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 for only Puerto Rican food would be a disservice to the imagination. The bar scene is constantly expanding with new venues for cocktails that rival the stalwart La Factoria, and the city’s cafes are perpetually invigorated by the growing nation.
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, January 2023:
Despite disastrous hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants and bars continue to push ahead in San Juan. More chefs are focusing on local and sustainably sourced ingredients, including more creative vegetarian dishes and local seafood. Most recently, the city’s already strong cocktail scene has been buoyed by the equally great bar food at Machete, while pizza hot spot La Santurcina has been generating lines for pies by chefs Stephen Reyna and Francis Guzmán, who just received a semifinalist nomination for Best Chef: South heading into the 2023 James Beard Awards for his restaurant Vianda. Through ups and downs, it’s such an exciting time to dine in Puerto Rico.
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