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Lonely Planet Writer

San Juan's hottest new restaurants and bars

There’s no shortage of acclaimed San Juan restaurants and bars taking over the Puerto Rico culinary scene. From James Beard Finalists to Food & Wine Best chefs, deciding where to have dinner just got a little more difficult. Here are the top 3 hottest spots to eat and drink in San Juan.

A pair of chefs plate a collection of fresh salads on metal tables for dinner at Cocina Al Fondo, one of the top San Juan restaurants.
Cocina al Fondo is the permanent home of chef Natalia Vallejo © Raquel Puig / Cocina al Fondo

Cocina al Fondo

Tradition, intuition and quality products are the three pillars upholding chef Natalia Vallejo’s latest culinary project – Cocina al Fondo. After floating between pop-up dinners, private events and the kitchens of celebrated chefs Alfredo Ayala and Martin Louzao, Vallejo finds her permanent home al fondo – in the back— of cultural space :Pública, the newest art gallery in the ultra-hip Santurce neighborhood.

The locally sourced and reasonably priced menu highlights Puerto Rican flavors while incorporating cultures the chef has come to know through her travels or through her palate. The menu includes items such as Thaicocho soup – an artful marriage between the Puerto Rican Sancocho (beef stew) and Thai Tom Ka Gai (coconut soup). Other more Antillean dishes, like the rice with rabbit or the fried catch of the day in lobster sauce are not to be missed.

Vallejo herself comes from a long line of artists, and her artistic flair is no less represented in this space where art palpitates in many forms, especially your taste buds.

Close up of a pair of tortillas stuffed with cheese and meat with olive oil drizzled around the plate. There's a second plate of food in the background. The heavy Mexican influence is one thing that separates Paulina Escanes Gourmandize from other San Juan restaurants.
Chef Paulina Escanes infuses her Mexican roots into every dish © Paulina Escanes Gourmandize

Paulina Escanes Gourmandize

Chef Paulina Escanes, a Mexican transplant to Puerto Rico, offers up some of the best tacos in town and a standout brunch at her namesake restaurant in the heart of Condado.

The self-described casual gourmet concept is just that — sophisticated yet easy, stylish but simple. The modern international menu ranges from Mexican to French, Puerto Rican to Italian, dinner to brunch. Be sure to save space for dessert, one of the chef’s specialties. Any of the decadently puffed up homemade desserts will certainly please, but definitely try the apple pie (spelled pay). Another way to satisfy your sweet tooth – and quench your thirst – is with the sinuously supple cocktails, like the house sangria with white wine, pineapple and cilantro.

Like many other restaurants in San Juan riding the locavore wave, Paulina Escanes' locally grown ingredients are placed at the forefront of the menu. The wonders of Escanes’ home country are reflected in the spices, yet the seasonings are delicate, the food nutritious and the experience is not one to be missed.

A peach-colored cocktail with an orange slice resting on the rim sits on a rock on the beach. In the background, waves crash onto the shore on a cloudy day. More and more San Juan restaurants are making creative cocktails a priority.
Be dazzled by the creativity on display at Surf Caffé © Duarte Pino / Surf Caffé

Surf Caffé

Craft cocktails lovers can rejoice at the opening of Surf Caffé, the latest project by the acclaimed Ícaro Collective – the creatives and mixologists behind the James Beard-nominated La Factoría Bar.

This latest endeavor, a collaboration with the Serafina Restaurant Group, is situated seaside on the grounds of Plaza Alberto Escudero, right on the swanky Ashford Avenue strip.  The vibe is vacation cool, with an international lunch and dinner menu and a view that can’t be beaten.

On the menu, you can find a variety of tapas and mains catering to both local and traveling crowds. Creative cocktails designed by renowned Puerto Rican mixologists include cucumber mules and sherry tonics. Be sure to check their social media accounts for information regarding live musical performances by local groups.   

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