Esta página no está disponible en español.


San Juan: An Insider's Address Book


November 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 


The city is a heady blend of Afro-Indian Caribbean flavor and Hispanic sophistication, with dashes of familiar Yankee commerce. And Puerto Rico's economy goes well beyond tourism. A year-round public encourages San Juan's diverse restaurants and shops, some first-rate and others just plain fun.


Breakfast at Reposteria Kasalta is a worthy tradition in the Ocean Park neighborhood. Unless you are headed the 30 miles east to Luquillo (where the roadside kiosks are a street-feeder's nirvana), this deli-bakery is also the place to stock up for a beach picnic: good breads, cilantro-spiked shrimp, Cuban sandwiches ($5.25) and ethereal almond macaroons. 1966 Avenida McLeary, Ocean Park (787-727-7340). $7 a person. Open daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Pause in the Plaza de la Darsena to cool off with a piragua (shaved ice with flavored syrup, a k a snow cone) or a coco frio (green coconut with a straw inserted) from one of the many street vendors, while examining the wares of the women making mundillo (tatted bobbin lace).


An elegantly simple organza dress by Nono Maldonado.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Salter/Corbis Saba for The New York Times


In a beer culture, the very existence of an enoteca, or wine bar, comes as a happy surprise. Sandro Giulimondi's Grottino has won a following, and on weekend nights customers spill out into the plaza beside the historic Teatro Tapia. Excellent wood-fired pizzas complement the acclaimed wine list. 361 Calle Tetuan (787-723-8653). Wine sold by the bottle only; average price $25. Closed Monday.

Thursday and Friday nights, the plaza around Santurce's restored 1912 Mercado Central is transformed into a giant block party, with music and dancing among recently installed, witty sculptures of giant avocados. Wander along the nearby sidewalks, checking out the cantina fare. Or on ordinary market days, go for a mango-banana batida (smoothie) and stock up on pique (vinegar-based pepper sauce) and bay rum. Calle Dos Hermanos at Calle Capitol, Santurce. Open Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 6 to noon.


The Sunday buffet at La Casita Blanca offers the best chance to taste the full range of Puerto Rican specialties. Just settle back under the quenepa tree that grows straight through one of the porchlike dining rooms, grab a handful of napkins and enjoy pastellon (a lasagna of plantains, beans and beef) and rice and beans with one of the many beef and pork guisados (stews). Season to tolerance with pique and then cool your palate with a frosty Medalla. Villa Palmera, 351 Calle Tapia, Santurce (787-726-5501). $15 a person. Open daily; Sunday lunch only.

Enveloped in lacquer-red walls, Jennifer Lopez aspirants and their guys clamor for tables at Dragonfly. The chefs, Roberto Trevino and Edwin Rolland, have concocted a ''Latinasian'' menu whose Spanglish underlines its hybrid concept. Wrap your mind around smoked salmon Asian pizza con wasabi chimichurri salsa or quesadilla spring rolls con Chinese sausage y lime sour cream and your palate will follow. It works. 364 Calle Fortaleza, Viejo San Juan (787-977-3886). $40 a person (this and restaurant prices below include a moderate wine). Dinner only. Closed Sunday.

Its blue tin roof makes Urdin look like a diner from outside, but all is floor-length tablecloths and silken service within. Miguel Martinez's menu is especially strong on fish, from a tart and tasty ceviche to tender squid atop puff pastry sweetened with caramelized onions and sauced with squid ink. Try rich mofongo (sauteed garlicky green plaintain mash), here stuffed with shellfish, and halibut with unctuous banana chutney and white wine sauce. 1105 Avenida Magdalena, Condado (787-724-0420). $55 a person. Closed Sunday.

Pikayo may be the best museum restaurant in the world. However much local people grumble about the prices, Wilo Benet's skilled reinterpretations of rustic classics are so good that diners soon overlook both the cost and the extreme Modernist decor, with its distracting wall of light. Savor exquisitely arrayed crab and ginger pegao (named for the caramelized crust that forms on slow-cooked rice dishes) or subtle crab, baby shrimp and pineapple made sensuous with avocado. And the cheese custard puts most New York cheesecake to shame. Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, 299 Avenida de Diego, Santurce (787-721-6194). $80 a person, including a 15 percent service charge. Closed Saturday and Monday lunch and Sunday.


If the salsa and merengue music has you swaying, head for Club Lazer's packed dance floor. Though the disco opens earlier, no self-respecting local would appear before 11 p.m. -- and later on weekends. 251 Calle Cruz, Viejo San Juan (787-725-7581). Closed Sunday and Wednesday.


Costumed students bring music to the streets.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Salter/Corbis Saba for The New York Times


The siren call of the gaming tables is never far away. The modulated glitz of the Ritz-Carlton's casino lures a glamorous, rather than dressy, crowd for blackjack, roulette, baccarat and other games, as well as a kaleidoscope of slot machines. 6961 Avenida Los Gobernadores, Isla Verde, Carolina (787-253-1700). Open 10 a.m. to 6 a.m.


Before returning as a designer to his native island, Nono Maldonado was a fashion editor at Esquire. Today he designs impeccably finished classic men's and women's clothes. A fluid long-sleeved peach chiffon blouse ($800) is pure party, whereas his sheaths and suits have a Valentino simplicity. Men's linen shirts ($170) in a rainbow of pastel colors are perfectly cut. 1051 Avenida Ashford, Condado (787-721-0456). Closed Sunday.

Many connoisseurs rate Puerto Rico's coffee up there with Blue Mountain and Kona. Pack a supply of Yauco Selecto or Alto Grande (less than $10 a 10-ounce can) from the local supermarket, Pueblo, on the Plaza de Armas. 201 Calle Cruz, Viejo San Juan (787-725-4839).


The steady susurrus of waves only yards away, an informal, book-filled sitting room positioned with a view over the broad beach, 12 rattan-furnished bedrooms (some with kitchenettes) -- what a bonus to find them in the middle of San Juan at the Numero Uno Guest House. This mid-20th-century beach house has been converted to a small, comfortable but not luxurious (showers only in the small bathrooms), air-conditioned hideaway. Pamela's restaurant, on premises. 1 Calle Santa Ana, Ocean Park (787-726-5010). Doubles from $80, from $135 in high season (starts in December).

The new Water Club has come to the rescue of those who seek a Schrager-style Miami buzz in San Juan. Set at the westernmost end of Carolina's splendid beach, the new boutique hotel boasts all the appurtenances: an elevator with a waterfall-wall, 84 up-to-the-minute rooms, all with beach views, a roof terrace with sun deck, plunge pool and weekend sushi bar, a ground-floor bar that has become a local watering hole and Tangerine, a lively restaurant with an Asian-accented menu. What more could sybarites want? 2 Calle Tartak, Isla Verde, Carolina (787-728-3666). Doubles from $169, from $199 in high season.



Kiteboarding at Ocean Park. Most beginners can take to the air after a few hours' training.

PHOTO: Jeffrey Salter/Corbis Saba for The New York Times


Watching isn't enough when it comes to kiteboarding. One longs to participate, which is just what Real Kiteboarding's pupils can do -- after several hours' tuition. No question that this is a sport for the fit, but the onshore winds, warm waters and nearby navigation channel make the wide beach at Ocean Park an unusually safe and appealing place to learn. $300 has most neophytes up and away. Three-day camps cost $595. By appointment (787-726-5375).

Catharine Reynolds is a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback