When Lin-Manuel Miranda flew into Puerto Rico about a month after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, he arrived to an island without leaves. “I never thought I’d see winter in Puerto Rico,” Miranda told the press on the opening night of Hamilton in San Juan where he reprised his eponymous role for three weeks in January 2019, to raise money for hurricane relief efforts.
But when travelers arrive in Puerto Rico today, they fly over a green island covered in tropical trees.
Miranda has been pivotal in spreading the word that Puerto Rico is back and ready to welcome travelers once again. His Flamboyan Arts Fund aimed to raise $15 million through selling VIP tickets to the show. But the economic benefits for the recovering island don’t stop now that the show’s three-week run is over.
One of the best ways to infuse money into a local economy is to travel there and shop at small businesses. In fact, 67 cents of every dollar spent at small businesses remains in the community, according to Amy Marino, vice president of Global Experiential Marketing & Talent Management at American Express.
Through its Shop Small movement, which recently expanded to Puerto Rico, American Express partnered with local shops and restaurants to get travelers out of their hotels and bolster the local economy when they’re in town.
Here are a few of AFAR’s favorite places to eat and shop local in San Juan, Puerto Rico:
Where to eat local in San Juan
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, local Puerto Rican chef Jose Enrique worked alongside chef José Andrés to feed four million meals to Puerto Ricans in need through World Central Kitchen. Enrique’s restaurant is located in the Santurce neighborhood in central San Juan. But it’s not just about convenience. The locally born chef is a champion of local produce, meat, and seafood and has been instrumental in helping with hurricane relief efforts. Also, his food is so good that there’s typically a line to get in. In fact, Andrés admitted that his three daughters have started to prefer Enrique’s cooking to his own. 176 Calle Duffaut, San Juan, joseenriquepr.com
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Mario Pagan (@mariopaganrestaurant) on Jan 12, 2019 at 1:00pm PST
Mario Pagán Restaurant
Another close friend of Andrés’s who helped feed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, chef Mario Pagán is at the helm of several restaurants in San Juan. But his namesake restaurant is within a short walk of most hotels in San Juan’s Condado neighborhood. If you’re traveling with a group, order the shared appetizer platter for the table, which includes miniature bites of octopus tacos, ahi tuna tartare, and rabbit pastelillos. The black sea bass with yuca truffle puree is the house specialty, but the yellowtail snapper is caught locally and cooked with a traditional Puerto Rican tomato sauce. 1110 Avenue Magdalena, San Juan, mariopaganrest.com
Casa Cortés Chocobar
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a place to buy edible souvenirs, Casa Cortés Chocobar in Old San Juan checks both boxes. Pop in to experience its grilled cheese con chocolate made with sharp cheddar, chocolate butter, and brioche bread (don’t knock it until you try it). Before you go, have the staff pack up a box of handmade truffles using Puerto Rican chocolate with flavors including rum, coconut, and passion fruit. 210 Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan, chocobarcortes.com Where to shop local in San Juan
MUNS Jewelry Store
Bianca and Paola Muns started designing jewelry back in 2015 to sell online and in local shops around Puerto Rico. But in July 2018, the two sisters opened this brick-and-mortar shop in Old San Juan to sell their delicate and affordable line of necklaces, earrings, and rings alongside a rotating collection of locally designed women’s clothing brands. Best sellers include a crescent moon–shaped pendant necklace and stud earrings that look like miniature monstera leaves. 201 Calle de la Luna, Old San Juan, munsjewelry.com
Founded in 1977 and committed to selling hats handwoven in Latin America by artisans, Olé is the place to go to buy a Panama hat in San Juan. Walking into the tiny shop is an experience unto itself. For just $80 and about 20 minutes of your time, you’ll have your head measured for a hat and then you’ll get to watch one of the employees fit your new hat with a colorful ribbon of your choice and attach a personalized label inside. 105 Calle de la Fortaleza, Old San Juan, olepuertorico.com
Founded in 2006 by Matilsha Marxuach, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Concalma sells a line of cloth bags designed by locals and manufactured at a women-owned factory in Utuado, Puerto Rico. With dozens of different designs from tropical floral-printed totes to striped backpacks made from upcycled denim, you’ll also find jewelry and clothing by local designers here, too. 207 San Francisco Street, Old San Juan, shopconcalma.com This article originally appeared online on January 14, 2019; it was updated in February 2019 to include current information.
>> Next: Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Puerto Rico