In San Juan, Puerto Rico, the fried alcapurrias and banana leaf-wrapped pasteles of comida criolla, the local blend of Indigenous Taíno, African, and Spanish ingredients and flavors, are everywhere. They are at the kiosks of Piñones and in the glossy restaurants of the city’s best chefs. But to come to Puerto Rico and only dine on Puerto Rican food would be a disservice to the imagination.
This ever-growing dining and drinking scene has thrived despite ongoing crises both natural and political. The archipelago has been under the control of the United States since 1898, and colonial control has had long impacts on agriculture and culinary culture. Serving local produce requires commitment and relationships with farmers, and the same goes for seafood. Part of the Jones Act of 1920 requires all trade to be done on U.S.-owned boats staffed by U.S. workers, which makes many imports quite expensive. Taking care with cuisine under these conditions requires persistence and knowledge. Luckily, many chefs are willing to put in that work.
Updated April, 2023:
Despite the challenges, chefs are focusing more and more on local and sustainably sourced ingredients, including more creative vegetarian dishes and local seafood. Most recently, Café Caleta has injected a much needed jolt of energy into the culinary scene in the old town, chef Giancarlo Ramirez is charming diners at Cuarto 16 with daily crudos and Spanish-tinged criolla cuisine, and pizza hot spot La Santurcina continues to generate lines for pies by chefs Stephen Reyna and Francis Guzmán.
Note: We update this list quarterly to make sure it reflects the ever-changing San Juan dining scene.
Paulina Salach Antonetti is a culinary tourism entrepreneur, event producer, freelance writer, and investor based in San Juan. She is the co-founder of Spoon and Puerto Rico Restaurant Week.Read More