What comes to mind when I think of the culinary scene when going to Puerto Rico? Move past the rice and beans, fritters and mofongo, since that’s barely scratching the surface. Talented local chefs, many of whom have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, are turning the island into a world-class dining destination.

by My Puerto Rico Experience

I love dining at:

Laurel

My senses are provoked at Chef Mario Pagan’s elegant and sophisticated Laurel, located in the Museum of Puerto Rico. Chef Mario, who has appeared on The Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, has always incorporated local ingredients in his dishes. A prime example is his foie gras and lingonberries on top of an almojábana, a fritter that is both light and succulent. He serves his sea bass with a root vegetable puree and his goat cheese is paired with candied pineapple. It’s my perfect power lunch spot and also a great date-night choice!

Marmalade

Although Chef Peter Schintler isn’t from Puerto Rico (he’s an Iowa native), he dominates the culinary scene in Old San Juan. His tasting menu is the way to go and the wine pairing is always on point. The chef is a wine connoisseur and he meticulously pairs each glass with his dishes, which was amazing to savor. His bean truffle soup is the only dish that can’t be substituted. I definitely get why!

Perla

One of the things I love about Perla (in addition to the food, of course) is the setting of a true Puerto rico Luxury hotel. The dining room is located in a conch shell with enveloping curves that blend into the glass below in hotel La Concha. The décor is fitting for the seafood-forward menu prepared by Chef Lindell Smith. The fish dishes are my favorites by far, along with the lobster cream soup with lobster caviar.

Pikayo

The service is always on-point and the bright dishes, reflective of the Caribbean, are perfectly presented. The foie with ripe plantains & black truffle honey is exquisite, and the tuna Pegao and the sea bass: two choices I can never decide on. Chef Wilo’s wine is also a must try!

Santaella

I drank on the street and hopped from place to place while sipping on a whiskey con coco, then headed for an upscale dining experience into Santaella. The papaya wallpaper as well as the interior patio with banana trees made for the perfect Caribbean setting. I’ve tried the blue crab alcapurrias, chorizo and baby octopus casserole, veal cheeks and my favorite, the ahi tuna skewers. Also, sitting at the bar to try the creative cocktails is always the perfect choice, since Santaella has one of the best bars on the Island.