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Eatin’ Where The Cows Used To Roam: Hato Rey Dining At Its Best

By Brenda A. Mari

November 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

"Vida Loca" superstar Ricky Martin was born in Hato Rey. The first sugar cane field in Puerto Rico was established by King Ferdinand "The Catholic" at his "Hato de los Reyes." Independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos came to die here of cancer after being experimented with radioactivity by the U.S. Army. And many brilliant (and some not so stellar) business deals have been struck in this overdeveloped piece of first-rate real estate.

No place looks so unassuming, yet has been so poignantly present in the history of Puerto Rico’s modern-day development. Once the site where the cows used to roam aimlessly among the sugar cane stalks, Hato Rey is now acres of concrete buzzing with busy busyness. It also turns into a Mecca of fine dining come sundown.

Back in the 18th century, Hato Rey, or the "Hato de los Reyes," spanned from where Plaza Las Americas (the biggest and proudest mall in the Caribbean), hectic Roosevelt Avenue, and the Golden Mile, our beloved "Milla de Oro" financial district, now stand. It’s proximity to the residential areas of San Juan, Miramar and Rio Piedras, its flat land perfect for raising cattle and sugar, and ideal access to water, made it the "spot on" spot from where to feed the masses. The Hato Rey area was also known as Las Monjas (The Nuns) because of a convent that existed there in the 19th century. Thus the well-known milk farm’s name Las Monjitas, owned by the now über rich Fonalledas family, who supplied milk to the nearby areas, and now owns Plaza Las Americas, THE mall to be seen in and the meeting place for today’s Boricua consumer-oriented culture.

Hato Rey is also very much synonymous with its "Milla de Oro" (The Golden Mile), the mini Wall Street of the Caribbean, where all the local banks have staked some claim, forming a concrete hub of top-notch commerce. The streets are, consequently, quiet after dark, yet the area’s residents stay snug inside their spacious 70s-style homes amidst all that monolithic madness and carefully manicured nature. But the hearths, if there are still any in Puerto Rico, light up from within at the many restaurants lining the day-congested avenues. Hato Rey comes alive at night quietly, in its restaurants that serve those who wander so far in to this concrete jungle.

In other words, the place still pays homage to its nurturing past. It still supplies milk and sugar to the surrounding areas, and then some. Here are some top choices for eating good in the Hato Rey neighborhood. Just pick what you feel like noshing on.


If you’re looking for the perfect crunchy crust in an amazing, brick-oven pizza with the freshest ingredients and a relaxing ambiance, look no further and head to Bistro Pizza. Try their chocolate and walnut pizza or their apple and cinnamon pie. Simply delish!!

If more hearty, down-home Italian fare is on the agenda, hit Il Cuoco, with its excellent Southern Italian menu, including a classic Cheese Tortellini and a savory Gnochi al Pesto. Ingredients are all top-notch and fresh to boot.


One of the best of the best, Yuan tops the list when it comes to authentic, fresh Chinese food. Tucked inside the lobby of the Banktrust Building on the Milla de Oro, this beautifully, yet ostentatiously decorated restaurant offers an oasis of excellent chow and attentive service. The Buddha’s Delight lives up to its promise, the vegetable rice is chuck full of veggies and the scallion pancakes are superb. Not to mention that the fortune cookies always crackle and are never old nor soggy. Many say their Peking Duck is tops.

Another bang-up choice for Chinese is Hunan House. They offer an extensive menu with both gourmet choices (try the Pearl Lobster) and mainstay favorites like Chicken with Broccoli. The ambiance is casual, and family-oriented with a distinctive Chinese décor.

Another Asian favorite is Yum Yum Tree, which offers top-notch Mandarin dishes like Orange-flavored Chicken with Cashews, and an entire selection of first-rate sushi. The atmosphere is romantic and hushed, and the service is superb.

Middle Eastern

Hato Rey is brimming with Arabic eateries featuring belly dancers, hummus and the like. Al Salam was one of the first to stake claim to the area. The gaudy and fun décor simply adds to the festive aura of the place. There are even tables with tents over them so you can kick into the Aladdin mode. Try their Lamb with Arabian compliments, of course, their hummus or baba ganoush, whichever you prefer, and cap it off with their spectacular Lady Fingers. Or else, ask for their dessert tray.

Another Middle Eastern notable is Tierra Santa, which offers a great mix of Middle Eastern novelties and favorites, including Lebanese specialties. There are, of course, belly dancers during the weekends, but the ambiance is more sedate and family-friendly than Al Salam.

Cuban/Puerto Rican

If you’ve never engaged in the Metropol experience, this is a good time as any. Loud, busy and positively teeming with life and mounds of down-home Cuban food, this restaurant is a classic in the restaurant sphere. Service can sometimes be harried, but the warmth and the vibe can’t be beat. Try the Biftec a la Palomilla with Congri (rice cooked with black beans) or the Stuffed Cornich Hen. Check and see if they have arañitas (grated plaintain fritters) and don’t forget to ask for the garlic mojo sauce.

For late night noshing, head to El Mesón, which is almost always open. Here you can sink your teeth into a Cubano sandwich (read pork, ham, pickles, mustard…) at 4 a.m. to lull your body’s alcohol content into sleep.


If you feel like a taco and want it to blow your mind away, head to Frida’s, an upscale Mexican eatery with a passion for creativity. The place is as brightly colored as they come, rounding off a very lively atmosphere. Try their tangy Ceviche, halibut marinated in fresh lemon juice, onion, olive oil, and vinegar garnished with tomato, avocado and crunchy totopos, or the Entremeses de Frida, an assortment of scruptious delights including tostones topped with pork and tiny chicken flautitas. Also ask for their Enchiladas Poblana, topped with some of the best mole sauce in around. Next door Diego’s, from the same owners, serves up nacho-like tidbits around a piano bar, a great place to have a conversation over a tangy Margarita.


If you feel like some authentic Spanish tapas, head to the very classic El Chotis. It is true what they say about this being a little piece of Spain in Puerto Rico. They have flamenco shows to enliven your night a bit and toothsome seafood paellas to die for on Fridays.

And for elegant fine dining, dress up and swagger your way to El Bodegón de Gaspar. Whereas El Chotis features more specialties from the Asturias province of Spain, El Bodegón proffers a more Castilian fare. Plus, their Spanish wine list is one of the most extensive in the entire metro area. Their "caldo gallego," or Galician stew, is positively sublime, so is the traditional garlic soup. If you’re very hungry, don’t miss out on their hearty casseroles.

So, folks, there you have it. Hato Rey’s finest eateries right before your very eyes. There are more of course, but that, my friends is subject for another round of good eating. Enjoy your meal with a good friend and buen provecho!

The Lowdown

Bistro Pizza

Italian Cuisine

Price Per Entree: $10-$20

El Centro Sur Building

Phone: 787-753-2000

Il Cuoco

Italian Cuisine

Price Per Entree: $11-$20

Urb. Hyde Park, 270 Jesús T. Piñero Avenue

Phone 787-250-0068


Chinese Cuisine

Price Per Entree: $11-$20

BankTrust Center, Lobby, 255 Ave Ponce de León

Phone 787-766-0666 / 766-0111

Hunan House

Asian Cuisine

141 Ave FD Roosevelt

Price Per Entree: $12-$22

Phone: 787-250-8039

Yum Yum Tree

Chinese / Sushi Cuisine

Price Per Entree: $11-$20

131 Ave FD Roosevelt

Phone 787-753-7743

Al Salam

Arabic Cuisine

239 Ave FD Roosevelt

Price Per Entree: $11-$20

Phone: 787-751-6296

Tierra Santa

Middle Eastern Cuisine

Price Price Per Entree: $11-$20

284 Ave FD Roosevelt

Phone: 787-754-6865

Metropol III

Cuban / International Cuisine

Price $21-$30

124 Ave FD Roosevelt

Phone: 787-751-4022

El Meson y Algo Mas

Puerto Rican Cuisine

300 Ave FD Roosevelt

Price Per Entree: $11-$20

Phone: 787-767-3721

Frida’s & Diego’s

Mexican Cuisine

Price: $21-$30

128 Ave Domenech

Telephone 787-763-4827

El Chotis Taberna Española

Spanish / Seafood Cuisine

Price Per Entree: $11-$20

187 Calle O'Neill

Telephone 787-758-3086

El Bodegon de Gaspar

Puerto Rican /Spansih Cuisine

Price: $21-$30

282 Ave FD Roosevelt

Phone: 787-763-0990

Brenda A. Mari is an editor/reporter for The San Juan Star, an accomplished web copywriter and a fan of everything unusual. She can be reached at

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