Lives in New York City, New York
Since Jul. 2009
Bars & Clubs
Located two blocks from Old San Juan's Calle Fortaleza, Raices is known as much for its rustically authentic island cuisine as for its vibrant atmosphere, where the waitstaff wear white uniforms in the Old-World peasant style. Raices is quite popular with tourists, although children might balk at unfamiliar foods. My favorite dish is mofongo con camarones al ajillo: mashed plantains stuffed with garlic shrimp. It's served in a seemingly bottomless bowl (called a 'pilón') and is quite filling.
Marmalade is proof that Puerto Rican cuisine is more than arroz con pollo, pork, and plantains. The trendy restaurant embraces the farm-to-table concept, with a heavy focus on raw food and vegetarian dishes. Chef Peter Schintler is committed to using locally grown produce to ensure maximum freshness in his creative dishes. Vegans have a range of choices, including poblanos rellenos topped with spicy black beans and mole.
The Hosteria del Mar hotel is ight on Ocean Park's beach, and its restaurant, Uvva, provides excellent views in addition to great food. I love sitting out on the patio and listening to the waves. Uvva's menu changes frequently, but you can count on the fish of the day, usually served with garlic sauce, to be a great option. There is also always a ceviche available, though the type of fish may range from dorado to mahimahi.
Sanjuaneros have long had a deep love affair with this bakery-slash-restaurant's casual vibe and extensive menu. Breakfast (think fried eggs with ham and cheese) is a big seller here, and cafe con leche (coffee with milk) is generally the drink of choice — served in a paper cup and often enjoyed with a guava puff or a quesito (a delicious cheese-filled pastry). When President Barack Obama visited Kasalty during his 2011 reelection campaign, however, he had other ideas, opting for the medianoche sandwich (a twist on a Cuban.)
More club than restaurant, the tiny Nuyorican Cafe sits inside Da House Hotel, on a side street in Old San Juan's trendy SoFo district. The lights are low, but the ambiance is high — thanks to the crowd of laid-back locals looking to get their groove on. This spot is so popular that even Mick Jagger stopped by and stayed a while. In addition to salsa and jazz music played by live bands, it also hosts poetry readings on select nights. However, it's the feverish dancing that works up an appetite, and the no-frills snacks such as hummus with pita bread, nachos, and pizzas hit the spot, especially in the midnight hour.
At 96 years old, the opulent Condado Vanderbilt is a San Juan institution. It shut down for ten years, and finally reopened in 2013. With the renovations came a new restaurant named after the year the legendary hotel was introduced to the world. The menu, courtesy of Michelin-starred Executive Chef Juan José Cuevas, is as modern as the hotel is historic, with a devotion to local and organic produce. The freshness is evident in dishes like the cod with yucca pasteles and the chayote salad with guanabana vinaigrette. The cost of a meal will be on par with some of New York's finest establishments, but if you're looking for that one, splurge-worthy dining experience, then this is it.
Given its claim as the inventor of the piña colada in 1954, it's no surprise that the Caribar at Caribe Hilton San Juan is quite popular with tourists. Whether or not the boasting has base, the rum-heavy cocktail is delicious — and potent. That's why it's a good idea to line your stomach before you sip, and the selection of tapas here hits the spot. If you need something more substantial, the hotel also has eight other eateries to choose from, the most interesting being the Lemongrass Pan Asian Latino restaurant, where innovative dishes like chorizo and sweet plantain wontons, tempura lobster with Asian-style churrasco sushi rolls, and coconut brûlée are standouts.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta took the Olive Hotel by storm when they stayed there for the series. But while they certainly brought some drama, it didn't extend to the serene scene at Sage (once called O:liva), the hotel's steakhouse manned by Next Iron Chef contestant Mario Pagán. The cozy space has an open kitchen and holds two long communal tables, as well as a few tables for two and four diners. People often speak in hushed tones, but once the wine starts flowing the atmosphere gets quite buzzy — including exclamations of joy over dishes like burrata, heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, and Angus skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. I initially balked at sitting at the communal table, but found that literally breaking bread with a mix of hotel guests and locals was quite a fun way to get insider tips on San Juan's scene.