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SAN JUAN restaurant questions

I'll be spending four nights in Condado for the July 4th holiday weekend. I will have two nights free so am seeking advice on where to eat. I've got a few places only radar and would like comments, opinions, and recommended dishes. I would like restaurants with a sense of place, with the emphasis on top quality local ingredients where possible. Would prefer to concentrate on places slightly off the tourist radar, if possible; it seems as this eliminates the popular restaurants of Old San Juan. I understand that local prices are as high as New York city levels; just looking for good price/value ratios.

SANTAELLA (Santurce)

JOSE ENRIQUE (Santurce)

PIKAYO (read mixed reviews of the most recent incarnation in the Conrad hotel; some say it is not as good as in the original location; your thoughts?)

Anyplace else?

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    1. re: erica

      I'm heading there this weekend, I will report back to you if I find something good-- we have a local guide for a day (not a tour company), so hopefully he can point out some good spots.

    2. My BF and I stayed at the Renaissance in February. We dined at Santaella and were not impressed. Food was pricey and service was spotty. We looooved Jose Enrique which was recommeded to us by the manager at Niche. Highly recommend NIche also. Great spot and walkable from the Condado area, although if you're alone you might be better off with a cab.
      Be sure to get to Jose Enrique early. They don't take reservations. We were there at 6:30 and the place was already filling up. By the time we left there was a 2 hour wait!!
      Casa Lola was on our list but we ran out of time!!

      A friend just returned and really enjoyed Marmalade.

      Check out BUNS for burgers and cold beer. Much better for the $$ than at the hotel!

      Enjoy your trip!

      8 Replies
      1. re: jl0328

        That's helpful, thanks for letting us know. I'll be sure to arrive early at Jose Enrique..

        What did you order at SantaElla? I'm always willing to forego spotty service if the food is superb...

        Did you get the feeling that both places showcased lots of local products?

        I do get the impression from looking at menus online that prices in SJ are at the level of NYC, and I see a lot of menus with items like New Zealand lobster tails and filet mignon (??)

        Also, do you advise taking the cab because the area between those places and the hotel seemed shaky? Thanks!!

        1. re: erica

          We were in Old San Juan in February.

          I got the same feeling about the menus (I had the same restaurants on my list) and in the end, we decided to stay in the old city area where we could walk. Not that the menus didn't look great but it was simialr to what we can get at home.

          FWIW - A business associate lives in SJ part of the year and they recommended Marmalade.

          1. re: cleobeach

            Your research is right regarding Pikayo. You just have to temper your expectations. Nothing was spectacular and nothing was bad. For the price you pay you'd expect more in terms of portion and flavor.

            Marmalade was more interesting because the chef has cooked around the world. You can notice the influence it's had on the menu with its Asian, Italian, and Caribbean flavors. A little scatter brained but I didn't mind too much.

            I stayed at La Concha and there was this place called Waiters Bar and Grill within walking distance. The seafood mofongo was definitely one of the better things I ate during my four days. Great value compared to Pikayo and Marmalade.

            1. re: shake N baik

              Thanks to you both for your input. I've looked at a few menus and I really do need to temper my expectations. I'm seeing variations of the same dishes on many menus. Truffle oil abounds!

              And what's with the misspellings on the menus, even at high end places (?)
              Keep the ideas coming..seems like SJ gets little focus on CH!

          2. re: erica

            We ordered a little bit of everything from Santaella. It took a long time to get our bottle of wine. In fact I think food started coming out before our wine was presented and poured. No one explained our dishes and our server was constantly missing. From what I remember we had the chicken livers, a special empanada (meat I think), the rolls (disappointing), a special croquette, a lamb chop app special, and I think both of our dinners were specials. We didn't even bother with dessert. We just wanted out!

            I think Jose Enrique definitely did more of an authentic presentation. We really enjoyed everything there - esp the Fried whole snapper - delicous! Unfortuantely we didn't stay for dessert because we had to drive to Fajardo for our Biobay tour :)

            The Lobster at Niche was one of the best we've encountered in our travels. I only recommend a cab because the streets seemed dark. I was with my BF but I don't think I would have walked alone. We drove to Santaella and Jose Enrique but due to the way the streets are I'd also recommend a cab. It shouldn't cost more than $10 each way.

            1. re: jl0328

              Thanks for all that, jl0328. As it happens, Santa Ella will be closed during the month of July, so that would be off the list anyway...

              I have two nights, and will plan on Jose Enrique for one of those..still undecided on the second dinner venue..

              1. re: erica

                What about Laurel, the restaurant in the Museum of Puerto Rican Art (in the former Pikayo space)??? Anyone been here?

                http://www.laurelkitchenartbar.com/

                1. re: erica

                  Anyone?

                  Other recommendations for what to order at Jose Enrique, besides the whole fish?