Here’s what’s cooking at Loiza Street

By Peter Martin 3616 0

When you’re in San Juan, make sure to visit Loiza Street, the city’s newest hip hangout.

If there is a secret to the city’s enduring appeal, it’s probably that it mixes thrilling metropolis entertainment, cultural and culinary delights with the laid back cool of a beach town. Nowhere is this delightful dichotomy in fuller view than on Loiza Street — a mélange of boutiques, restaurants and bars that stretches out for about a mile, one to two blocks away from some of the sweetest stretches of beach in Condado and Ocean Park, between the two Indio and Barbosa seaside parks.

Loiza Street is home to some of the best new restaurants to open in recent years, with talented young chefs reinvigorating island cuisine with a renewed passion, and a wide diversity of authentic cuisine taking root here: Mexican, Greek, Chinese, Peruvian, Japanese, Italian and fresh seafood. It’s also home to pubs and low-key clubs with live music and other entertainment, as well as fashion boutiques and artisan smoke and jewelry shops.

The Loiza strip runs from De Diego street to the west, home to Supermax De Diego, probably one of the best supermarkets in San Juan, and the Double Tree by Hilton San Juan, to just before Barbosa Park to the east, home to Nomad Urban Beach Hostel, one of two hostels catering to young urban travelers on the block (the other being Conturce Hostel). The low-cost, high quality hostels appeal to the same youthful crowds that are driving the street’s popularity. They offer lodging options from rooftop hammocks to coed and same sex rooms with multiple beds to private rooms with an ocean view and private bathroom. The Double Tree has golf-cart shuttle service for guests to the beach at Parque del Indio and room service, lounge chairs, and beach umbrellas once there. The bistros, bars and boutiques that line Loiza Street are also in easy reach of hotels in Condado and Ocean Park, including the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, the Numero Uno Beach Hotel, At Wind Chimes Boutique Hotel and Acacia Boutique Hotel.

The area has become one of the city’s hottest night spots, with a number of new bars specializing in cutting edge cocktails and craft beer. Piso Viejo is an old school cocktail emporium in a beautiful room that offers the best of classic Puerto Rico style. There’s a short menu fashioned from local cuisine and a gorgeous dance floor that is one of the best spots in the city to sashay to salsa.

There’s usually some serious booty shaking going on at El Barrio Socialbar, which draws a youthful crowd with loud reggaeton and local urban dance music. The cavernous space has the biggest bar on the block, an always fun crowd and the hardest working bar and service staff in the business. This is the place to, with drink in hand; shake it to the latest hits. Calle Loiza is also home to the popular club, Rumors, which has live entertainment, dance music and bistro fare.

Rumors has live entertainment, dance music and bistro fare.

Rumors has live entertainment, dance music and bistro fare.

El Bar Bero, a hipster cocktail lounge housed in a transformed barber shop, features friendly bartenders and complex, hand-crafted libations within a cool, modern, low-lit interior space.

If you had to name a place that best captures the Calle Loiza spirit, it would undoubtedly be Cafe Tresbe and the other eateries on its site, a modern open-air combination of food stands stitched together repurposed shipping containers and wood and metal terraces lined with blooming tropical flowers that is as attractive as it is utilitarian. Known for its burger sliders, seafood turnovers, fish tacos and kebabs, this is a great spot to have a snack and drink in the delicious atmosphere of Calle Loiza. The spot also offers fresh tropical fruit frappes, sushi and poke and is a great place for a drink from morning till after the sun goes down.

Tresbe was one of the first wave of restaurants and bars to open on the block, transforming the area into a vibrant San Juan hotspot from what was once an ugly strip of dingy restaurants and retail shops in decline. The opening of Sabrina Brunch & Bistro Bar here, however, put Calle Loiza on the culinary map, with chef Juan Camacho’s relaxed and soulful versions of Cuban and Puerto Rico classics, as well as tropical versions of world cuisine staples, among San Juan’s most unheralded culinary wonders. The attractive yet laid back space also features occasional live music and always friendly and knowledgeable service. Camacho, and the Sabrina management team, is also behind Azucena, the charming restaurant that more recently opened across the street in a Puerto Rico country home -style spot. Here the focus is more squarely on Puerto Rico cuisine and the entrees more focused to fine dining than bistro fare but the result is just as successful With Camacho in the kitchen, Sabrina and Azucena are two of the finest restaurants in San Juan, not just on Calle Loiza.

Sabrina Brunch & Bistro Bar put Calle Loiza on the culinary map.

Sabrina Brunch & Bistro Bar put Calle Loiza on the culinary map.

Bottega, located in the heart of the area, has been one of the city’s “in” spots since opening in 2019. It pairs an extensive wine list and tapas menu with both Spanish classics and modern renditions. It’s a great big room with high ceilings and wall-sized windows, large comfortable tables and chairs and a wrap-around bar that is the spot to mingle. The staff knows their wine and food and is as welcoming as they are knowledgeable.

Everybody goes to Bebo’s Cafe for the tasty and large platters of comida criolla at economic prices that makes it a rave for locals as well as travelers. Bebo’s, near the west end of the area, is just one of several comida criolla emporiums offering up price and taste on Calle Loiza, and you’ll find the same fresh local flavors and friendly vibes at Ana’s Cafe and Cafeteria Quisqueya, which are both closer to the eastern end. Gorge on mofongo relleno, grilled chicken criolla, tender island beefsteak and fresh seafood specials, usually fried red snapper or codfish serenata. All these spots have daily specials feature classic Puerto Rican plates at even better prices than the regular menu. Start off with fried cheese or a combination of turnovers. They also serve fresh fruit frappes and standard American breakfast and sandwich items, as well as wonderful local deserts – tropical flans, tres leches and cheesecakes. Molini’s also offers affordable tasty meals built on island flavors.

Calle Loiza also an ever broadening array of restaurants offering distinct world cuisines. One of its most established restaurants is Pan-Asian emporium Silk, on the grounds of the Gallery Plaza Double Tree by Hilton complex, which offers Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian and Vietnamese cuisine and sushi with flavor as big as its cavernous interior dining room and bar. This spot’s SoHo vibe is as authentic as the Chinatown special menu. There are kicking versions of the classics (Kong Pao chicken, Mongolian beef and, not to mention the steamed and fried dumplings and sesame noodles), a slick sushi bar offering Golden Dragon and Rock Rolls and tempura and teriyaki delights. Finish it off with fried ice cream.

Theos Greek Cafe is another long-term resident on Calle Loiza that offers authentic and inventive Greek cuisine served within a beautiful room that bows to Mediterranean classic design. The flavorful meals are as satisfying and refreshing as the ambiance.

Calle Loiza also has two fine authentic Italian trattorias – Mangiare Italian Trattoria & Pizzeria and Bocca Osteria Romana, that are top shelf and comparable to the finest such spots along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. While pizza and pasta are the main stays, there are fabulous daily specials at both spots from grilled rib eye with rosemary to sophisticated sautéed fish platters.

It’s always brunch at Tostado, the big beautiful hipster breakfast spot at the center of the block that serves wonderful coco pumpkin pancakes, eggs Benedict with pulled pork, vegetable omelets and tasty burgers made with Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico raised beef.

Pinky’s, which has the best sandwiches and wraps in San Juan, has found a new home on Calle Loiza after bouncing around a number of different locales around Ocean Park and Condado for the last decade. The small spot with big flavor also has among the best breakfasts in town.

It’s no secret that Calle Loiza’s restaurant scene is certainly keeping pace and evolving.