The Best Gourmet Restaurants in San Juan
Gigí Nieves Bosch, a marketing consultant and food blogger based in San Juan, highlights her favorite gourmet restaurants in the Metro area.
This innovative Santurce restaurant is the passion project of former NYC chef Francis Guzmán and his wife, Amelia Dill, who operate a cool front- and back-of-house dynamic. A major player in Puerto Rico’s gourmet dining scene, the sleek, minimalist space centers around a wood-paneled bar. This is one of my favorite spots in the city for an early evening cocktail. I love sitting at the bar and talking to the bartender Markitos, who always recommends the ideal cocktail for my mood. The farm-to-table menu showcases the island’s unique flavors and ingredients—vianda means “root vegetable”—and everything on the seasonally inspired menu channels Puerto Rico’s rich culinary heritage. My favorite items are the Tom Kha—a coconut Thai soup prepared with Puerto Rican panache—and their homemade dinner rolls with salted butter.
In the elegant Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1919 is considered the best fine dining restaurant in Puerto Rico. Executive chef Juan José Cuevas worked at the Michelin-starred Blue Hill in New York and is a farm-to-table pioneer on the island. Cuevas makes a point of sourcing local produce where possible—100 percent of the hotel’s eggs are produced by the island’s farmers. The salmon sous vide is exceptional and the preparation is given a special twist each season. For an unforgettable dining experience, opt for the chef’s menu accompanied by sommelier-selected wine pairings. Make a reservation, dress the part and enjoy every moment. It’s expensive, but worth it.
Located in a nondescript building in Santurce, Chef José Santaella’s signature restaurant is a lively, fun place to dine with friends. The mixologists have crafted a unique cocktail menu. Expect Caribbean libations with a twist, including a Sandía Mojito made with watermelon, as well as playful riffs on classic cocktails. I love the tequila-infused espresso martini. The edgy industrial décor (it used to be a hardware store) contrasts with the menu’s “tropical creole” theme. Fusing authentic local flavors and international ingredients, Santaella creates memorable nouvelle Puerto Rican cuisine. My top menu picks are the goat cheese quesadilla and ahi tuna skewers.
A classic restaurant with an old-school vibe, Compostela is a magnet for foodies and wine lovers. The space is beautiful, with soaring ceilings, art-covered walls and extravagant design flourishes. The owners are small-scale wine distributors who have exceptional taste. Hundreds of bottles of wine—unique varieties mostly from Spain—are housed in a monumental wine cellar. The Galician menu spans classic tapas—think octopus carpaccio, croquetas and slow-roasted cochinillo (suckling pig). The fideuà, a type of paella made using vermicelli pasta rather than rice, is simply to die for. For me, the perfect finale is a glass of their chilled Sitta Pereiras, a dessert wine made with the Albariño grape.
Mario Pagán is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous chefs. He’s also an accomplished entrepreneur, philanthropist and TV personality. He’s appeared on Food Network’s Next Iron Chef in addition to owning multiple restaurants in San Juan and spearheading his own catering company. Pagán’s latest venture, Raya, is my favorite restaurant. It’s located inside the award-winning O:LV 55 Fifty Five in Condado. Every item on the menu is exquisite and resembles an edible painting. I highly recommend a gin and tonic (with house-made tonic), the wasabi morcilla grilled cheese appetizer (made with blood sausage focaccia) and the tuna poke pegaíto for an entrée. It’s small and super popular, so be sure to reserve at least two weeks in advance.
Credited with putting Puerto Rico on the foodie map, the internationally recognized Marmalade has held true to its vision as one of the best gourmet dining experiences on the island. Iowa native Chef Peter Schintler draws on Puerto Rico’s diverse cultural heritage and deftly blends indigenous and international ingredients. The prix-fixe menu options feature healthy, playful riffs on classic Caribbean dishes, best paired with selections from the award-winning wine list and their expertly crafted cocktail menu. Each tasting menu can also be paired with cocktails and liquors. Don’t leave without tasting the potato truffle soup, one of Marmalade’s signature dishes. It’s outstanding.
Hungry to seek out more restaurants in San Juan? Check out What to Eat in Puerto Rico for an Authentic Experience and 8 San Juan Restaurants with Stunning Views for ideas!