Taste new twists on Puerto Rico’s culinary traditions at José Enrique, near the 100-year-old farmer's market in Santurce (where many of the restaurant’s ingredients come from). The chef earned a James Beard nomination elevating old-school dishes like bistec encebollado ($22), a steak drenched in sautéed onions that he makes with ultra-juicy tenderloin, or tembleque ($8), a typically dense coconut dessert that he reimagines as a soft pudding topped with tiny cinnamon spheres that burst in your mouth. The convivial dining room fills up quickly (walk-ins only); if the wait seems too much, try out lunch at the chef’s Capital, which serves similar food in a much bigger, sleekly designed space with a Creole brasserie concept.
Drive 15 miles west for dinner at Dorado Beach, the luxe Ritz-Carlton resort where chef José Andrés recently opened Mi Casa. The design here is as ambitious as the food, with massive windows framing postcard ocean views, polished dark wood throughout, and plenty of fanciful accents, like a bespoke foosball table and three alabaster busts depicting prim ladies chewing gum and eating Popsicles. There’s humor in the menu, too: an appetizer of chicken croquetas ($14) arrives inside an acrylic sneaker designed by Sami Hayek (Salma’s brother), and yucca “churros” ($12) are accompanied by peanut-butter sauce inside a paint tube. The signature entrée, lobster asopao (from $40 per pound), is serious business, however: Presented in a cast-iron pot, this refined take on the homey Puerto Rican seafood stew is made with fresh spiny or Maine lobsters grabbed right before your eyes from a vast illuminated tank.
Get transported to the Roaring '20s at 1919, the Art Deco-inspired new restaurant at the soon-to-open Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, located in a storied Spanish Revival building. Chef Juan José Cuevas returned to his native Puerto Rico in 2012 after training with the likes of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and Dan Barber at Blue Hill. The menu here reflects Cuevas’s eye toward sustainable cuisine: Order the delectably moist olive-oil-poached salmon with a minestrone of locally sourced fresh herbs and beans ($33), followed by a house-made ice cream or sorbet ($12), in flavors like tomato-strawberry and sesame seed. Stay for a drink at the adjacent cocktail lounge, Marabar, and sip a Bacardi Reserva Limitada ($19), a limited-edition rum mellowed in charred-oak casks, while admiring the azure Atlantic waves outside.