The Best Restaurants in Puerto Rico
From roast pork, empanadillas, and plantains to street snacks, seafood, and freshly-made ice cream, Puerto Ricans enjoy many hearty local flavors. To really experience local culture and customs, you must take time to try each region’s culinary specialty. These foodie delights could be a unique twist on non-Puerto Rican food, or a delicious concoction of fruit and juices, to sandwiches stuffed with three kinds of meats. Locals love the flavors, and you will too!
317 C. de la Fortaleza, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Chef Peter Schintler’s San Juan restaurant remains one of the capital’s top fine dining destinations after more than a decade in operation. Marmalade, located in Old San Juan, has allowed Schintler to experiment with international flavors and techniques picked up at previous stints in kitchens around the world, including one at New York’s fabled Le Cirque. While beloved by omnivores and travelers who will jet-set for cocktails, vegetarians especially appreciate Schintler’s menu, which includes a spiced cauliflower meze and hand-rolled black truffle pappardelle. Reservations are definitely recommended.
PR-110R, Aguadilla Pueblo, Aguadilla 00603, Puerto Rico
We found the best spot for the freshest açai bowl on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Da Bowls in Aguadilla beats anything in Rincon or anywhere else on the island. Mix and match your own, or go with their selection. We chose the Reef Bowl, which has a bit of everything—including the health-crazed addition of bee pollen. With a price that fits your budget and enough food to fill your stomach, this is the best place for a quick and healthy snack.
1055 Ashford Ave, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico
You don’t need to be a guest at the posh (and historic) Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in order to dine at 1919, but after indulging in chef Juan José Cuevas’s Michelin-starred cuising, either prix fixe or as a chef’s tasting menu, you wouldn’t be blamed for wanting to have a bed nearby. Cuevas is celebrated for taking familiar Puerto Rican ingredients and flavors and presenting them in innovative ways. Offerings change with the seasons and feature as many locally grown and produced ingredients as possible. Look for the cheese course, which features domestic aged cheeses from the island’s own Quesos Vaca Negra. This elegant restaurant calls for dressing up. Reservations are a must.
PR-115, Añasco, 00610, Puerto Rico
Kaplash is located on the curve of Road 115 as you head toward the town of Rincon. The little unassuming orange and blue building boasts a beautiful view of the ocean and—in the opinion of myself and others—the best empanadillas on the whole island. Kaplash was featured in an island-wide food photography book by a local writer who ventured to all the great known local spots. That’s how I decided to try them, and I wasn’t disappointed. They are now the only place I stop for empanadillas (turnovers) and the only place I take family and visiting friends. Try all of them—they specialize in seafood—but I can’t get enough of the pizza one.
208 Calle de O'Donnell, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
A favorite with the locals, especially government workers at lunch, this place is always packed, and with good reason. For $10 or less for an authentic and delicious lunch special (with a drink), this place is a steal. Try the asopao de camarones (shrimp soup with vegetables and saffron rice) with a side of tostones (mashed and fried plantains) and ask for the local hot sauce, pique, a smoking mixture of habañero peppers, black peppercorns, spices, and oil and vinegar. Service is reasonably fast and the waiters are friendly, but certain times of day (12-1pm weekdays, and 6-8pm on weekends) can be impossible for getting a table. Reserve ahead, or be prepared to wait in the plaza nearby.
The Heladería de Lares, a 45-year-old family business, sells about 50 unusual flavors of ice cream up in the mountains. Salvador Berreto, known to the locals as Yinyo, founded the shop to commemorate the Grito de Lares, a battle for freedom that had taken place exactly one century before. Yinyo started with corn, a flavor at the heart of the Puerto Rican diet and the current bestseller. Other flavors are cod, coquito (the Puerto Rican version of eggnog), and rice and beans. Fortunately, you can taste two flavors before deciding what to buy, and the ice cream is cheap, so you can stock up. Every weekend, people form what locals like to call lines, but are really boisterous blobs extending half a block down from the shop’s entrance. While eating, people skim through newspaper clips about when Denise Quiñones, a girl from Lares, won a Miss Universe pageant, or study photos of the 1945 Fuego de la Candelaria (a fire in Lares). After reading about the history behind Lares’s anthem and running their hands over the guiro (a musical instrument played by scraping its serrated surface), people often wander outside to the Plaza de la Revolucion. Here, on a typical Sunday, artisans sell paintings of the three magi (the Puerto Ricans’ second Santa) and of flamboyanes (the national trees with orange flowers). If you have doubts as to whether it’s worth it, just ask Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea. In 2008, Clinton forced $100 into the hands of Yinyo’s son for a mango ice cream.
PR-115, Rincon, Rincón 00677, Puerto Rico
Locally sourced lamb, beef, fish, fruits, and vegetables make Estela a popular farm-to-table choice for visitors to the surfer-and-expat hub of Rincón, a town on Puerto Rico’s northwest coast. But it’s the inspiration from far-flung places that puts the delicious finishing touches on dishes such as wahoo in a ponzu sauce served over basmati rice, and sautéed veggie or tuna sashimi paired with sesame seeds, soy sauce, dragon fruit, ginger, scallions, radishes, and pumpkin seeds.
Estela reopened in January 2018, after having been closed several months for storm repairs.
Estela reopened in January 2018, after having been closed several months for storm repairs.
Guavate, a section of Cayey better known as the Ruta del Lechon (“Pork Highway”), bursts into a rush of food-infused ecstasy every Friday and Saturday. People from all parts of the island come to watch someone roast a whole pig over the open fire before chopping it with a machete. Side dishes abound. I recommend sorrullos (corn sticks), bacalaitos (cod fritters), alcapurrias (fritters made of plantain dough and stuffed with meat), and rice with different types of beans. The blood sausage is not for me, but my father and boyfriend devour it every chance they get. Here in the mountains, shacks of all sizes let you pick your poison—beer, piña colada, or mojito (made from lime, mint leaves, rum, and sugar)—and drink to the beat of salsa and reggateon music. This creates the euphoric atmosphere for which Puerto Ricans are so famous. The cherry on top of the piña colada: Guavate lets you absorb the laughter, music, and food for a reasonable price. If you want the pig, but not the rambunctiousness, take your food to El Yunque National Forest and eat it by a waterfall (see my “Swimming Under a Hidden Waterfall” highlight). To find it, get on Luis A. Ferre Expressway, take the exit toward PR-184, and follow the signs for Guavate. You’ll start seeing pork soon after you take PR-184, but wait about fifteen minutes (until you’re around km 27) before you stop to get all the real action.
Aguadilla-Isabela-San Sebastián, PR, Puerto Rico
Want to try your hand at wrangling fresh octopus for a “pulpo” salad while in Puerto Rico? Just hop on out to Maria’s Beach on a day with no swell, snorkel about, and check out the crags and crevices for glass bottles—perfect hiding places for the delicious treat you seek. Use the end of your Hawaiian sling to encourage the octopus to grab on. Be quick, as they are smart and mischievous! When you snag one, clean it with fresh water, chop the tentacles into small manageable pieces, and simmer for a while until tender. Ask anyone around town for the other fresh ingredients—like cilantro, tomato, cucumber—and combine for a fresh and delicious seafood salad.
1552 PR-25, San Juan, 00909, Puerto Rico
A recent addition to the Puerto Rican capital’s culinary scene are food hall–style spots where diners can choose among multiple kiosks, or stalls, each featuring a distinct kind of cuisine. Lote 23 is one such spot, located in the working-class neighborhood of Santurce. More than a dozen food entrepreneurs have fare on offer here, from pizza and tacos to bao and burgers. If you just need something to cool yourself off in the tropical heat, there are popsicles and cocktails, too. The alfresco eating area has plenty of picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy whatever you’ve ordered.
Cabo Rojo, 00623, Puerto Rico
Take it from a local: If you’re looking to bond with the locals and enjoy some simple fare with lots of taste, drive down to Williche. The family-owned sandwich shop in a street corner in Cabo Rojo is just a block from the town square and a fifteen-minute drive from a couple of beaches. Williche, a small building with pictures of old Cabo Rojo and slogans proclaiming a love for Puerto Rico, serves you cafeteria-style. It offers juices, different kinds of sandwiches, and milkshakes that are just the right amount of dense. My mom and grandparents started taking me there when I was a kid and I’ve been enjoying their bocadillos ever since. You would expect little (seeing as how they’re basically bread, ham, cheese, onions, tomatoes, and ketchup), but that makes their immense flavor all the more satisfying. I’ve been living outside of P.R. for more than six years, but every time I come home, I ask my family to stroll down with me by the dominoes-playing older men and to Williche. It’s almost always packed, but I and everyone else know the woman behind the counter (the founder’s daughter). It means we can talk and laugh with her, and get to know anyone else who happens to wander in. Forget Olive Garden. When you’re in Williche, you’re family.
La Parguera, Lajas 00667, Puerto Rico
The most serene day trip is to this small town on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico, just an hour south of the popular surf destination of Rincon. Hourly boat rentals are available for you to skip around to all the local ocean mangroves that surround the area. Johnny’s Boats is your best bet, located in the center of Parguera marina. Ask for Naji to help set you up with your own outboard motor boat; he’ll greet you with a smile! Each boat fits around five people comfortably. Add a cooler and sandwiches and you’re looking at a beautiful excursion. The Caribbean Ocean never looked so blue.
255-257 Calle Méndez Vigo
The customary dessert of Puerto Rico, the brazo gitano (gypsy arm), can be found at Franco’s in Mayaguez. This place has been around for generations, preparing the rolls for local markets and grocers and also for their own store. The cake is rolled into a log shape and then pumped with a filling. This one is a zanahoria (carrot) cake with a cream cheese filling. You can find many types of rolls, with all sorts of fillings. The traditional ones contain fruit jams. When in Mayaguez, be sure to stop here for this delicious roll.
Cll Sierra, Playita, Salinas 00751, Puerto Rico
El Dorado is a favorite in Salinas. The seafood is fresh and plentiful, and the menu boosts some unique twists on classic Puerto Rican dishes. This restaurant is located along the Ruta Gastronomica which has many restaurants each with their own special “mojo” sauce used to create delicious fish specials. Not into fish? That’s okay, there is plenty more on the menu! If you want to try Puerto Rico‘s take on seafood, then this is a perfect place to experience it!
San Francisco, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Anywhere breakfast is served all day usually scores in my book. At Caficultura in Old San Juan, the food is “farm to table” and is as delicious as the creative menu sounds. In addition to the mostly healthy options, the highlight is the maple syrup made with rum, and coconut milk–dipped french toast topped with coconut shavings. The atmosphere was pretty cool—large black chandeliers hang from large wooden beams, and the picture windows face Plaza Colón outside. Definitely a cool local place to stop into and grab a coffee or brunch while sightseeing throughout Old San Juan’s historic district.
176 Calle Duffaut
Chef José Enrique has become something of a darling in Puerto Rico’s culinary circles, particularly as he has achieved acclaim (most notably as a James Beard “Best Chef of the South” semifinalist) and lots of media coverage off the island. He’s been experimenting with many opportunities lately, including heading up hotel restaurants, but his cornerstone, the eponymous José Enrique, remains—and continues to be wildly popular among Puerto Ricans and visitors alike. The small restaurant, located inside a rehabilitated house rezoned as a commercial space, fills up quickly, so expect a wait for your chance to try one of the “contemporary Caribbean” dishes from a regularly changing menu. If you need entertainment while you’re waiting, head across the street to the Plaza del Mercado, where live music and dancing are often thumping on weekend nights.