• La Casita Blanca

La Casita Blanca: Home Cooking at One of the Best Restaurants in San Juan
How popular is La Casita Blanca? Even other restaurant owners will tell you to come here. La Casita Blanca (which means “the little white house”) is sacred culinary ground, with a storied past. For over 80 years, this quiet corner of Santurce has been a local gathering place known for its food, its history, and its matrons. Fortunately, the tradition continues.

  • Authentic home cooking
  • Outstanding value for money
  • Fantastic Sunday brunches
  • Can get noisy
  • Can get very crowded
  • Can be hard to get to
  • If it's available, try the pastelón de carne for a Puerto Rican take on lasagna.
  • It might be off the beaten path in Santurce, but if Rachael Ray can stop by La Casita Blanca to sample the food, so can you.
  • The interior is nothing to write home about, but the pleasant local vibe more than makes up for the lack of decor.
Guide Review - La Casita Blanca: Home Cooking at One of the Best Restaurants in San Juan
A Home Away From Home
A trip to La Casita Blanca is a journey into the real Puerto Rico, the family-oriented, fun-loving Latin hospitality that is so much a part of life here. This is a boisterous, unpretentious place that offers simple cafeteria-style tables and chairs. Miscellaneous curios and artifacts pack the room almost haphazardly. The well-worn couch at the entrance looks like it was imported from someone’s sitting room. It all adds to the sense of being a guest at a family get together, which has made La Casita Blanca a lunchtime tradition for countless Puerto Ricans and one of the most popular restaurants in San Juan. The regulars here include artists, politicians, families … the gamut of Puerto Rican society.
Cocina del Barrio
La Casita Blanca proudly sets the standard for cocina del barrio, or cuisine of the neighborhood. The menu is scrawled daily on a chalkboard, and is limited to 10 to 12 dishes. This is the place to come for hearty ‘Rican fare like arroz con pollo (chicken with rice – a Puerto Rican staple), patitos de cerdo (pigs’ feet), and pastelón de carne (a local spin on lasagna, only with mashed plantain instead of potato). What the food lacks in presentation it makes up for in flavor and simple goodness. This cholesterol-is-overrated food will linger on your taste buds and sit pleasantly in your belly.
Sunday Feast
If you can, try to make it out here on Sundays, when great cauldrons of food line the bar, waiting for you to attack with relish. Heaping portions of good food and the communal atmosphere of the meal only adds to the fun.
The Basics

  • Cuisine: Classic Puerto Rican
  • Located at 351 Tapia Street in Santurce
  • Phone: (787) 726-5501
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Thursday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
  • Price: $7-$15

  • The Parrot Club


The Parrot Club: A Tropical Tradition Among San Juan RestaurantsThe Parrot Club is one of those places that flirts with "must-visit" status. There's good reason for the accolades. The food is tasty; the staff friendly; the ambience unparalleled; and the drinks varied and inventive. Add the fact that it's located on the most restaurant-trendy street in Puerto Rico, and it's no surprise that it draws crowds 11 years after it opened.
  • The bright, festive environment draws a happy crowd every day.
  • With a huge drink menu, it's locally known as "la casa del mojito" - home of the mojito.
  • Live music helps keep the place hopping.
  • The food, considered Nuevo Latino, is inventive, fresh, and tasty.
  • If you don't like a noisy environment during dinner, this is not the place for you.
  • The Cuban-criollo menu can get a bit heavy.
  • Try the open-faced arepa, a cornmeal patty with ropa vieja (shredded beef with peppers), avocado, and sour cream.
  • Brunch is an excellent, but very busy, option at The Parrot Club.
  • For a more intimate dining experience, ask for a table on the outdoor porch.
  • The signature drink is the Parrot Passion, a mix of passion fruit, orange, Bacardi limón and triple sec.
Guide Review - The Parrot Club: A Tropical Tradition Among San Juan Restaurants
The noise emanating from the Parrot Club is a mixture of tropical music (live bands on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), a bubbly crowd, the busy clatter of silverware and the clink of glasses. This place never seems to slow down or lose its luster as one of the most popular restaurants in Old San Juan.
Maybe it's the creative cuisine. Even after 11 years, the open-faced arepa and the nuevo cubano sandwich are crowd favorites. It's hearty, tasty fare with a slightly sophisticated touch ... nothing too elaborat; that wouldn't be The Parrot Club's style.
No, here the emphasis is on prividing a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere where you can sample one of the restaurant's signature drinks, enjoy the brightly colored decor, and eat well. The indoor dining room is spacious and loud, and the outdoor porch provides a more intimate ambience.
All in all, it is a well-known, and well-loved institution in Old San Juan, with a whimsical spirit and a tasteful menu that will make you want to come back for more.

  • Varita Restaurant


Puerto Rico has a new temple of meat, a new homage to classic criollo food done with a creative twist and with a mind to how home-cooking was growing up on the island. That's what Chef Wilo Benet presents at one of the hottest restaurants in Condado. Carnivores, come hungry, come prepared, and come expecting all kinds of roasted, succulent goodness.

  • If you're on the hunt for roast pork, head for Varita .
  • If it's beef you're after, Varita will show you how it's done in Puerto Rico.
  • Chicken on your mind? Varita's roast is fall-off-the-bone tender.
  • Surprisingly affordable, considering the pedigree.
  • Vegetarians, this isn't the place for you (although there are decent salads).
  • The pulled pork with crispy pork skin appetizer had my friend swooning for more.
  • The bar is another nice touch at Varita, with plasma screens and the only micro-brew in Puerto Rico.
  • If you have space for it, dessert includes flan de queso, or cheese flan, pecan pie, and guava cheesecake.
Guide Review - Review of Varita Restaurant in San Juan
Chef Wilo Benet marches to his own beat. He has three restaurants under his belt, all of them catering to different styles, tastes and ambiences. However, they all carry one theme: Puerto Rican cuisine, done with imaginative flair but honoring its island roots. Varita is no exception. The wood-burning rotisserie that beckons you to the Conrad Condado Plaza is a tribute to Puerto Rico's meat-loving traditions. And boy, do they do justice to them.
All ovens at Varita are wood-burning. The restaurant's decor has tables fashioned to resemble butcher blocks (made from recycled wood), columns formed of pressed coconut fiber, and even one section of roof made out of zinc, like a typical lechonera. But it has none of the austerity of an old-fashioned steakhouse; rather, it has a welcoming warmth, a casual, modern decor, and prices so reasonable you wouldn't think you were enjoying the creations of one of Puerto Rico's most celebrated chefs.
As for the food, as you might have guessed by now, meat is the star of the show (although there are options for those who want something else). The Puerto Rican stalwart, lechón, is a specialty here, spit-roasted in an oven big enough to carry several of them at once. Pernil, another classic made with pork shoulder, is another highlight. At Varita, you'll find a mix of typical island comfort-food specialties -- like pionones, which are delicious plantain and beef fritters, served with a mayo-ketchup chipotle sauce -- as well as Chef Benet's own brand of home-cooking -- try anything with corned beef, one of the chef's favorite foods. You really can't go wrong with any entree from the beef, pork, or chicken menu, but just in case that's not your thing, the bacalao, or salted cod, with a coconut polenta is a terrific alternative. At Varita, you should come hungry, eat hearty, and leave happy. I know I did.

  • Koco Restaurant


Koco is a play on coconut, and coconut is king at this Caribbean cool restaurant at the swank El San Juan Hotel. Step into this beautiful tropical space and sample coconut-infused dishes that blend the flavors of the Caribbean with sophisticated flair. Koco is a welcome addition to the Isla Verde dining scene.

  • Love the South-Beach-styl, tropical cool decor.
  • The rich, tasty cuisine uses fresh ingredients and unique flavor combinations.
  • Benefits from a terrific location in one of Isla Verde's best hotels.
  • There's a heavy emphasis on coconut; if that's not your thing, you may not like it here.
  • On the pricey side.
  • Try to reserve one of their comfy, plush booths. They're the best seats in the house.
  • A large restaurant, Koco is a terrific choice for large groups, thanks to the long table in the center.
  • The rum bar has an impressive collection of rums from all over the world, including a few hard-to-find varieties.
  • The service is excellent, with a knowledgeable, friendly staff that add to the experience.
Guide Review - Review of Koco Restaurant in San Juan
Tucked into a recessed corner of the lobby of the El San Juan Hotel, the first impression you'll get from Koco is the über-chic decor. Cool green and white hues and dark wood accents, high ceilings and seductive lighting, the restaurant is airy, intimate and elegant, giving the illusion of sitting in a posh outdoor deck.
The second impression, of course, belongs to the food. The menu is what Chefs Sylvia Senat and Linton Romeros call Modern Caribbean food. In this case, that interprentation involves plenty of the signature ingredient: coconut. From the Koco mojito house cocktail to the choco koco house dessert, it's all over the menu, creatively incorporated into the dishes. The house specialty is the Koconut Shrimp, which are succulent jumbo shrimp tempura with coconut shavings. The pan-seared halibut, served on a bed of curried coconut risotto, is also an excellent choice. For starters, the West Indies crab fritters are delicious. The menu covers the Caribbean, using ingredients like molasses, conch, yuca (cassava), and tropical fruits. From Jamaica to the West Indies to Puerto Rico, the food takes you on a regional culinary tour. And Koco will ensure you don't leave hungry. Portions are big, and the choco Koco, an absolutely decadent brownie a la mode with coconut ice cream served in a chocoloate bowl, is made for sharing.
Finally, if you're looking for a great bar scene, the rum bar at Koco will happily oblige. The signature drink here is, of course, rum, and the bar features rums from all over the world, including quite a few that aren't found elsewhere on the island. The manager and bartender are rum encyclopedias, and it's a lot of fun conversing with them about their favorite spirit.
If you're looking for creative Caribbean cooking in a suave and sexy setting, Koco is a safe, sure, coconutty bet.

  • Aguaviva


If you like seafood, Aguaviva should be on your short-list of restaurants to visit while you're in San Juan; if you like fun and funky hotspots, it should get bumped up to the top five; and If you like ceviches, it should rocket straight to the top. Aguaviva is a seafood-lover's dream, realized in a bright, fresh, and colorful restaurant at the end of Fortaleza Street.

  • Inventive seafood dishes blend Caribbean and International flavors and techniques.
  • Fantastic ceviche bar with creative departures from traditional ceviches.
  • Neon-colored, ocean-inspired decor adds a cool vibe to the restaurant.
  • Extensive raw bar with top-quality selections.
  • If you can't or don't eat seafood, avoid it; your choices are limited.
  • Try the watermelon sangria, Aguaviva's signature drink, or go for the killer mojitos.
  • If you're here for lunch, order the fried calamari sandwich, a crispy and succulent alternative to the classic.
  • Their swordfish chop is one of their most popular dishes, so if you want it, call ahead to make sure you get it.
Guide Review - Reinventing 'Rican Seafood: Aguaviva Makes a Splash Among San Juan's Restaurants
Simply put, I love this place.
I love its whimsical decor: the super-cool neon blue, white and green jellyfish lamps, the water pattern on the floor, and the maritime artwork that all collaborates to make you feel, for an instant, that you're the one in the aquarium.
I love that fact that you'd have to be in an aquarium to get fresher seafood than the flown-in-daily oysters, shrimp and lobster claws available at the raw bar.
I love the way the menu takes risks that pay off. Example? If someone had told me they had made a paella using cous-cous instead of rice, I'd have them committed. But Aguaviva's Nueva Paella is just that, and it went head to head against Mario Batali in "Iron Chef."
Saving the best for last, I absolutely love the ceviche bar. For those of you who are familiar with this Peruvian specialty, you'll know it is a tart melange of citrus and fresh fish. Well, Aguaviva offers the traditional variety, but it also thinks way out of the box. Its ceviche menu includes flavor combinations of mango, lime and mahi-mahi; grouper, coconut and lime; garlic and marlin; mixed fish and a cold, spicy tomato-based sauce. Keeping to their Puerto Rican roots, Aguaviva serves their ceviches with tostones, or baked plantain patties, which balances the citrus perfectly. If you can't decide which one to order, get the sampler of all six.
All in all, you can't miss at Aguaviva, one of the most inventive of San Juan's restaurants, unless you came here looking for traditional Puerto Rican fare. Make sure it's on your list.

The Best Foods of Puerto Rico Five Dishes You Should Try When You Visit the Island

Aditional information about our tipical food
By Zain Deane, Guide
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One of the reasons I love the cuisine of Puerto Rican is that it is a unique amalgamation of ingredients, cultures, and recipes. The native Taíno Indians, the Spanish conquistadores, and the African slaves have all influenced what has come to be known around the island as Comida Criolla. As such, even though Puerto Rican food has its roots in Caribbean and Spanish cuisine, it is its own creature. These five dishes, which are the island's most distinctive and representative foods, will attest to that.

1. Mofongo

external image Mofongo.gifPhoto © Puerto Rico Tourism CompanyMofongo is the unofficial king of Puerto Rican cuisine. This is a tasty and filling concoction of mashed plantain, seasonings and a virtually unlimited choice of filling; vegetarian, shrimp, steak, pork, seafood ... whatever your dietary preference, there is a mofongo to match it! You can also find mofongo everywhere. Every self-respecting Puerto Rican restaurant, from roadside shacks to some of the island's most refined local eateries, will have their own recipe.

2. Lechón

external image Lechon.jpgPhoto © Zain DeaneAhh, the famous, succulent roast suckling pig of Puerto Rico, also known as lechón. People have come from far and wide to sample this delicacy, and I know at least one person who broke their no-pork-eating vow to try it. It's that irresistible. In fact, it's such a beloved dish that there is one road in Guavate, Puerto Rico that is known as the Ruta del Lechón. To get here, take Highway 52 south to exit 33 (Guavate). Turn left and head up Rd 184. You're now in lechón territory.

3. Arroz con Gandules

If mofongo is the unofficial standard of Puerto Rico, arroz con gandules is the national dish of the island. Pigeon peas with rice has distinctly Caribbean roots, but the 'Rican twist to the dish is its secret sauce, known as sofrito. Arroz con gandules is typically made with ham, pork, chorizo, red peppers and olives (if you're paying attention to the historical connection, the Spanish certainly responsible for these ingredients).
By the way, those of you who know and love your rice 'n beans can get them here, but this is not arroz con gandules. Instead, it goes by the name of arroz con habichuelas.

4. Asopao

Remember mom's chicken soup? Well in Puerto Rico, they remember mom's asopao. This is a homemade classic - a savory soup usually made with chicken and rice. Fortunately, many restaurants have the dish on their menus, as its a perennial favorite with islanders. It's more like a gumbo than a soup, and it can come in several variations, including chicken, shellfish, pork, ham, peppers, pigeon peas, olives and tomatoes, among other ingredients.

5. Fritters, Alcapurrias, and Other Fried Snacks

external image frittersGallery.jpgThe final entry in the top five is not so much a dish as a whole smorgasbord of finger foods that can be found all over the island. These include cuchifritos, alcapurrias (a kind of fried turnover), frituras, almojábanas (cheese-flavored rice fritters), bacalaítos (codfish-flavored fritters), and buñuelos (yam fritters), to name just a few. You'll find stalls selling these goodies all over the island, and most restaurants will have a sample of them for you to explore. My advice? Try as many as you can, and worry about the calories later!