Discovering the culinary delights of Puerto Rico is often one of the best surprises for visitors to the island. After all, you expect the beaches, the rum cocktails, and the resorts. But the food? Ah, the food will have you putting on happy calories at every meal.
Of course, that's in great part to the many outstanding chefs and restaurants that line the streets and fill the hotel lobbies all over the island. World-famous chefs compete with Puerto Rico's best at eateries that range from classic Puerto Rican comida criolla to delicious fusion cuisine.
You don't have to travel far to find an amazing meal on the island. But sometimes it's worth getting off the beaten path to discover something exceptional. These secluded eateries may require a bit of effort to get to, but you'll be happy you made the journey.
This might be the most popular secret in San Juan, but I have to mention it anyway. La Casita Blanca isn't easy to get to. You'll need a taxi or a rental car to find your way to the nondescript corner of Santurce where my favorite restaurant in Puerto Rico lies. The rustic setting and simple menu may not seem like much, but I've never had a plate of food that I didn't love at this place; it's as authentic a meal as you'll find.
This is one of the finest restaurants in Puerto Rico, from one of the most acclaimed chefs on the island (he was a semifinalist for the 2013 James Beard Foundation award for "Best Chef South," the first time in history a Puerto Rican chef was nominated for the award). But you won't even find a name on the front door of the plain house in Santurce's Plaza del Mercado where Chef Enrique cooks up his masterpieces.
Loíza Street isn't a very attractive road. Always busy, the winding artery through Condado and Isla Verde has a hodgepodge of shops, gas stations, and sundry businesses. But Loíza has experienced something of a resurgence thanks to a string of excellent eateries. And this seafood restaurant is right up there with the best. The fun atmosphere, house hot sauce and tasty fish tacos attract a loyal and friendly crowd.
Located right in Luis Muñoz Rivera Park, El Livin looks like a treehouse on steroids, but the comfort food, cocktails and cool hipster vibe of this place make it a welcome and pleasant addition to a relatively barren dining scene in Puerta de Tierra.
It's hard to write about a "hidden" restaurant in one of the most well known and storied hotels in Puerto Rico. But the Chef's Studio, at the El San Juan Resort & Casino, is a restaurant within a restaurant. With seating only for eight people inside the hotel's main kitchen, the Studio is where Chef Ana Parga caters to her guests with personal attention and creative flair. This experience is available by reservation only.
Tucked away at 402 Calle San Agustín, El Charro is, in my opinion, the best Mexican restaurant in Puerto Rico. It may not be the prettiest of neighborhoods, but the margaritas, tacos and other classic Mexican fare more than make up for it.
Magic in the midst of Santurce, this funky, carnival-like restaurant on a corner of a busy street serves up an outstanding brunch in a whimsical setting. While I haven't been back to see a production on the stage, I hope to do so next time I'm in the neighborhood.