Best places for a quick breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert while exploring the city of Old San Juan
Puerto Rico’s restaurant scene varies from street food to celebrity chef-owned establishments where you can spend hours dining on the tasting menu. There are eateries on every corner which makes it easy to find a place when hunger strikes. When you’re on the go and wandering the blue cobblestone streets, stop off and grab a bite at these favorite spots in Old San Juan.
Something about this place makes it feel like your neighborhood haunt, it might be the staff or the soft lighting and the long wooden bar where locals and visitors convene. Certainly, the staff is engaging and knowledgeable offering up details about the menu options and the craft cocktails. And, you can’t beat the location. Singular is right outside the walls of Hotel El Convento on the main drag through Old San Juan. You’ll find a modern innovative menu with some Puerto Rican influences where croquetas and deserts are house-made. Try the pulled pork tacos topped with mango salsa and one of the house mojitos; the Honolulu Hibiscus mojito is a favorite. The place also wins for beer and burgers. A big draw is the bevy of craft beers from all over the world, including Puerto Rico. And burgers come bacon wrapped with swiss or made from black beans for the vegetarian. Seating varies from the bar stools to cozy tables inside and in the evening the crowd spills outdoors to dine on large wooden patio tables. This welcoming tavern-style restaurant is located at 101 Calle del Cristo.
Maybe it all began with the poke bowl, ubiquitous in Hawaiian cuisine, but, today’s trend of bowl meals is here to stay and thanks to social media the word is spreading. Sure, the versions and ingredients vary but the concept is the same–a meal in a bowl. The bowl you’ll find in Old San Juan starts with avocado. At Stuffed Avocado Shop each bowl is set up with a fresh avocado as the base, from there you’ll select rice or veggies, a protein where options include fish, chicken, beef, and roasted pulled pork, a staple in Puerto Rico. Then you’ll select the sauce and the layers of topping including fruit and vegetables. Can’t decide on the build-your-own method then select one of the signature dishes like Mango Tuna or Chipotle Chicken? You could even go vegan and pile the bowl with vegetables. The place is easy to find, just look for the avocado right off Calle Cristo at 209 Calle de San Francisco. The staff is friendly and if you chose to hang inside the small space is relaxed and comfortable. It’s a popular lunch spot with visitors and locals who grab a take-out to carry back to the office. The group has three spots in Puerto Rico; Old San Juan, Miramar, and Guaynabo, which also serves breakfast. Avocado toast and coffee? And, if you want more than avocado in your bowl, you can order avocado flip-flops, bags, and shirts at: https://stuffedavocadoshop.com/
When you are craving local flavors, head to this popular spot for cocina criolla. Early in the morning, the pots come out to fill every burner on the stove with beans, stews, rice, and plantains. An indication you’re in the right spot is the line of hungry patrons forming outside the door before noon. Locals and those in the know are chatting up what they ate last time and what appears new on the chalkboard menu posted near the entrance. A big hit on the menu is the Puerto Rican sampler for two or more people. A wooden platter is piled high with everything from tostones to pulled pork and arroz con gandules, the Puerto Rican version of rice and beans that’s made with pigeon peas and flavored with sofrito. Order a more manageable entree of roasted pork with vegetables and sides, the fresh ceviche, or any of the family-style stews and soups. Located right in the middle of Old San Juan at Calle Sol 200 at the corner of Calle De La Cruz.
Anita La Mamma del Gelato
It’s hard to pass by this relative newcomer to Old San Juan without stopping for a scoop of ice cream, a milkshake, or just a coffee. This boutique ice cream shop got its start 20 years ago in a small Mediterranean town where Mama Anita and her son started the biz with a small cart at the weekly market. Today, they are a chain with shops in Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, and Barcelona. Here in Old San Juan the place is often busy particularly on weekend evenings when couples stop in to taste the new flavors before making the final decision. All of the flavors are handmade on-site and reflect the trends and tastes of the locale. The shop pays homage to holidays and seasons with limited editions of special blends: Spicy Pumpkin for Halloween, in summer there’s Peach & Love, and, even a doggie gelato offered on National Dog Day. Ice cream, sorbets, gelato, and yogurt come with options of organic, sugar-free, soy-based, or real cream. Toppings include fresh fruit, homemade jams, premium chocolate, and whatever you might have a craving for. New flavors pop up daily. Visit them at 65 Calle de la Fortaleza.
You won’t meet a Puerto Rican who doesn’t have their preferred spot for a breakfast Mallorca–a buttered sweet roll with ham and cheese warmed on the grill until edges are crispy and topped with powdered sugar. Just about every restaurant serving breakfast has Mallorca on the menu. The oldest in town is Cafetería Mallorca, a throwback to the 1950s with vinyl seating, a long counter where you’ll meet local patrons, and plenty of tables to accommodate the morning rush when they open at 7:00 a.m. A diner’s menu includes other breakfast specialties, sandwiches, and comida criolla. You’ll find the red awning with block red letters above noting its namesake on the corner at 300 Calle de San Francisco amid the old city. An alternative and if you happen to be in the north end of town is Café Don Ruiz. Here, you can watch them roast coffee beans in the store and the onsite museum takes you back in time to the beginning of the coffee trade and production on the island. The aroma of roasting beans and sweet bakery goods will guide you.