2 days (or less) in San Juan, Puerto Rico

11:39 PM

Spending two days or even less than 48 hours in a busy city is never enough, especially if you are visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Capital City. However, you can definitely see, do and eat a lot!
My recent visit to the island was short but longer that usually. I often go for one day and come back the next one. But this time I had a little bit of kosher time and I took full advantage of it. So if you have 2 days or less to go to Puerto Rico, here are a few suggestions
Day 1

Ham & Cheese on criollo bread
Start your day with the breakfast of champions. Go to a nearby cafeteria or bakery and order a sandwich (ham & cheese with butter on a ‘criollo’ toasted bread), a pocillo (small espresso coffee with milk) and a “quesito”, a sweet pastry filled with creamy cheese, and a fresh squeezed orange juice.

A few of our favorites are La Bombonera and Siglo XX in Old San Juan, La Espanola in Isla Verde and the chains Los Cidrines and La Ceiba. Ask for them at your hotel and they will let you know where to find them.
The most popular cafeteria right now in San Juan is Kasalta at Ocean Park. It has always been a busy spot for beach goers before hitting the beach and for local celebrities and politicians. Its national popularity happened recently thanks to Obama, Barack Obama.
Mr. President spent less than an hour at Kasalta on his recent trip to Puerto Rico. But his time at the restaurant (they are also opened for lunch and dinner), has been talked about ever since. Everyone wants to sit on the table where he sat and everyone orders the Presidential Special – it even has a mention on the menu!
The Press Special is a “Media Noche” sandwich – a yellow bread sub with ham, sliced pork (called pernil), pickles and mustard pressed and served hot. The Special also includes a ham croquette, a ‘quesito’, a bottle of water and a coffee with milk.
Although the Presidential Special is a very good option for breakfast or even lunch and dinner, the Spanish bakery has other dishes to die for. One of our favorite menu items is the ‘tortilla espanola’, the ham croquettes, caldo gallego (soup), and our all time fave the jamon serrano sandwich. A criollo bread – similar to the Cuban bread – is filled with Serrano ham (lots of it) and Swiss cheese. It costs $10.95 plus tax so is not a cheap sandwich but believe me, is totally worth it.
After that breakfast, you need to burn some calories. So we recommend that you hit the beach. Go to Ocean Park, Condado, Piñones or Isla Verde, where all the hotels are and all the locals go.  At the beach, depending on which one you go to, you will find a few restaurants or shacks along the way, where you can sip coconut water or have a very cold Medalla, Puerto Rico’s local and most popular beer.
La Casita Blanca
After soaking the sun and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, lunch awaits! And Puerto Rican homemade food is the best! Since you can’t go knocking on people’s home doors and asking to be invited for lunch, we suggest that you go to our favorite homemade style restaurant, La Casita Blanca.
Located in the heart of Santurce, a town in San Juan, this restaurant is home away from home. You are basically eating in the living room, dining room, bed room and patio of a house a white house – therefore the name… casita is little house and white is blanca.  The décor reflects the Puerto Rican culture with religious items, musical instruments and memorabilia and much more.
But is the food that makes you feel right at home. As soon as you are seated, they welcome you with a small cup of chicken soup, a bag of toasted criollo bread slices with butter and garlic, and a plate of bacalaitos fritos – fried cod batter.  The menu changes daily so they don’t have a printed menu; it is displayed on a board that the waiters carry with them from table to table. They serve picadillo (ground beef), beef steak (or as we call it biftec) and salmorejo de jueyes (crab in criollo sauce). All comes with white rice, red beans and sweet plantains. And they also give you a side of ‘pegao’ – the bottom of the pan rice! It is delicious, trust us!
If you have space for dessert, have their ‘flan de queso’, a cheese custard, that is very typical in the Puerto Rican cuisine.
After lunch – if you don’t have to go back to the hotel and take a nap!- go to Plaza Las Americas, the biggest shopping mall in the Caribbean. You will burn the calories by walking up and down the stores (Macy’s, West Elm, Forever XI, and more… there’s a Disney Store and soon a Victoria’s Secret!).
At night, you can grab a show at Punto Fijo, a small theater and café at Bellas Artes performing center in Santurce, where you can have a few bites to eat, drink and listen to a local or sometimes, an international singer.
If you want something different, stay in Santurce but go to la Placita de Santurce. Is a plaza surrounded by several restaurants and bars, including Fat Tuesday and La Tasca del Pescador. You can eat there but locals go there to drink and socialize. You will hardly see tourists there. So if you want to experience the local hang out place, this is totally it!

Day 2
La Placita de Santurce
For breakfast, go back to Placita de Santurce. During the day is a farmers market with a stand that makes the most delicious and fresh smoothies you will find. You can have a papaya, mango, strawberry, banana or all together in one with milk, yogurt or the healthier coconut water. Also have a chicken empanadilla. Yum!
After your light breakfast, go and take a stroll through Condado. There are several nice hotels in the area and also ocean side plazas like Ventana al Mar, that provide great spots for photos. You can also practice paddle boarding at the Condado Lagoon.
Then go to Old San Juan and walk around the renovated pier and el Paseo de la Princesa. Go up to Raices, a local restaurant, very popular among tourists. It has local faire dishes like mofongo filled with churrasco (skirt steak) or shrimp.
Calle San sebastian, Old San Juan
Walk lunch off by going up to the top of Old San Juan and visit the fortress San Felipe del Morro. You can spend there a few hours exploring the Spanish fort. After you are done, walk your way down again through la Calle del Cristo. Pass San Juan’s Cathedral and take a peak at La Fortaleza street and explore the shops – souvenirs and jewelry – .
Finish the day with a visit to Pirilo Pizza Rustica where Puerto Rican dishes are fusion with Italian. You can order croquetas de mamposteao  - rice balls similar to arancini but with Puerto Rican rice and red beans.  And you can’t leave Pirilo without trying their signature pizza that has the restaurant’s name. It has mozzarella, tomato sauce, ground beef and ripe plantains.
After all that eating and walking, you deserve to go back to your hotel and sleep in and plan your next visit to San Juan, that includes more days to enjoy and eat it!

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