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The History Issue is now shipping. S unshine. Ocean waves as warm as bath water. But in recent years, a culinary renaissance has taken place in the capital of San Juan. Chefs and mixologists are reinventing dishes and cocktails while embracing their heritage and love of la isla del encanto.
Sinceher company has been providing culinary tours that exalt local food, culture, history, art, and architecture—a little bit of everything to help visitors become acquainted with San Juan. The three-hour morning and sunset walking tours include five to six stops, allowing guests to savor the flavors of the island while satisfying their appetites for historical knowledge.
My guide for the Old San Juan tour, Pablo Garcia Smith, is a delightful history buff who feeds our group easily digestible bits of information. I learn more about Puerto Rican history in these three hours than I did in three years living on the island.
Although those ingredients are staples of the local diet, exciting flavor profiles with global spins are permeating new dishes and drinks. Chefs are exploring ways to reinvent local cuisine, whether by reimagining traditional specialities or blending flavors in fusion menus.
Another recent drive has been to utilize more locally grown ingredients, an attempt to redistribute the percentage of food—eighty-five to be exact—that is currently imported to Puerto Rico. Salach and her team are in the process of launching a new tour on Calle Loiza—another neighborhood culinary hot spot—further adding to the diverse San Juan food scene.
Puerto Ricans are very passionate about their island; they feel it in their soul. And it makes me so happy to be here and live here amongst these amazing people. To truly appreciate the new gastronomic scene in San Juan requires weeks, not hours. On the bright side, it gives me much to look forward to for my next visit.
Ask anyone in San Juan about the restaurant Marmalade or Chef Peter Schintler; more than likely, their face will light up. The California French cuisine sourced from local farms—each dish paired with a remarkable wine, earning the restaurant repeated Wine Spectator awards—has left many dreaming of their next visit. The flavors created by Schintler are meant to linger over.
Silky white bean soup with black truffle oil and sprinkling of pancetta dust is decadence in a perfectly portioned cup. Pan-roasted branzino swims in flavors of fennel, figs and lemon verbena. And one of my personal favorites, homemade gnocchi—smothered in cabernet braised beef ribs, wilted peppery greens and topped with crispy beetroot, this dish is best enjoyed with eyes closed. An expansive vegetarian menu—a unique departure on the carne -focused island—offers both light and hearty options infused with global flavors.
The genuine warmth one feels at Marmalade from Schintler and his team is the epitome of hospitality. And throughout dinner service, Schintler makes time to greet each patron, creating a memorable dining experience—which can last more than two hours—is the ultimate goal at Marmalade.
The food at Verde Mesa is much like its creator: restrained yet compelling.
Yet within a decade, his work at Verde Mesa has earned him a coveted James Beard Award nomination for best chef of the South. Yet the flavors are exotic and complex. Goat stew with Moroccan spices and sesame seeds are transportive, taking me to faraway lands while keeping one foot firmly in the Caribbean.
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A dish reminiscent of beef tartare, with beets and sunflower seeds, is almost too stunning to eat. Chayote, cured in lime juice similar to ceviche, with mango and black sesame seeds is light and refreshing. Its claim to recent fame comes as music video location for the mega-hit, Despacitobut its coolness goes way back. There are six bars, each with its own music and ambience. At ten p.
La Cubanitaa former bodega, provides a chill, low-key atmosphere, serving canned beer, shots, and light salsa music. And finally there is El Desvioa tiny secluded champagne bar for a bit of bubbly into the wee hours of the morning. What would you do with a shipping container?
The barriocomplete with vibrant street art and a balancing dose of grittiness, has become a sought-after spot for travelers looking for something more urban.
The large wooden deck is inviting, the ambiance relaxed, and the wi-fi free. Here, strollers and pets mix with weekend cyclists and happy hour patrons. The outdoor, vegetarian and vegan-friendly dining spot offers a variety of dishes from morning to night—smoothies, pancakes, empanadassal and sliders are just a few popular items to enjoy while lounging under the umbrella covered tables. The adjacent raw bar serves local catches for its sushi, ceviche and poke dishes. Guests can order off one menu for both restaurants—including drinks from the outdoor bar—an added convenience to satisfy cravings before heading back to the beach two blocks away.
Serving Puerto Rican beans from Hacienda San Pedro, this velvety, complex coffee is one of my favorites from the island. This trendy spot serves up casual food using a variety Puerto Rican ingredients in a Caribbean bistro-style setting.
From seafood asopao to pulpo to pork belly, Sabrina offers an elevated dining experience, but keeping the neighborhood atmosphere in mind. The venue is cozy yet bright, cool but approachable. Creative cocktails and infusions make Sabrina a great choice for drinks and appetizers in lieu of a full dinner, if your appetite is feeling light. Live Puerto Rican music adds to the flirty, island feel. Here, flavorful concepts focus on local seafood that residents and tourists have come to love.
At first glance, El Batey looks like a place your mama would disapprove of: worn furniture, dark corners, rock-and-roll, and Sharpie-scribbled walls. Well, your mother was right. Welcome to the ultimate dive bar. A popular venue for a last hurrah before calling it a night, El Batey has been the unofficial OSJ t for the unruly since the s. The drinks are cheap and strong. The decades-old graffitied walls sweat in the heat.
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The jukebox runs on a quarter and will spit out everything from Led Zeppelin to Sinatra. La Placita, in the barrio of Santurce, is chock-full of the colors, sights and smells of San Juan. This is the real deal, where the young and old mix and mingle in the streets.
This typical corner shop—or fonda —serves up cheap, quick bites exploding with flavor. An alcapurria is a fritter, a mixture of plantains stuffed with different meats or fish, and always fried.
It is the quintessential Puerto Rican street food. Popsicles are fun. Every story we publish requires a ificant amount of man-hours from our contributors and editors, editorial resources, and of course, budgets. We want our journalism to be reader-focused and funded through readers, as a community—not through banner or clickbait.
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El Batey Calle del Cristo, San Juan, At first glance, El Batey looks like a place your mama would disapprove of: worn furniture, dark corners, rock-and-roll, and Sharpie-scribbled walls. Help us fund more stories like this one. us and let's give a voice to an industry that feeds us.
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