Fun fact: Puerto Rico was actually the first place we traveled to together. And man, we did a LOT while we were in San Juan, including shamelessly eating our way around the north coast. Now, we’re not food bloggers by trade, and we don’t think we travel just to eat new things or revisit old favorite eats. But then we go back to a place like Old San Juan and realize yes, everything about the city is lovely – but the food is what really captured us most profoundly. We’ve taken food tours, perused and chosen restaurants randomly on the street or via Yelp, and are even willing to hop a Lyft if we have to. And you know what? None of this makes it any easier to choose the best Old San Juan restaurants. So, for now, let’s just call this our curated list of favorite restaurants in San Juan. And accept that it’s likely to grow and change!
UPDATE (February 2022): All restaurants on this list appear to have survived the last few years and are still open, so we hope you’ll get to enjoy them all on your next trip!
Also updated in 2022, all hours of operation for restaurants that were listed here have been removed, as many locations are updating their hours dynamically due to the pandemic. Please consult Google – or better yet, each restaurant’s website or social channels – to confirm when they’re open.
Best coffee in Old San Juan: Cafe Finca Cialitos
One thing about San Juan is that, even as a non-local, you can ALWAYS tell when it’s a port day for one of the cruises that stops at the island. A large flock of (usually pale) humans in bright shirts with DSLRs hanging around their necks floods the narrow sidewalks of Old San Juan looking for “legitimate” experiences, souvenirs, and/or local booze. Seriously, the number of very expensive cameras we saw getting thrown around is just stupid. Do you want to get robbed? It’s a good thing VSJ is pretty safe.
As someone hanging around for longer than a day, this can be infuriating, because suddenly every single restaurant is full, or it takes an extra 15 minutes to get where you’re going because people are stopping to gawk.
On one such day, we happened to get caught out in the rush (much to our dismay). So, after battling the crowds for a moment too long, we ducked into the first coffee shop we saw to take a breather. Guys, it was like flipping a switch. We quickly transitioned from humid, hot, and LOUD to cool, calm, and very quiet. Welcome to Cafe Finca Cialitos! This lovely old coffee shop roasts and brews entirely Puerto Rican-grown coffee and, if you’re lucky, you’ll even get served by the owner, himself.
We both like coffee with our sugar, if you get my drift. But Meagan and I both drank several cups of Cialitos’ coffee black. It was that good. Smooth.
We came back and hung out here on the day of our departure, since we had a while to wait between checkout and takeoff. We sat at a table by the windows, enjoyed coffee, and watched people. It was every bit as serene as our first visit, and we hated to have to leave.
- Website: https://www.fincacialitos.com/
- Address: 267 Calle San Francisco
Best mofongo in Old San Juan: Hecho en Casa
On our first trip to San Juan, we took a food tour that allowed us to make our own mofongo. If you’ve never had this amazing Afro-Caribbean dish before, it’s fried-then-mashed plantains with criole sauce, beans, and meat. And it is GOOD. We tried making it at home when we returned and couldn’t quite get the flair right. Needless to say, we were thrilled to get back to the island to partake in the real deal. Being that we love to eat when we travel, we decided to try a different food tour provider on our second trip and, of course, mofongo was on the docket for the day. But the mofongo at Hecho En Casa isn’t remotely traditional. Instead, it features a white wine sauce (rather than the usual criollo sauce), and feels like a mix of pasta alfredo and really succulent mashed potatoes, with some chicken and all the right seasonings thrown in.
And while that sounds weird, it was good. Really good. That’s all you really need to know.
Also, the food isn’t the only draw. Their cocktails are very tasty, and the ambiance of the restaurant – which sits on the fairly busy corner of Calle San Francisco and Calle San Justo – is a perfect mix of island life and city life, just like San Juan, itself. With high-top tables snugged up against huge windows that open onto the street, and a dining room with a high ceiling and lots of colorful, culturally-significant decorations, you get to take in the hustle and bustle at your own slow pace.
- Website: (their website appears to be unavailable, but you can check out reviews over on TripAdvisor)
- Address: 249 Calle San Francisco
Best breakfast in Old San Juan: Chocobar Cortes
On our first full day in Old San Juan, we woke up HUNGRY. Too hungry to wait out the drive to our ideal ham and cheese sandwich situation out past Isla Verde. So, we set to searching Yelp for breakfast, and stumbled upon Chocobar Cortes. The first thing you can’t help but notice when you walk in is the vintage/retro/eclectic decor. Behind the bar, with its delicate lights, shiny machinery, and lined up bottles, you get almost an Art Deco vibe – which we got to see close up thanks to those being the only seats in the whole restaurant when we got there! The whole restaurant is based on chocolate, which makes sense given that Cortes Chocolate came before Chocobar. French toast comes with a chocolate syrup, cafe mochas come with coffee steeped with cocoa beans, and more. And even if you don’t like the sweetest of sweet things (neither of us really does), you can’t help but appreciate how tasty the whole menu is.
FYI, we thought the coffee with cocoa beans would be “too much.” Luke ordered it anyway, and it turned out to be AMAZING. Not like hot chocolate at all, but very subtly chocolatey and delicious. The cafe con leche itself was extremely good, and made even better (yes, Luke was right) when it was steeped with cocoa beans. Beyond that, the fresh fruit juices were delicious and tart, and the food (though, admittedly, it didn’t QUITE top our mallorca with ham and cheese sandwich expectations) was excellent. Top that off by stopping at one of the front cases to buy a few bars of local chocolate for later, and you’re looking at a nearly perfect morning.
- Website: https://www.chocobarcortes.com/
- Address: 210 Calle San Francisco
Best lunch in San Juan: Stuffed Avocado Shop
Luke doesn’t like avocado. He thinks it’s mushy and it tastes mildly green. Bleh. I (Meagan), on the other hand, would put avocado on everything if I could. Which is probably why I dragged my butt to this place several times. And I’m not gonna lie, even I thought it was pretty tasty.
Every bowl at Stuffed Avocado Shop is based on a whole, pitted, halved avocado. From there, you basically build up a bowl with toppings the same way you would at Cava or Chipotle. You can go a saucy bbq route, a Mediterranean route, or really mix it up to your own taste. The restaurant itself is small and new, but still fairly cosy. It’s the sort of place you see local folks stopping at for lunch when they’re at work, and sitting right next to a group of obvious tourists. Avocados just bring people together, I guess. I’ve dreamed about this place since we got back, thinking of how both refreshing and filling their bowls are. Whoops, I may be drooling.
- Website: https://stuffedavocadoshop.com/
- Address: 209 Calle San Francisco (there’s another location in Miramar, as well)
Best dinner in Old San Juan
Traditional feel: El Jiberito
On our second trip to San Juan, this was the first restaurant we ate at. We had gotten in a little late, and La Terraza de San Juan’s front desk staff told us to head a block over to try El Jiberito. Why not? At around 9pm, there was still a “sit out in the hallway with 4 families, 2 other couples, and one very sunburned young woman”-level wait. When it was our turn, the host led us into the dining room, which is made up of rows of tables pushed so closely together they might as well have been communal. High ceilings mean the place is noisy, and full of laughter and people enjoying evenings with family. Service wasn’t quick, though with a crowd like that, we didn’t expect it to be speedy. And when our food arrived, it came out on simple white plates with no fanfare. But man, was it good. The chicken was tender, the rice and beans were succulent, and the caramelized plantains were exactly what we wanted for dessert. This is the sort of place you roll up to with close friends or family, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, to enjoy some seriously down home-style food.
- Website: https://eljibarito.business.site/
- Address: 280 Calle Sol
Modern deliciousness: T’tuan
We first stopped here on a food tour, and ended up returning at least once more. T’tuan is home to a cocktail called the Monchito, which in our opinion is an even better version of the pina colada. In fact, it’s even named for the purported inventor of the pina colada! It’s all coconut and pineapple and it’s SO good. Their fish tacos and other tapas are to absolutely die for, as well. And to top it all off, you can either sit inside the historic, recently-renovated restaurant, or hang out on their patio on the pedestrian part of Calle de Tetuan. Strung with Puerto Rican flag garlands and overlooking the San Juan Bay and Paseo de la Princesa, it’s the perfect place to enjoy tapas and a cocktail with one or more of your favorite people. The service was warm and friendly, and we couldn’t have asked for a lovelier night!
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/Tetuan100osjgmail/
- Address: 101 Calle de Tetuan
Best bars in San Juan
Club scene: La Factoria
Lugares donde puedes bailar salsa hoy, lunes: *** Síguenos en Facebook.com/viajandoybailando*** – La Factoria: Lunes de…Posted by Viajando y Bailando on Monday, December 2, 2019
Full disclosure: we didn’t actually visit La Factoria. We really tried to. But then we heard that stereotypical pounding electric bass vibrating the walls and permeating the street, and we decided that maybe that wasn’t really our speed anymore. So, we popped down the block to Taberna Lupulo to enjoy a much quieter, much less crowded nightcap.
That said, nearly everyone we spoke to mentioned La Factoria being the “it” place in VSJ, a vibrant spot frequented especially by expats and visitors.
- Website: https://www.lafactoriapr.com/
- Address: 148 Calle San Sebastian
Quiet and tasty: La Taberna Lúpulo
We really did feel just a little bad about not going to La Factoria.
But since one of our AirBNB experience guides had recommended this as the place he prefers to go, we didn’t really feel THAT bad. AND Luke got a beer flight, so really, it was a great choice.
On top of that, the food was delicious, the bartenders were warm and welcoming, and we had a great time people-watching and just generally relaxing at the bar. And since the evening weather was so temperate, the open doors and windows around the bar provided lovely circulation and a very nice experience all the way around.
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/tabernalupulo
- Address: 151 Calle San Sebastian
Best ham and cheese sandwich near San Juan: Panaderia Espana
Okay, so this isn’t truly in OSJ, but it’s so close that it should count! Plus, Panaderia Espana was our first introduction to real Puerto Rican food. When we stayed near Playa Carolina on our first trip to the island, our flat was a five minute walk away. This meant we started every day with cafe con leche and a jamon y queso mallorca sandwich.
TBH I think Luke has literally dreamed about those sandwiches.
And they’re worth it! With thick-cut, off the bone ham, real cheddar cheese slices, and authentic sweet mallorca bread dusted in icing sugar, this is a one-way trip to taste bud heaven. Plus, the cafe con leche is like drinking super smooth rocket fuel – so, between the two of them, you’re happy and energized for your day. When you enter the restaurant, take a right and wait in line at the far end of the room. Order your sandwich and pay, and they’ll give you a number.
While you wait – and it shouldn’t take too long – find a table in the seat-yourself dining room and enjoy your drink. Then, become enlightened as to what a real ham and cheese sandwich should taste like.
Panaderia Espana also offers huge cases of baked goods, along with other sandwiches, big pans of paella, and a variety of local spirits and other tasty items. It may be a bit out of the way for folks staying in Old San Juan, but good lord is it WORTH it!
- Website: http://www.laespana.net/
- Address: AO-23 Centro Comercial Villamar Marginal, Calle Roman Baldorioty De Castro
Note: Chocobar Cortes is a great runner-up here!
Best dessert in Old San Juan
Refreshing: Señor Paleta
If you haven’t been to Senor Paleta, there’s a good chance you haven’t ACTUALLY been to San Juan. This local shop (and truck!) specializes popsicles, sorbets, and ice creams made from clean, local, whole food ingredients. So, if you order a strawberry popsicle, you’ll find chunks of the real strawberries the popsicle is made from. They also do fun flavors like mojito and salted caramel macchiato. And they’re an absolute staple in San Juan, for locals and visitors alike.
Every food tour we’ve taken always ends here, as you can see from the “then and now” comparison above. And if you don’t arrive at just the right time (just before or just after traditional meal times), you’ll find yourself queuing almost around the block with tens of your closest neighbors and their bouncing, Senor Paleta-obsessed kiddos.
In the summer, when the weather is hottest, this is the absolute perfect way to refresh and cool yourself down – you get a nice shot of sugar to keep you energized until your next meal, cool juice to keep you hydrated, and some amazing flavors to make you happy. You really can’t do better!
- Website: https://www.paletashop.com/
- Address: 153 Calle de Tetuan
Associated with Chocobar Cortes and, indeed, right across the street from our favorite Old San Juan brunch spot, Chocolato caught our eye early on. They specialize in delicious gelato and offer a wide variety of flavors. We actually enjoyed it so much that we forgot to take pictures the first time we visited, just because we got to shoveling our gelato down too quickly! If you’re in the mood for something a bit more substantial than a popsicle, this will be your best bet, as it’s smooth, creamy, and wonderfully rich (without being over-sweet). They also offer more over-the-top desserts like gelato mimosas for the weekend, and very large gelato cookie sandwiches. (You can check out their social media if you really want to drool a little.)
The staff each time we visited also seemed to have a great attitude, and were endlessly patient as we tried different varieties and asked for translations of some of the flavors and names. And even though the storefront is fairly small, you definitely still enjoy your gelato at the shop, where you can sit up front to eat at one of the tiny high-top tables near the front counter, or you can choose to sit at one of the brightly-colored tables that line the hallway back towards their outdoor patio space – whatever best suits you.
- Website: https://chocolatojoy.com/
- Address: 209 Calle San Francisco