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Best San Juan Restaurants

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The best San Juan restaurants can rival anything in London, Paris or New York. In fact, many of the island's top chefs cut their teeth in Manhattan before branching out to what some call New York's sixth borough. The best places to eat in San Juan are found in three places: Old San Juan, and specifically on Calle Fortaleza, in Isla Verde and Condado, two wealthy beach areas. You'll find plenty of American fast-food options everywhere, but the best Puerto Rican food is "comida criolla," traditional dishes that are a blend of Spanish, Caribbean and West Indian flavors and ingredients. Keep an eye out for mofongo, a delectable mish-mash of plantains and seafood or beef, thick soups that are almost more like a meatloaf than a broth, and grilled seafood—lots and lots of grilled seafood. 

Perla

Neighborhood: Condado Price: Expensive

It doesn't get any more romantic than this: dinner in a floating white shell-like structure that bobs gently with the ocean waves. Perla's slightly over-the-top setting goes well with the big flavors the chef serves up in dishes like black truffle soup, roasted chicken stuffed with Serrano ham and manchego cheese, grilled mahi mahi with warm garlic vinaigrette and grilled prawns with corn cob smoked bacon in spicy pepper relish. The desserts are to die for: pumpkin nutmeg creme brulee, orange white chocolate cake, warm chocolate croquant cake and more.

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Perla  

Dragonfly

Neighborhood: Old San Juan Price: Expensive

One of several restaurants on hip Calle Fortaleza (known as 'SoFo' for South Fortaleza), Dragon Fly is owned by the same people who run other SoFo hot spots like Aquaviva, Parrot Club, Tantra, Koko, and more. Dragon Fly is sensual and fun, with red curtains, gold Buddha's and Latin/Asian fusion food, like Peking duck nachos, ceviche hamachi, Schezuan glazed baby back ribs and quesadilla spring rolls. Poke your head in, and if this place doesn't appeal just keep exploring on SoFo; you'll find something you like.

Trois Cent Onze

Neighborhood: Old San Juan Price: Expensive

San Juan's premier sort-of French restaurant is owned and run by a married couple—one is French, the other Puerto Rican. If their marriage is half as soulful and flavor-filled as their food, it must be very good indeed. There are traditional French dishes, like escargots in garlic butter, but also a mango salad sprinkled crab, sauteed sea scallops with bacon and yucca puree, spinach salad with tropical grapefruit, and a lobster tail served with champagne beurre blanc. Aside from the fantastic food, the restaurant is beautiful to look at: it's historic Spanish blue-and-white tiles were salvaged during renovations.

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Trois Cent Onze  

Marmalade

Neighborhood: Old San Juan Price: Moderate

There's nothing like Marmalade elsewhere in Old San Juan, and that's saying something because it sits in the trendiest foodie part of town. Inside this exotic place (decorated with lots of orange, and arches in the walls that lead to nowhere) you'll find delectable, modern fusion fare. Try the proscuitto de parma, salty cured ham on grilled peaches, or the chef's take on paella, crispy bites of smoked chorizo with rice infused with chicken or seafood. The presentation is faultless, and it doubles as a wine bar at night (but also make some killer cocktails).

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Marmalade  

El Patio de Sam

Neighborhood: Old San Juan Price: Moderate

It’s been around since 1953 and people keep flocking to Sam’s, even if it’s no longer at the height of its culinary prowess. Once a powerhouse of Puerto Rican cooking, it’s now mostly famous for its thick, juicy burgers—although you can still get dishes like fried pork, grilled shrimp, and Cordon Bleu chicken. The location can’t be beat: El Patio is close to the Ponce de Leon statue in Old San Juan, and has an attractive, sand-colored exterior with dark wooden doors and black grills on the window, a la old Spain.

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Migas

Neighborhood: Condado Price: Moderate
Down a flight of stairs in a nondescript building is Migas (the bar is on the first floor), where elegant tapas such as calamari on squid ink rice, yucca fries with apple chutney and scallops on a bed of risotto go wafting buy like leaves on a breeze. The upstairs bar sees a lot of happy hour and late-night action, while the dining area is a touch more formal. Migas has a special touch with fish: meaty salmon, flaky tilapia, and garlicky swordfish are often on the menu.

Casa Dante

Neighborhood: Isla Verde Price: Budget
Located on busy Isla Verde Avenue, there’s often a long line at Casa Dante on the weekends. People can’t get enough of the Caribbean fusion cuisine, which marries West Indian flavors with classic Cuban and Puerto Rican spices (this is not an Italian joint, despite the name). Service is slow and the ambiance relaxed, so don’t expect your food to come in a hurry—especially if you order one of the chef specials, like whole red snapper either grilled or sautéed with a side dish of potent Creole red sauce.

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Casita Blanca

Neighborhood: Condado Price: Budget

Come early and come hungry to La Casita Blanca, known for its Puerto Rican classics like patitos de cerdo (pigs’ feet) and arroz con pollo (chicken with rice). It gets packed and is a little off the beaten path; try to plan ahead so you’re not caught in this unfamiliar neighborhood late at night. Be prepared to find stewed rabbit and goat on the menu, and bacalao (salt codfish) and beef stew with creole sauce, rice and pigeon peas.

Fonda del Jibarito (La)

Neighborhood: Old San Juan Price: Budget

Deep in the depths of Old San Juan is an old, homestyle cafe serving "comida criolla," the classic Puerto Rican food of yore. The decor is homespun but appealing with lots of flowery plants filling the backyard patio, and the cooler inside dining room painted a festive yellow, green and blue. The side dishes (which are huge) are only included when you order a special; otherwise you pay extra for things like tostones, rice and pigeon peas, sweet plantains and yuca. There are yummy stuffed tamales, lots of grilled and fried seafood and several types of "mofongo," a heavy combo of fried and mashed plantains mixed with seafood or meat and lots of garlic. It's an island favorite.

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La Bombonera

Neighborhood: Old San Juan Price: Budget

The secret is out (thanks Rachael Ray)—there's nothing like one of La Bombonera's gooey ham-and-cheese sandwiches, served on a sweet bread and dusted with a heavy coating of confectioner's sugar. People flock to the counter bar (it looks like an old dime store counter) to eat these morning, noon and night. There's also traditional asopao (a thick and hearty stew with chicken, beef or seafood), and lots of other sandwiches, although none reach the culinary genius of the aforementioned "Mallorca." The powerful punch of the salty ham, tangy cheese and sweet sugar exterior will hook you.

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La Tasca de Yiyo

Neighborhood: Santurce Price: Budget

There’s lots of savory beef dishes at this local hangout, which has a Cuban flair to its Puerto Rican food. White or yellow rice is dished up with everything, and beef takes center stage (although you can find some chicken and seafood on the menu). La Tasca is creative with plantains as well—there are several ways to eat them (fried, mashed sautéed and more). Ask the wait staff for help, as they are happy to recommend.

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La Tasca de Yiyo  
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