Restaurant and Bar-Hopping in La Placita
La Placita de Santurce is a hub for great restaurants, intriguing bars, and all-night salsa dancing.
For over a century, la Plaza del Mercado de Santurce, colloquially known as La Placita, has served as the farmer's market of the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. During the day when the main building is open, stands overflow with fruits and vegetables. There's a tobacco kiosk (look up to see the longest cigar in the world hanging from the rafters), a butcher, and Puerto Rican restaurants serving lunch. The pace of life is slow, older folks sit around the square playing dominos. But when the sun goes down and the main building shutters its doors, the streets around La Placita come to life. Locals and visitors arrive in droves and music starts to play around every corner. In just a few city blocks, you'll find high-end restaurants and bars next to chinchorros, craft cocktails and Medalla beer, people dancing salsa in the streets, and so much more.
Where to Eat
Your night out in La Placita should start with dinner, mostly because there are so many good restaurants to choose from. If you're looking for something sophisticated with a tropical twist, you can't go wrong with Santaella, right on Calle Canals. Chef José Santaella elevates local ingredients and comida criolla to fine dining with creative touches and international flourishes. The cocktail bar is also worth a visit.
If you're looking for something radically different, a little further up the same street is Mai Pen Rai, an elegant Thai restaurant with a top-notch cocktail selection, particularly the gin and tonic. You can also head in the opposite direction to Delavida Restobar, where you can sit on the wide covered deck, enjoy some authentic Puerto Rican food or decadent bar food like nachos and tacos. They also have daily lunch specials, brunch on Sundays, and salsa dancing on Thursday nights.
As you walk into La Placita itself, you'll come across a number of Puerto Rican restaurants with different specialties. Chicharrón is among the most popular for classic Puerto Rican food, while next door La Tasca del Pescador offers criollo with an emphasis on fresh seafood and fish. Boronía also specializes in criollo food and has live music several days a week including local jazz artists and acoustic duos.
Around the corner is a two-story building called Asere Cubano Kitchen and Bar. The first floor is an elegant Cuban/Puerto Rican restaurant and the second floor is a cocktail bar called La Carnicería with a terrace overlooking La Placita. Just a block away you'll find La Alcapurria Quemá, a casual eatery serving fritters like alcapurrias and pastelillos, as well as heartier dishes like mofongo, carne frita (fried pork), serenata (salted cod with root vegetables), and other traditional dishes.
You'll even find authentic American barbecue at La Placita. San Juan Smokehouse serves up heaping portions of pulled pork, brisket, BBQ chicken, and Memphis-style dry rub ribs smoked in hickory.
Where to Drink
As you enter Calle Canals from Ponce de León Avenue, on the corner you'll spot an orange house with a yard full of communal tables. This is La Penúltima, a cocktail bar also serving creative bar food. Keep an eye out for their pop up events where they bring in guest bartenders and guest chefs preparing one-night-only food and drink specials.
Keep going down Canals to Jungle Bird, a tiki bar established by the same partners that opened La Factoría in Old San Juan. The menu is divided into tiki-inspired and tropical cocktails. The wildly colorful and eclectic decor reflects this mash-up beautifully. If you're still hungry or not quite hungry enough for dinner yet, try some Asian-Puerto Rican bar bites by Chef Paxx Caraballo.
Once in La Placita, you can enjoy a cigar with aged rum or single-malt scotch neat at Don Rey Cigar. On the square, El Deportivo has local craft beers and El Coco de Luis offers a great whiskey selection (try one mixed with coconut water) and tropical cocktails. There are also numerous casual bars serving cold Medalla beer and standard mix drinks all around La Placita. Find one playing the music you like and head into that one.
Where to Dance
La Placita is across the board one of the best places to go dancing in San Juan. There are a few clubs like Mijani The Club with a house DJ, live salsa on Thursdays, and all-night happy hour. There's also Club Vibra which hosts all-night parties blasting reguetón music, while also serving as a sports bar and hookah bar.
Most chinchorros (open-air bars) like Santurce Café, Trifongo Taíno, Taberna Los Vázquez, Garabatos, Aguardiente, La Bodeguita del Medio, and others will have live bands or DJs several nights per week, and every night will play lively salsa, merengue, hip hop, or reguetón music for people to dance to. These are typically small locales, so most of the dancing happens in the street, transforming La Placita into a giant block party.