On my last visit to Old San Juan, just a short trip, the plan was to not have a plan. I instead dined on and shopped for and admired the beauty of whatever happened to present itself on my path. As is usually the case when travelling with a loose itinerary, I stumbled upon some very special places. Among them were some wonderful dining experiences, some in well known restaurants, others in hidden gems, and even some right out on the street. Here are some worth taking a chance on as you wander through the historic byways of this beautiful city and the surrounding area.
I stayed at this lovely old convent turned hotel, and it turned out to be not only a charming and comfortable home base but also a great place for wine and appetizers. I never did have dinner here, as I spent most of my time out exploring, but I probably will make a point of it next time I visit. The tapas, especially the hummus and the ceviche, were perfect, and the complementary wine and cheese reception each evening for guests is a welcome perk. The attentive, warm and friendly service always made me feel welcome here.
At about 8:30 pm on a Wednesday evening, it wasn’t busy. I settled in with a pitcher of fruity red sangria. Dinner was an inventive dish of scallops, manchego and garlic, cooked to perfection and generously portioned with six scallops. Cheese and seafood aren’t a go-to combination for me, but I was glad I took the leap this time. The dish was well-balanced and satisfying, and the cheese allowed me to forgive myself for really enjoying the red wine with the seafood!
Especially welcoming to travelers dining alone, this Caribbean haunt lured me in with the island music that wafted out its doors. A super friendly gentleman (perhaps the manager or owner, I should have asked, but was too giddy talking about all the local fare with him) recommended the oxtail stew. It was some of the best I’ve ever had, and the delicately flavored coconut rice a perfect accompaniment. My new friend sampled me a taste of the goat curry, too-what a treat! I’d love to go back with a group, order a bunch of the authentic caribbean dishes, and while away a long, laid back evening chatting, noshing, and grooving to the steel drum beats.
311 Trois Cent Onze
Located in a trendy and bustling neighborhood, 311 stands out as an elegant and cozy oasis in an area dotted with louder and rowdier haunts. It boasts a sleek, sparse ambiance and impeccable service and features French-American cuisine, with a Puerto Rican flourish. I had a tender rack of lamb served with a berry wine reduction, a very traditional dish, and it was lovely. For dessert, my splurge hit the spot: chocolate mousse with rum, appropriately decadent and delicious.
Since most of my meals in Old San Juan centered around cuisines other than Puerto Rican, I must recommend an excursion into nearby Pinones. It is several miles out of the city, past Isla Verde- but it’s well worth a budget car hire to take a jaunt there. You will be captivated by the tastes, sights and sounds of the diverse local offerings, and there’s always a charge of excitement in the air. There is ton of delicious local fare available at kiosks all along the beautiful beachfront, and it really does represent ethnic street food at its very best. Just follow your nose to amazing fire-kissed chicken or pork skewers (amazing!) and more fresh seafood bites than you can shake a meat-stick at. The vibe is joyful, and the food pure Puerto Rico.