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Puerto Rico -- San Juan, El Yunque/Fajardo, Culebra

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Hi. I'll be heading out to Puerto Rico next month and would like some recommendations. I've been coming to Puerto Rico for over a decade and have generally been in San Juan, Vieques and Culebra. I'm open to different types of establishments -- kiosk, casual, jackets required, etc. We'll be spending 3 nights in San Juan, 2 nights in El Yunque area (Rio Mar Resort) and 1 night in Culebra.

A couple of places I have enjoyed in the past are Pamela's, Parrot Club (years ago; however when I went two years ago, quality declined tremendously) and Kassalta Bakery. A few places I'm not really interested in visiting again: Dragonfly (everything was too sweet and cloying), Metropol (I know it's a board favorite, but thought it was just OK) and Ajili Mojili (I really don't understand the allure of this place at all). I'm basically concentrating on Puerto Rican/Carribbean (traditional, modern or fusion). I'm really not interested in steak/French/Italian/Japanese/Mexican unless they do something special with the local ingredients. I like local places but am fine with restaurants with a lot of tourists as long as the food is good. I'm also fine with places that are trendy. The reason I state that is because I find that some hounds refuse to go to any place if there are tourists in it or are remotely trendy. My first priority is quality of food. If I can get it in a super trendy place with attitude -- fine. If I can get it at a roadside stand -- fine. Just please point me in the direction of great food!

We will probably have a car (well, definitely outside of San Juan). And I should probably mention that part of our trip will include Christmas and Christmas Eve (we should be in San Juan at this point). So if there are any restaurant closings, I'd appreciate that info. Also, prices of restaurants not really an issue.

These are a few places that I have in mind:

1. San Juan -- La Casita Blanca, Pikayo, Aguaviva, Delirio, Pescador, Tantra (I'd also appreciate it if you guys can tell me if some of my choices are more style than substance)

2. Culebra -- Juanita Bananas (that is, if they're open), Dinghy Dock, Mamacita's -- I know that chow options are limited here; if anybody can point me to a secret gem, I'd be much obliged

3. Rio Mar Resort area (Fajardo, El Yunque area) -- La Parilla (Luquillo), ???

4. And I'd also appreciate any recs for the trip along the way from San Juan to Fajardo. Have heard good things about the kiosks in Loiza. Any recommendations for any particular kiosks?

5. And DH is really looking for some good lechon. Seems that the best are in Guavate. Are any particular lechoneras standouts? And are Sundays the best time to go? If we don't have the time to drive down there, any other recommendations?

Thank you for enduring this long post!

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  1. It's been a few years since we were there, but we had a couple of very good meals at Barbara Rosa's on Culebra. The crabcakes and the fish & chips were very good. Here are two reviews that can explain the place better than I:
    http://www.fodors.com/world/caribbean...
    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/puerto-ri...
    Juanita Bananas was good, but VERY expensive---especially by island standards. It's a lovely location, and the gardens are interesting, but I can't remember what I had to eat there---guess it really wasn't that memorable. What I DO remember is that they took CASH ONLY and at their prices, we had to make a choice between appetizer or dessert. Hopefully, their policy has since changed.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Anne

      Thanks, Anne. I haven't heard of that one. But I'll look into it.

    2. Pikayo would have to be my favorite restaurant in San Juan and I dine there often. ...really excellent food, service and decor. Style and substance incredible in Pikayo. Delirio is more style than substance and can't say I've loved the food there on the few occasions I've tried it. Pescador is popuar with the locals..food is ok..no style. Tantra...not bad but nothing amazing. Aguaviva...ok.. but not great. If you have to choose one definetely go with Pikayo. (Chef Wilo Benet of Pikayo was a guest judge on Top Chef fyi)

      2 Replies
      1. re: mamadem

        Thank you for your input. Can I ask your opinion about Chayote as well?

        And yes, as I'm a Top Chef nut, I am well aware that Pikayo's chef was on Top Chef! : )

        1. re: Miss Needle

          Chayote is delicious as well and would be my second favorite after Pikayo. Excellent food...decor and service. (Was actually going to have dinner there last evening but DH was craving Italian) Will have dinner in Chayote tonight instead. Its always an excellent meal and I always leave satisfied and happy.

      2. Just got back from PR and loved Marmalade in Old San Juan. We go to PR a couple of times a year and Pikayo, Ramiros and Chayote are always great but Marmalade is one of my new favorites. It has a small but spectacular wine list as well, recently awarded by Wine Spectator.
        For old school class and great wine I always like Ramiros in Condado. The duck is fabulous.
        Baru for tapas in old San Juan is also quite good.

        1. Do try Pamela's at Numero Uno Guest House in Ocean Park. Pikayo is a great add to do.

          1. Don't miss out on the kiosks located between Rio Mar and Luquillo beach. There are about 100 of them right on the main highway that head towards Fajardo. Try some of the fritters but ask for them to fry them on the spot for you, don't take the pre-fried ones. Also a great place to try a cold coconut water.

            In San Juan I like what you have listed, but I do recommend one sushi place called Jinya's (1009 Avenida Jesús T Piñero) they blend local ingredients into their sushi. I highly recommend the Pegao sushi (pegao is the burnt rice that sticks to the pan) and the one with sweet ripe plantain (Jibarito roll, I think) and the one with bacalao (salted cod fish). Not a fancy restaurant and way out of the tourist path, but worth the trip.

            For lunch, take the Catano ferry (I think it's 50 cents) from the cruise ship dock in Old San Juan go to Don Tello right across the street from where the ferry docks in Catano (36 Ave. Las Nereidas). It may be crowded with tourist coming back form the Bacardi factory tour for their mojito, but the food is authentic no frills comfort food.

            1. Thank you everybody for your responses. It seems that we won't be renting a car for the San Juan leg of the trip (don't want to deal with the hassle). We'll be staying at the Marriott. So I'm assuming that I could probably walk to restaurants like Pamela's and Chayote (as I've walked to them on previous trips from Condado/Ocean Park) but will be taking cabs for other places.

              Well, it seems that Pikayo is definitely a must for me. I already made a reservation. I also made a reservation for Pamela's sitting beachside on Christmas Day (as a lot of restaurants are closed that day). I've read that reservations are suggested for La Casita Blanca for lunch. I hope that's not the case as I called them before and the woman only spoke Spanish and my Spanish isn't very good.

              I'm kind of torn about my first night dinner -- between Chayote, Aguaviva, Baru and Marmalade. I have a feeling Chaoyote has the best food. However, DH has not experienced the "trendy" restaurant thing in Old San Juan, and I have a feeling he would like to, as long as the food is decent. I'm leaning towards Baru because of the small plates thing as I like to try more dishes.

              Anabr, thanks for the tip on asking them to fry the fritters on the spot for me. I didn't realize that they would do that. There's nothing more I hate than cold deep-fried food. How do you say that in Spanish?

              And did something happen to Kasalta Bakery? I remember it being coffee-shop-esque. When I went on their website, it looked like it has changed, serving more expensive tapas menu items.

              And does anybody have any recommendations for the plane right home? We'll be flying from Isla Verde at 7P. So I'm looking for something that will hold relatively well and will taste good cold.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Miss Needle

                Something like this is polite: "Discúlpeme, pero para la comida frita, por favor que se me la frite y me la traiga lo más pronto posible después. No me gusta la comida frita enfriada. ¡Gracias!"

                Something like this is for informal and fun: ¡Y, oiga, que no me traes la fritanga ya enfriada y congelada!

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Muchas gracias! Sam, I can trust you on this, right? You're not having me inadvertently say "I think you're hot" or anything like that. ; )

                  I'm able to manage with medical related stuff. But when it comes to everyday stuff, I'm at a loss. I called La Casita Blanca a few days ago to see if they would be open on Christmas. The woman only spoke Spanish. I was trying to remember how to say Christmas in Spanish. "Feliz Navidad" kept running through my head. So that was what I blurted out. She seemed a bit surprised and said it back to me. Pretty embarrassed, I just thanked her and hung up.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Needle, the dancing pickle is the farthest I'd push things Never know when one might need some needlework!