 

This innovative Santurce restaurant is the passion project of former NYC chef Francis Guzmán and his wife, Amelia Dill, who operate a cool front- and back-of-house dynamic. The sleek minimalist space centers around a stylish wood-paneled bar, which draws a lively mix of visitors and regulars, making it one of the best spots in the city for an early evening cocktail. 

Vianda's farm-to-table menu channels the island’s rich culinary heritage, and critics and locals alike wax poetic over the sourdough tostadas and raíces locales (local roots), an inspired appetizer with beets and vegetables. (The restaurant's name means root vegetable). The must-try dish is mariscada, a gourmet reinvention of traditional mofongo, combining the much-loved mashed-plantain staple with mussels and shrimp and topping it with seared salmon. 

Throughout Puerto Rico, Guzmán is renowned for both his culinary brilliance and his philanthropy: as San Juan emerged from COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, he dedicated much of his time to helping out-of-work chefs, creating a pop-up series of culinary events. 

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Santaella

Best for a hip tropical vibe

Located in a nondescript building in Santurce, José Santaella’s signature restaurant is a lively, fun place to dine with friends. The edgy industrial décor (it used to be a hardware store) contrasts with a “tropical creole” theme that fuses traditional comida criolla (creole cooking) with international ingredients to create memorable nouvelle Puerto Rican cuisine. 

Popular plates include succulent jumbo shrimp garnished with garlic cream sauce and a trifongo that adds yucca and sweet plantains to the classic mofongo recipe. One of the house specials –  roasted cauliflower and butternut squash, infused with Middle Eastern spices and served atop feta labneh and almonds – showcases Santaella’s farm-to-table mission. 

Expert mixologists craft Caribbean libations with a twist and playful riffs on classic cocktails; house favorites are the watermelon mojito and the tequila-infused espresso martini. 

A large wooden shovel pushes a pizza pie into a wood-burning stove.
The growth of food halls in Puerto Rico gives visitors a chance to walk, browse and sample dozens of culinary specialties © Mint Images / Getty Images

Lote 23

Best for free-style grazing 

Leading the charge for Puerto Rico’s growing love for food-hall-style restaurants, Lote 23 has become an institution in the revitalized Santurce district. Foodies can walk, browse and graze on more than a dozen culinary specialties, ranging from pizza and tacos to bao and creative burgers. 

Try mofongo at El Cuchifrito, wood-fired pizza at Doroteas and pernil sandwiches (Puerto Rico’s answer to pulled pork) at Pernilería Los Próceres. There’s plenty of outside space and picnic tables for visitors to relax. 

Jungle Bird

Best for Asian-fusion small plates and wild tiki cocktails 

Located in the heart of vibrant neighborhood of Santurce is Jungle Bird, owned by Roberto Berdecía of La Factoría. With inside and patio seating, a funky vibe and wildly creative mixologists, it’s the perfect launchpad for exploring the neighborhood of La Placita.

The bar’s kitchen, Jungle BaoBao, is helmed by James Beard semifinalist Paxx Caraballo Moll, who combines indigenous Taíno ingredients, like sweet chili, dragon fruit, cassava and red beans, to create delectable Asian-Caribbean fusion dishes.

The hyper-seasonal menu changes regularly, underscoring the former artist’s commitment to all things local; expect to feast on house-made kimchi, raw snapper with fresh mango and his signature “enoki bloom” – crispy mushroom clusters topped with togarashi and saffron. 

Jungle Bird is also known for tiki-style cocktails, such as Frida’s Visit to MoMA, a fruity tequila and cachaça-based concoction, and the Saturn, made with London gin, passion fruit and lemon. 

A woman wearing a pink jacket over a shiny pink top holds a martini glass while smiling on a balcony at night.
At San Juan’s most stylish and popular rooftops, prime time is sunset, as creative mixologists work their magic to shake and stir potent cocktails © Jim Arbogast / Getty Images

Raya

Best for a unique take on a grilled cheese sandwich 

Mario Pagán is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous chefs – in addition to owning multiple restaurants in San Juan and spearheading his own catering company, he’s appeared on Food Network's Next Iron Chef – and his latest venture finds a suitably sleek setting inside the award-winning O:LV Fifty Five hotel in Condado. (It's small and super popular, so be sure to reserve at least two weeks in advance.)

Every item here is exquisite and resembles an edible painting. Menu staples include wasabi morcilla grilled cheese, made with blood-sausage focaccia, and tuna poke pegaíto, puffed rice topped with tuna sashimi and drizzled with soy.

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Arya

Best for inspired culinary twists

One of San Juan’s most popular rooftops, Arya is also located inside the O:LV in Condado. A high-end spot, the skyline views and seasonal all-day menu draw a stylish crowd. Modern American and fusion fare feature alongside inspired renditions of Puerto Rican classics; favorites include velvety tuna tartare, pork longaniza (a Spanish sausage similar to chorizo) and a bacon cheeseburger loaded with lettuce, tomato and garlic mayo and served on a sesame brioche bun.

Prime time is sunset, as creative mixologists work their magic, shaking and stirring potent cocktails; try a signature sake, a refreshing watermelon mojito or a tiki classic spiked with rum. 

Closeup of a Puerto Rican dish - mofongo- which is comprised of mashed plantains topped with shrimp.
Chefs love to put their own spin on classic Puerto Rican dishes such as mofongo © TinaWang / Getty Images

El Jibarito

Best for no-frills authentic dishes

With a family-friendly ambiance, salsa music drifting in from the courtyard and simple decor – vinyl tablecloths and fluorescent lighting – this quirky restaurant offers a distinctly Puerto Rican dining experience.

The homestyle comida criolla here is widely considered the best on the island, and the hands-on owners celebrate Puerto Rico’s diverse culinary influences, turning out authentic fare infused with Spanish, African and Taíno flavors from a small but capable kitchen. Popular cooked-to-order dishes include tostones (fried plantains) and mofongo with red snapper.

José Enrique 

Best for bold interpretations of Puerto Rican classics 

Born and raised in Santurce, José Enrique is a beloved local icon. A James Beard Award finalist for five consecutive years, he's a pioneering chef known as much for his mold-breaking talent in the kitchen as for his front-line efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, when he provided free meals for families in need. 

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, the pioneering chef returned to his roots in 2007, and at his namesake Condado brasserie, the blackboard menu champions seasonal, organic ingredients native to Puerto Rico.

Artfully plated dishes, such as crispy fried yellowtail with papaya and avocado, speak to Enrique's culinary flair, with  balanced, delicate flavors, creative seasoning and daring experimentalism that always hit the mark. The menu changes daily, but crowd-pleasers include panko-crusted swordfish “schnitzel,” fried fish of the day and tenderloin served with mamposteao (stewed beans and rice). 

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La Alcapurria Quemá

Best for snacking on the go 

Just a 15-minute walk south from the oceanfront at Condado, La Alcapurria Quemá is a no-frills locale serving up Puerto Rico’s beloved snack, alcapurrias – deep-fried fritters made from plantains (or grated yucca) stuffed with flavorful beef, pork or fish. You'll find several iterations at this colorful Santurce pit stop, but the bestsellers are beef and crab. The kitchen also delivers on traditional homestyle entrées, including carne guisada (traditional beef stew) and chicharrón de pollo (crispy skin-on chicken).

Mercado La Carreta

Best for a history-soaked brunch in Old San Juan

An upbeat go-to spot, Mercado La Carreta provides a great base for exploring Old San Juan. Grab a table overlooking stately Plaza de la Barandilla and choose from a flavor-forward menu of brunch classics, like beer-battered chicken and waffles, Mallorca sandwiches – an homage to Puerto Rico’s famous sweet bread – and jibaro platters with pork, rice and beans and amarillitos (sweet fried plantains). The restaurant also carries specialty coffees from award-winning local producer Gustos Coffee.

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This article was first published December 2016 and updated January 2022

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