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One Day in Old San Juan PR - where to eat!?

Hello!

Hubby and I will be in Old San Juan staying at the El Convento for 1 night in early October.

I would love any advice on where to eat lunch and dinner and enjoy a good coffee. We won't be renting a car so would prefer lunch in Old San Juan ... as well as the coffee.

Would love to try local cuisine but am open to anything.

Thanks!

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  1. Funny that you are asking that - as I was also going to do the same... From what I've been able to read in Old San Juan - La Bombonera for coffee & pastries .. Baru' for tapas and ceviche .. and Dragonfly for churrasco beef and dumplings .. First time for me - 5 nights in November for a NCAA basketball tourney...Should be fun exploring Old San Juan....

    3 Replies
    1. re: Maggie19

      I'm off to Puerto Rico in February 2011 so would really be interested in reading your reviews after your trip! We are within walking distance of Old San Juan and plan on dining there frequently to avoid expensive hotel dining. Thanks.

      1. re: Maggie19

        I agree with others about Marmalade...it was sublime.

        1. re: DagnyTaggart

          We will be in OSJ for one day (2-10pm) on a cruise in a couple of weeks. I just made a reservation at Marmalade on Opentable. Question.. how long should the meal take? We have to be back on the ship at 9:30pm and I guess the restaurant is a 10 minute walk from the pier. Should I be able to eat in an hour and a half, or should I allow long? I made the reservation at 6:30 to be safe. This will be our "activity" in San Juan.

      2. If I were you I would go to:

        Breakfast: La Bombonera (coffee and mallorcas)
        Lunch: Raices (authentic Puerto Rican food)
        Dinner: Marmalade (fine dining) Dragonfly (latinasian fusion) Baru (tapas)

        Here you can take a look at their menus:

        http://www.restauranteraices.com/Engl...
        http://www.marmaladepr.com/index.htm
        http://www.oofrestaurants.com/
        http://www.barupr.com/

        10 Replies
        1. re: mcolon

          Just came back from San Juan and I really loved Raices (authentic PR food) and AquaViva (seafood), both in Old San Juan. La Bombonera is also a favorite.

          1. re: jdelisle

            People seem to love the "authentic PR food" at Raices but I found it to be a somewhat silly place with low quality mass market food. It's a "theme" restaurant, the theme being dressing the waiters in what they want you to believe is the traditional style of old PR. The men wear straw pork pie hats and the women wear long white dresses with a white head wrap. There's your first sign that you're in Disneyland. The walls are painted with scenes looking through an open window of PR from 100 years ago so this is your setting. The waiters are very well trained and smile incessantly, not a bad thing. I live in the Caribbean and throughout the islands the basic traditional diet has always been rice, beans and fish or meat. In PR lechon and pollo reign supreme and you won't find a menu without these items on it and so it is at Raices. I ordered shrimp Mofongo, Mofongo being the national dish. It's a mashed green plantain with oil and salt as a shell and a meat, chicken or fish sauté underneath it. It's quite a heavy food (most PR food is) and probably the only meal you will eat that day if you choose it. Mine was preceded by a house salad which can only be described as abysmal. The waiter placed a small bowl in front of me with chunks of iceberg lettuce and an unripe tomato wedge and a platic cup of orange dressing (French?) on the side. I thought these things died in the 60s but they're alive and well at Raices. The Mofongo came next. It appeared in a tall, narrow, heavy wooden bowl allowing no view at all of what I was about to eat. The shrimp were on top and the plantain below but the bowl was so narrow that you couldn't get at (or see) the whole dish. I had to hold the fork vertically and dig down the side of the bowl to discover whatever resided deeper down, in this case endless mashed plantain. Although the shrimp were nicely flavored there is simply too much plantain and the dish was boring and very heavy. It's not particularly well prepared and the presentation is poor. Raices has no idea how important the visual aspect of food is. Be aware that this restaurant is not fine dining but more of a feed 'em and street 'em place. Just my opinion, though. The PR cuisine is not one of the worlds top eating experiences...and that's fine (this is not Thai, French or Chinese cooking) but the things they pride themselves in (Mofongo) they should do well and I didn't find that to be the case at Raices. You'd do better to get out in the country and go to a Lechonera (it seems every town has one) and sit with the locals with a plate of rice and beans and grilled pork and a cold beer and enjoy all the animated life around you. Just my 2 cents.

            1. re: cookedandpickled

              +1 for going to the countryside and looking for a lechonera. They may or may not have a mofongo, but they will have lechon on most days plus morcilla and a lot more yummy. There's *many* of them out there. Just ask any local. One I remember as very good is called Cuchilandia Paraiso, up the mountain road from Fajardo, barrio Paraiso.

              If otoh you have to stay in OSJ, there's a place I posted about like five times, but here it goes again: right next door to Cafe Berlin there's a kind of food court. The stall with awesome mofongo was in the back last time we've been. Many other local dishes too. The other stalls may be worth checking out as well. As authentic as it gets, since there's next no tourists in there. Not fine dining for sure.

              1. re: quimbaya

                Quimbaya, I know this stuff is subjective but after many, many Mofongos now I find that "awesome Mofongo" is an oxymoron. You simply can't use the two words in the same sentence. For me it's better to have a plate of seasoned rice and beans with a nicely grilled piece of fish and a pile of hot sauce on the rice. Wash it all down with a couple of cold beers and that's heaven for $15 or less. It's the same all over the Caribbean, only the beer changes. I'm not trying to whizz on the Mofongos lover's parade but for me they're simply heavy and uninteresting.

                1. re: cookedandpickled

                  You seem to enjoy disagreeing with people. Maybe you're a "One Upper". Always trying to one-up stories or suggestions.

                  1. re: jdelisle

                    Nah... I just know what I like...and can back it up. I won't just write "raices" is a good spot" because someone else said so. My opinion is informed. Try it sometime.

                    1. re: cookedandpickled

                      I think we all appreciate your opinion. I just think you would get a better response if you presented it in a different way.

                      1. re: jdelisle

                        It's one thing to disagree on a restaurant, but not liking a particular dish that's a cornerstone of a local cuisine is not a "universal." I think c&p is indeed trying to whiz on the parade vis a vis mofongo.

                2. re: quimbaya

                  I read somewhere that there was a lechoneria next door to Latin Roots or maybe Cafe Berlin, I can't recall. Was there one in this food court? Quality? Might consider Caficultura over La Bombonera for coffee, but wife definitely wants the better mallorcas. So which is it?

                  1. re: crewsweeper

                    I've tried both places many times. Both are slow when it comes to service. Caficultura can be a little pricier. Bombonera is the traditional mallorca place and its more of a "local" experience although there's nothing fancy in their menu (a mallorca is a really simple pastry).

                    I prefer the mallorcas (with hand made butter and even guava flavored) at Caficultura and the fact that their coffee beats Bomboneras by K.O. makes it a no brainer for me and my wife.

                    They are very close to each other and maybe you can visit both, take a look at their food and make a decision on the spot.

          2. Breakfast and great coffee:

            Try "Caficultura". Best coffee in Puerto Rico. Great place, great service, great menu and reasonable prices. IMHO they serve better "mayorcas" than in "La Bombonera" which I consider a tourist trap. I'm a coffee nut, roast my own beans and own a super auto espresso machine (Jura Capresso) but I can't deny they make WAY better coffee at Caficultura.
            They serve lunch and dinner too.

            In old San Juan, right on Plaza Colon, you can't miss it.

            Check them at Facebook:
            http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid...

            Dragonfly is nice and hip (almost club style) but pricey and crowded. Tapas style modern cuisine.
            Marmalade is really nice, great ambience, good menu, pricey.

            It's a shame you just missed the best restaurant in Puerto Rico, Il Perugino. Best Italian place that recently closed it's doors. I frequented the place and had the chance to see George Clooney and Ewan MgGregor having dinner there.

            If you need help while there, let me know. I'll gladly lend you a hand.

             
            1. Anyone tried Ajili Mojili? The mofongo looks very promising. Better alternative to local cuisine than Raices?

              Menu:
              http://www.hdmdesigns.com/ajili/

              11 Replies
              1. re: Porthos

                That's in Condado. The OP was specifically asking about Old San Juan.

                1. re: Peter Cherches

                  I know, I was asking more for myself. I'll be there at the end of the month with the same delimma. It's looking like La Casita Blanca for me at this point on the way back to the airport unless someone has a better recommendation...

                  Slightly off topic but does anyone know if I can buy champagne at duty free to take into Puerto Rico since it may or may not be considered "international"?

                  1. re: Porthos

                    La Casita Blanca....one the best meals I've had in a long time. Love that place.

                    1. re: jdelisle

                      Do they serve mofongo? I hear recs for a lot of stews and soups and other wonderful stuff but I want to make sure to get some mofongo on my way back.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        From what I remember, they have the menu on a portable chalkboard. Can't remember if Mofongo was on there.

                    2. re: Porthos

                      If you're coming from the states I have to assume that you can't do duty free, since it's definitely not international (passport not needed from U.S. ).

                      I'll be hooking up with a friend with a car on Sunday, so maybe we can do lunch at La Casita Blanca.

                      1. re: Peter Cherches

                        So after further investigation, you can do duty free from PR->Mainland but not Mainland->PR.

                      2. re: Porthos

                        Since you are considering La Casita Blanca I suggest you give a try to "Jose Enrique" in Placita del Mercado Santurce. I'm a local and I consider Jose Enrique to be WAY better than LCB.

                        Also in Placita you'll find the always excellent Tasca El Pescador.

                        http://gopuertorico.about.com/od/sanj...

                        1. re: ej40s

                          Thanks for the local input. Always much appreciated. Unfortunately, I only have 2 meals. 1 is Marmalade for dinner Saturday and the second is lunch on the way back to the airport. Looks like Jose Enrique is dinner only. Bummer.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            That's too bad but assuming you like seafood you can always try Tasca El Pescador in the same spot. The best deep fried fish and they are open saturdays from 11am.

                            http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/10/29/...
                            http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tasca-E...

                            1. re: ej40s

                              Looks like I'll do Tasca el Pescador for lunch on Sunday, since they're closed Mondays, and I'm only in SJ Sunday & Monday. Turns out my friend in PR took a job on a cruise ship in South America, so I'll be on my own.

                  2. I also have one day's worth of meals to think of for this weekend. La Bombonera is on my list for breakfast. I'm trying to choose from the following for lunch & dinner. Any experiences would be appreciated:

                    La Fonda del Jibarito
                    Amadeus
                    Cana
                    La Mallorquina
                    Raices

                    Looking to stick to comida tipica or modern variations.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                      I recently spent a day in Old San Juan, and I agree with cookedandpickled's appraisal of Raices. We wasted our lunch there--it's a tourist trap and the food isn't very good. Avoid.

                      I didn't eat at the others you mention, but the restaurant in the Gallery Inn served an excellent dinner, modern Puerto Rican cuisine.

                      1. re: wasny

                        Raices comes off the list, makes choosing easier.

                        Here are some links for the other places I listed:

                        http://www.eljibaritopr.com/

                        http://www.gsipuertorico.com/pages/pi...

                        Looks like Cana (sorry for the missing tilde) may have been replaced by El Picoteco:

                        http://www.elconvento.com/dining/el-p...

                        La Mallorquina has a full menu but seems to specialize in asopao:

                        http://www.mallorquinapr.com/english/...

                        1. re: Peter Cherches

                          Can I ask a favor? Will you give us your thoughts when you return? I'd like to have some feedback on the other places you listed.

                          I had the pork meat mofongo for lunch at El Jibarito and thought it was excellent. I've only been to a handful of places in San Juan, but I really enjoyed this place.

                          1. re: jdelisle

                            Will do. Jibarito seems like a good bet for Mofongo. I'm also doing the Flavors of San Juan dinner tour on Monday--not sure where I'll go or what I'll get, but they do a walking tour of OSJ with stops at 4 restaurants for different courses.

                            http://www.sanjuanfoodtours.com/tours...

                            1. re: Peter Cherches

                              Peter if you're out there, any chance you could comment back on your experiences? I'm going to San Juan next week and trying to firm up my food itinerary, thanks!

                              1. re: fishermb

                                I'd be interested as well since also planning a visit early next month. Have you seen this recent thread?

                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/849002

                    2. Hey guys I'll be going to San Juan in July on a cruise (Carnival Liberty) I was wondering if walking to the restaurants that have been mention on this thread, possible?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: woodside11377

                        La Bombomera has closed. But Cafe mallorca and Caficultura are open. The pier is is a short walk up to Plaza Colon. Just head upthe stret that intersect the main street in front of thepier by Senor Frogs (don't go there!) and walk up the hill. All the palces around Plaza Colon will be open. Do wander into the little food court next to Cafe Berlin and also havea frozen yogurt at the shop on the corner (they have free wifi). If you do the main fort, walk back to the dock, assuming it's not too hot. and then stop at some of the recos on this board for lunch on the way down. Enjoy the Liberty: Skip Guys; do the fish n chips (ceviches) and the Blue Iguana's pork and chicken tacos(good salsa bar), and especially their breakfast burritos versus the buffet line; and have a cucumber drink at the Alchemy Bar.

                        1. re: crewsweeper

                          is this place walkable from the port - "Fatty's" 102 Calle O'Donnell San Juan, PR 00901

                        2. re: woodside11377

                          Marmalade is an easy 5-10 minute walk from the downtown cruise pier, where your ship will dock if it's a stop on your itinerary. If your ship ls leaving from San Juan, then you will leave from another pier that is not near downtown.

                          BTW we did enjoy our meal at Marmalade back in December (when we were there on our cruise). I didn't care for our waiter (he did not appreciate our not ordering alcohol) but there was another waiter at a neighboring table who seemed much nicer.