2000s Archive

Puerto Rico

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Alfredo Ayala’s Restaurants

Chayote, Hotel Olimpo Court, 603 Miramar Avenue, tel. 722-9385; Su Casa, Hyatt Dorado Beach Hotel, tel. 796-1234.

Other Places to Eat

El Picoteo, at Hotel El Convento, tel. 643-1597, may be the best place in San Juan for a drink and tapas. The bright tropical interiors of The Parrot Club, 363 Fortaleza Street, tel. 725-7370, match its vibrant Nueva Latina cuisine. Amadeus, 106 Calle San Sebastián, tel. 722-8635, has a lively bar area and a menu with everything from light sandwiches and salads to gourmet dinners. La Fonda del Jibarito, 280 Sol, tel. 725-8375, is housed in a replica of the street it sits on and serves up Puerto Rican food from a menu that changes every day. Across town, Ajili-Mójili, 1052 Ashford Avenue, tel. 725-9195, offers gourmet Puerto Rican food in a rustic plantation setting. Other noteworthy restaurants are The Caribbean Grill, at The Ritz-Carlton, tel. 253-1700, and the Palm Restaurant at El San Juan Hotel and Casino, tel. 791-1000. Also check out La Bombonera, 259 Calle San Francisco, tel. 722-0658; El Popular, 205 Capital (no phone); and Las Dos Palmas, Piñones Beach (no phone).


Gallery Nights provide a vibrant sampling of Puerto Rico’s artistic talents. More than 20 museums and galleries in Old San Juan hold art openings the first Tuesday of each month between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Several restaurants and nightspots also host openings, and the old city stays festive well into the evening. February through May and September through December, tel. 723-7080. San Juan’s fine arts center, located in Santurce, the heart of the city, is where the locals go for culture. There’s something happening almost every night at the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center, Ponce de León and De Diego avenues, tel. 725-7334 or 725-7338, from world-class opera to top-draw Spanish pop bands from around the world. El Alambique, Loíza (no phone).

What to See

The San Juan National Historic Site is composed of two fortresses dramatically perched at the northern edge of Old San Juan. El Morro has stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocky headland on which it sits, and the sloping grounds surrounding it are a giant park. Castillo San Cristóbal has fine views of Old San Juan and the modern capital that spreads out beyond it. Main entrances from Norzagaray Avenue; $2 admission for both forts; tel. 729-6960. The Museo de Las Américas, across from El Morro on Cuartel de Ballajá, tel. 724-5052, has a permanent folk-art collection and changing shows of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Hispanic artists. If you’re traveling with kids, stop by Museo del Niño, 150 Cristo Street, tel. 722-3791, a children’s museum with a rooftop garden and mock petrified forest, interactive exhibits, and a great playroom for toddlers.

At the Santurce Marketplace, Duffaut and Canals streets and Ponce de León Street and Baldorioty de Castro Expressway, you can buy tropical fruits and vegetables, fresh fruit frappés, and booze, plus countless other articles, from spiritual potions and artifacts to electronics. All the restaurants have good- quality, reasonably priced food. Try to find a seat at El Pescador, 178 Dos Hermanos (no phone). At night, especially on weekends, crowds of people flock to the market to dance in the streets to the live bands playing in the different establishments. Rumba, 152 Calle San Sebastián, tel. 725-4407, in Old San Juan, is a good spot for live salsa and Caribbean music.

Out of Town

El Yunque, tel. 888-1880, the only tropical rain forest within the U.S. Forest Service, is an easy morning drive or bus tour from any of San Juan’s major hotels. You’ll see gushing waterfalls, cascading streams, and vegetation so lush it blots out the sun. Just across Highway 3 is palm-lined Luquillo Beach, protected by an ocean cove and corral reefs. There are showers, changing rooms, bathrooms, and a row of restaurants and bars that beat all day long with activity on sunny days and into the night. But between the cold beer and blaring salsa on the jukebox are some real culinary finds, with an emphasis on fresh seafood. Don’t miss the arepas at Monelly #55. Set on a bluff overlooking the intersection of the Caribbean and the Atlantic, with Moorish gardens and northern Italian architecture, El Conquistador, Las Croabas Road, tel. 863-1000, is as spectacular today as it was when Goldfinger was filmed in its circular casino. In the fishing village surrounding the resort are several worthy seafood establishments as well as La Fontanella, Las Croabas Road, 860-2480, a wonderful Italian restaurant (run by ex-Chicagoans), which features arancino, a Sicilian rice ball stuffed with meats and cheeses, chicken alla cacciatora, and fresh fish. —John Marino

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