San Juan, PR

Arbiter: Thor Benson

Location: San Juan, PR (U.S. territory)

Overview and Cultural Index: 

San Juan, Puerto Rico is located on the northeast side of Puerto Rico on the Atlantic Ocean. San Juan has a population of roughly 400,000 people. It is a city plentiful in coffee, street art, and live stage performances by locals.

Puerto Rico overall, something you will notice in the San Juan area, is a diverse place with cultural roots in the Spanish, Native, and African influences. At least in the metropolitan area, this separation of backgrounds is also noticeable in the separation of groupings. Large groups of youth in this city fit into a Reggaeton, art people, Puerto Rican blue collar, or several other small grouping such as the surprisingly prominent gay community, which have the option of several popular and successful gay bars in the city.

San Juan is also a city with noticeable fads, and they seem to come over night. Such fads as the “rat tail” hairstyle, fanny packs, and certain brands such as the Old San Juan clothing company Concalma. Portions of this community clearly have no opposition to conforming their style. Not to say there aren’t rebels, every city has them. Since somewhere around 2010 this city has had quite a substantial bicycle movement.

This city has a large convention center, several small art museums, and stage locations such as Bellas Artes.  Americans who move here can find work for those who need work on their Spanish in Old San Juan(Viejo San Juan) and Condado which receive a large American tourism crowd who speak English. Rent in San Juan can range from $600.00 for a one bedroom in the old city, $400.00 for a two bedroom in nearby Puerta De Tierra, and roughly $500.00 for a two bedroom in Rio Pedras (on train & bus route), roughly 8 miles from the old city. Food in Viejo San Juan ranges from 8-16$ a plate at non fancy restaurants, while in places like Rio Piedras in can range from 5-10$ a plate at many establishments.

Crime is relatively high in San Juan overall, except in places like the old city. The police in Viejo San Juan are more prevalent than in places such as Santurce, Rio Piedras, and even parts of the industrial district Hato Rey. Marijuana is commonly used in the city, but is not talked about openly in some groups due to the legal ramifications of being caught with it. There is also a cocaine distribution, but this is more segregated.


Coffee is important in Puerto Rico as this nation is a coffee growing place. Many of the local coffee shops in the city use coffee grown less than 50 miles from their café. This ensures fresh beans, and some of the cafes in the city even roast the coffee daily inside their establishment.

  • Hacienda San Pedro – This café is owned by a younger guy who has established two cafes in the area. The first location is in Sanutrce on De Diego Avenue (Avenida De Diego). The other is in the Popular building, in Hato Rey where the Fine Arts movie theatre is also located. These guys roast their coffee every day in their shops, pour artisanal latte-art coffees, and are trained to understand their product every step along the way. Coffee is well priced, and very good, they also serve sandwiches.

318 Ave de Diego, Ste L4

San Juan, PR 00909

  • Caficultura – This restaurant is also one of the best places around to get a coffee. With a head barista who traveled to Columbia to compete in an international barista competition, they are well trained in coffee. Their coffee is also from the island. The coffee is more pricey, but high quality. This is a good hang out.

401 San Francisco

San Juan, PR 00901

  • Café Cola’o – This coffee shop is also in the old city, and is filled with expertly trained baristas. The coffee is cheap and also Puerto Rican. The only gripe I have with the place is its location, it’s right near the cruise ships and a little crowded.

Pier 2

San Juan, PR 00987

  • Café Cuatro Sombras – Another old city coffee house, this is the youngest business of the group, but from a coffee growing family that’s been doing it for many years. They also roast their coffee in-house, and train their baristas well. The prices are pretty average, and they also do sandwiches.

259 Recinto Sur

San Juan, PR 00901

Restaurant Hang Outs and Good Food:

  • Fattys – This small Caribbean restaurant is in Viejo San Juan, and serves some of the best rice & beans, and fish or meat you’ll ever have for such a good price. The owner is from the somewhat nearby island of Nevis, and has been serving Caribbean food with some outside influence for years. Plates cost 5-9$.

102 Calle O’Donnell

San Juan, PR 00901


  • La Madre – One of the few good Mexican places in San Juan. This place is very hip, and serves very good Mexican food with some twists. This restaurant also serves as a good bar to stop by at night, and is usually filled with good indie music, or even videos of random cartoons and such. The owner is a younger guy who’s an intense bicycle enthusiast.

351 Calle San Francisco

San Juan, PR 00901

  • Mate (pronounced mah-tay, not mate) – A good place to get decently priced smoothies, wraps, and sandwiches. All natural ingredients. If you just want a smoothie because it’s hot, that goes for about $4.00, if you want a wrap, chips, and a drink that’s about $7.00. Small place, but great location.

Calle San Francisco 366,

Viejo San Juan ,  San Juan,  PR 00901

  • El Grill – A great hamburger place, with vegetarian options as well. Try their fried pickles. Prices are decent, and location is good.

Calle San Sebastian

San Juan, PR 00901

  • Pa’l Cielo – This restaurant has a range of food from pizza to ceviche and it is very hip. They are a large supporter of the bike community, and often hosts art shows or concerts.

2056 Calle Loiza

San Juan, PR  00911

  • La B De Burro – Also has great Mexican food, can get a little pricey but definitely a good place to stop now and then. It is owned by the same people as Pa’l Cielo, and is also quite hip and stylish.

Calle Mcleary 2000

Condado, PR

  • Abracadabra – A “counter café” as they put it, this is a good place to get coffee (roasted by Hacienda San Pedro), brunch/lunch, and a good beer. It has a lot of seating but tends to fill up still. They feature many stage acts, even a terrific jazz group sometimes. Brunch will run you around $14.00, coffee is around $2.00, artisanal beer is 4-7$ usually. Very hip place.

1661 Ave Ponce De Leon

San Juan, PR 00909

  • La Placita Santurce – This area is a farmers market by day, with great smoothies, and an outdoor party at night. Several different restaurants and bars to check out.

Calle Dos Hermanos & Calle Capital

San Juan, PR 00907

  • Il Carreto – An Italian restaurant in Rio Piedras. They serve well made thin crust pizzas, and they have a very relaxed calm setting. Lot of art work, lots to look at. Don’t expect quick food, but the prices are pretty good for what you get.

Ponce De Leon

Rio Piedras, PR 00925

Arts and Music: 

  • I Hate Karl Marx, Merry Christmas – A decent size video and art space with a highly socialist style influence. They offer a lot to read and learn about, and a good place to converse.

208 Calle Luna

San Juan, PR 00901

  • Poet’s Passage – A great place to read poetry books, and buy art with poems in it. They hold a weekly open-mic poetry jam every Tuesday.

203 Calle Cruz

San Juan, PR 00901

  • La Respuesta – This is a bar, concert space, art gallery, and bike hang out all in one. They feature hip-hop, indie rock, punk, and more. They are typically a late night spot, with a big crowd. Later at night folks often travel to near-by bar NellyLandia just down the street.

1600 Ave Fernandez Juncos

San Juan, PR 00909

  • Conservatorio de Musica – A high class place with musical performances and sometimes movie screenings. They offer a variety of options, and have a location in Miramar and near Roosevelt train station too.

951 Ave Ponce de León

San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907

  • Sala Teatro Beckett – A great place to see music and art and grab a drink. Great hidden spot through an alley and up some stairs…

Ponce de Leon

Rio Piedras, PR


  • El Batey – This is a hole in the wall bar in the old city. It’s covered in signatures on the walls of former guests, and has lamps covered in business cards. The prices are decent, not cheap. They also have a pool table and a juke box. A good late night place.

101 Calle Del Cristo

San Juan 0090

  • Sombrilla Rosa – A small bar which features karaoke and artwork from the artist Sofia. A good late night spot, decent prices.

Calle San Sebastián 154

San Juan, PR 00917

  • Taberna Lupulo – A hip beer bar in the old city with a wide selection of artisanal beers. They serve the best, and serve it well. They also have liquor, and even some good bar food. There’s a wall of quotes that’s pretty cool, and artwork of a man wearing a local festival mask.

200 Calle Del Sol

San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

  • Nuestro Son – This is a concert space and restaurant. They feature a wide variety of music, often rock, and a large space. Decent prices.

259 Calle Tetuan

San Juan, PR 00901

  • El Local – A small bar with karaoke in Santurce. Great bicycle hang out.

Ave Fernandez Juncos

San Juan, PR 00909

  • El Bar Bero – A hip bar themed after a barber shop, with pictures of mustachioed photos all over and good art work. Good place to see live music now and then, good liquor infused shots.

1507 Calle Loiza

Condado, PR 00911

  • El Refugio – A Rio Piedras locals bar in the residential area. They have turtles, a big Puerto Rican flag, and a pool table. What more can you ask for?

Off of Calle Anasco

Rio Piedras, PR

  • Le Chateau – This is a great wine bar, with good beer, and sangria. This place is very relaxed, and plays some good music.

Off of Universidad Ave

Rio Piedras, PR

  • El Boricua – A locals bar very popular with the college crowd, and even graduates of the college. There is a ton of outside seating, good drum circles occasionally, loud salsa music, and a pool table. It is one of the most popular bars in the area.

Off of Ave Robles

Rio Piedras, PR

Everything Else and Honorable Mentions: 

  • Rent The Bicycle – A great place to rent a bike, but more-so for locals, a good place to get your bike fixed. They don’t charge much, and they’re really friendly people, unlike some of the snobby bike stores one might encounter. Located in old town.

Manuel Fernandez Ave.

Old San Juan, PR 00908

  • Escambron Beach – A good place to surf, or hang out. The beach there is called La Ocho.

Located at the edge of Old San Juan, near Caribe Hilton.

  • Electroshock – A hip trade,buy, sell clothing store in Rio Piedras.

Ponce De Leon

Rio Piedras, PR

About Thor Benson:

Thor Benson is the founder of CityArbiter, and

member of the CityArbiter team.

“Coffee, whiskey, books, art,

and music will be just fine.”


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