Aquaviva (San Juan; tel. 787/722-0665)
This ultramodern, sleekly tropical restaurant looks as cutting edge as its "seaside Latino cuisine." Its buzzing, blue interior lightly evokes the shoreline and an aquarium all at once. Ceviche rules at the raw bar, and hot and cold seafood "towers" group several of the inventive appetizers into a large portion for guests to share. The menu is expansive and full of wonders -- grilled mahimahi with smoky shrimp salsa or seared halibut with crab and spinach fondue. The catch of the day is cooked with consummate skill.
Barú (San Juan; tel. 787/977-7107)
Fashionable and popular, this Old World-styled restaurant is actually a creative culinary showcase for fusion Caribbean-Mediterranean cuisine and a popular nightspot. Craftsmanship marks the menu, which specializes in inventive risottos and carpaccios.
Parrot Club (San Juan; tel. 787/725-7370)
This place still sets the standard in style and service, and its Nuevo Latino cuisine beats any of the hotshot restaurants of its genre in New York and Miami that we've tried. The menu here is a thoughtful restyling of Puerto Rican and regional classics, drawing on the island's Spanish, African, Taíno, and American influences. There's a criolla-styled flank steak and a pan-seared tuna served with a dark rum-orange sauce.
Bistro de Paris (Santurce; tel. 787/998-8929)
This Parisian-style bistro serves up French classics with technical grace and passion, and pampers diners with beautiful and comfortable surroundings. It's the stomping grounds of the island's moneyed class, and business leaders, senators, celebrities, and former governors can be seen on any given day. It is right across from the beautiful Puerto Rico Art Museum, a short walk or bus ride from Condado.
Budatai (Condado; tel. 787/725-6919)
Roberto Trevino's Asian-Latino cuisine has found its rightful home in this luxurious and stylish restaurant with an oceanfront view at the heart of Condado. With an emphasis on Puerto Rican herbs and seafood, the dishes rely on herbs and inspiration from the Far East without ever feeling too far away from home. There's a full sushi bar and lots of ceviche. Start with pork dumplings with shaved truffle and the fried calamari and sweet onion, and then try a main course of steamed halibut and seasoned potatoes or a Spanish sausage and filet mignon with duck-fat potatoes and Asian mushrooms.
El Picoteo (at El Convento Hotel Old San Juan; tel. 787/723-9202)
Housed in a courtyard and terrace of this beautiful hotel, this spot may be the best tapas restaurant in all of Puerto Rico, and is definitely the choicest spot to soak up the spirit of Old San Juan. Classic Spanish tapas, from spicy potatoes to garbanzo salad to octopus ceviche, are served amidst the blooming bougainvillea. Enjoy the sangria while you overlook either the hotel's interior courtyard or the parade of partygoers along Calle Cristo.
Pikayo (at the Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino, Condado; tel. 787/721-6194)
Recently relocated to this new location, Pikayo is as dramatically beautiful as its previous incarnations and remains a fitting restaurant setting for the upscale criolla cuisine of island celebrity chef Wilo Benet. It has a menu as artful as its setting. The menu, with dishes such as Caribbean lobster tail with chorizo sausage and gaunabana beurre blanc, or veal scaloppini with prosciutto and sweet pea risotto, fuses Caribbean, European, and Californian influences. For Benet, however, it's all about making high art out of his hometown cuisine.
Perla (Condado; tel. 787/721-7500)
Diners eat within a shimmering, seashell shaped room on the beach, a fitting setting for the "urbane" menu dreamed up by well known chef Dayne Smith. The menu skitters from American roasted lamb loin to baby striped bass and oysters, and the room itself seems to float atop the sea it fronts. The food lives up to the awesome setting.
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