Santurce Food Music and History

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Santurce Food Music History

Santurce is the culinary capital of Puerto Rico. Located between Isla Verde and Old San Juan, Santurce is a large sector (or barrio) of San Juan that is rich with history and international influences.  We want to walk you through a little bit of history of Santurce so that you can get a feel of how this area has changed over the years. In addition, how art, music, and food has molded this densely populated area into the creative hub of gastronomy in Puerto Rico.

Let us start with a little bit of history!

Known to be the only barrio in Puerto Rico that was founded by free slaves, Cangrejos was a mixture of African, Tainos, Danish, Hollanders, and North Americans that wanted to start a new life in a new country.  In the early 16th century, the area now called Santurce, was called Cangrejos because of the large population of crabs (cangrejos) in the region.  At this time, Cangrejos was composed of five sub-barrios; Cangrejos Arriba, Machucal (Calle Loiza), Puente, Seboruco, and Hato del Rey.  In the year 1880, Cangrejos was officially named Santurce.  Named after Don Pable Ubarri who was from Santurzi, Spain. In addition, the area of Santurce was divided into the current 40 sub-barrios that exist today.

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Surrounded by water, Santurce is a peninsula connected at Punta de Las Marias to the town of Carolina.  The residents of this area were fishermen, iron workers, store owners, cooks, and the working class that did not live within the walls of San Juan.  Because of this, Santurce became the commerce hub of Puerto Rico.  Visitors from all over the island would come to Santurce for trade, food, and entertainment.  This laid the foundation of what is Santurce today.  A barrio full of diversity, and creativity with an extensive artistic and culinary background.

Santurce Map
Google Maps

Machucal (Calle Loiza, Ocean Park)

Machuca is north most barrio of Santurce.  Machuca is an Indian name meaning a ravine full of trees with vegetation that forms an enclosed pathway. Through this area, there was a main roadway to the town of Loiza on the east coast of Puerto Rico.  This was called Carretera Loiza. 

Calle Loiza

As years passed, and the area became more developed, Calle Loiza was the location of theaters, restaurants, and marketplaces, which created the landscape seen today.  The structures that you see on the narrow street of Calle Loiza, are the same buidlings from those times.  This local and desolate street was full of small local shops, and a couple of fast food places.  Now, you can find a variety of international restaurants, and food trucks, which have drawn a different type of attention. Calle Loiza is now full of tourists from all over the world staying in guesthouses and Airbnb apartments. 

As you walk down Calle Loiza, it is impossible to not to get a feel for the history of Machucal.

Calle Loiza is a very diverse area with international restaurants on every block.  It is a mile long strip of businesses, which can take you 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other.  You can find Mexican, Japanese, Korean, Italian, and of course Puerto Rican cuisine in this small area. We love the brunch in Café Marquesa.  The pizza brunch! One of our favorite places to eat or drink is Café Tresbe.

Tresbe

It is an outdoor glorified food truck with street food, and delicious sushi and mojitos.  If you like cocktails as we do, you will love Gemileo Speakeasy, Sabrina, La Cochera, El Barrio, and Piso Viejo.  (We really like our cocktails!)  In addition, a craft beer bar that has over 46 local and international beers on tap, called El Tap.  Also, if you love donuts, we highly recommend the artisan vegan donut shop Kudouhg’s

Walking a block north, you will find the small beach community of Ocean Park.  Ocean Park is a small-gated community with large beach houses.  With the Airbnb boom, this area has caused more demand for restaurants and cafés.  Ocean Park has a number of delicious brunch locations like Coffeetera and Kasalta, which is an authentic Spanish Panaderia.  Also, we love to visit Numero Uno Beach Hotel.  Right on the beach, Numero Uno provides a unique ambience where you can sit on beanbags on the beach while you have your drink.

Condado

Condado in the early 1900’s was known as a streetcar suburb in which only the wealthy and upper class lived.  There were very little residents, but most of the houses were Spanish mansions with a beachfront view.  Two industrial American engineer brothers created the bridge to link the island

Condado Trolly

Condado Trolly

of San Juan with Condado so that the streetcars could create a loop with the Santurce area.  In 1917, the Condado Vanderbilt began its construction in Condado.  It has been under a few renovations since, but it still stands as a monument of this era.  The Vanderbilt became the first luxury hotel in the Caribbean, which became the vacation epicenter of the wealthy class around the world.  The Vanderbilt hotel created the foundations for the current day Condado.  Condado remains as one of the main tourist locations in Puerto Rico.  Because of this, you will find a large variety of options.

Sunny Condado Strolls

Condado is the perfect place to walk on a sunny day and bar hop around the many bars and restaurants.  We love to start at Cayo Caribe.  Cayo Caribe is a seafood restaurant where you are always guaranteed to get fresh seafood, and for a good price.  Next door to Cayo Caribe, is one of our favorite brunch restaurants Paulina Escanes.   They offer a fusion of traditional Mexican dishes, with a touch of Caribbean cuisine.  If you love hamburgers like we do, you’re going to love the hamburger and craft beer menu at The Place in Condado.  They provide a fun atmosphere, and perfect to watch a fight or a game. If you walk a little further west, and you find the Italian restaurant Via Appia’s.  The locals love Via Appia’s because of their delicious pizzas and outside patio, which is perfect for drinking cold Sangrias on a hot day. 

Hidden behind the Hard Rock Café, you will find one of the most delicious Turkish restaurants in Puerto Rico.  Ali Baba has delicious hummus and we suggest ordering a Caserole.  In addition, steps away is Cocina Abierta.  Very few restaurants in Puerto Rico provide a creative gastronomic experience

Wicked Lilly

Wicked Lilly

like Cocina Abierta.  They also provide cooking classes! Tucked away from the strip, Wicked Lilly is one of our favorite restaurants in Condado.  Apart from the delicious food, and cocktails, you can escape the busy Condado strip, and sit on sofas overlooking the beach.  Another one of our favorite places in Condado is Semilla.  They are also away from the main strip, and they have delicious brunch, and dinner. One of the best Chef’s in Puerto Rico is Jose Enrique.  His self-titled restaurant; Jose Enrique, is a creative Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant.

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Olimpo (Miramar)

Ever since the 16th century, Miramar was vital for San Juan, and the Spanish fleet because of a fresh water spring that supplied all of the water to the area.  Miramar was the location of exclusive plantation-style

Miramar Summer Homes

Miramar Summer Homes

summer homes with large land for the wealthy that lived in San Juan.  Some of these homes are still preserved today.  Miramar was the last stop on the Ponce De Leon Street before reaching San Juan.  Because of this, in a small section of Miramar, you can find a cluster of delicious restaurants and bars. 

One of our favorite restaurants in this area is Rare 125.  Rare 125 is a meat lover’s dream.  They serve a variety of carefully selected meat cuts.  El Comedor is a restaurant, which looks like a flashback to the old days, and serves delicious cocktails and Puerto Rican cuisine.  We highly suggest the chuleta can-can!  La Unidad is a speakeasy cocktail bar, which is voted as one of the best bars in Puerto Rico by CondeNast.  It is a true mixologist playground.  If you love Mexican food, you are going to love Puebla, and Nacho Libre.  They each have their own take on traditional Mexican cuisine.  The tuna tacos at Puebla tho.  Another must-try in Miramar is Casita Miramar.  They have a beautiful restaurant with delicious Puerto Rican cuisine.

Tras Talleres, Calle Cerra

Tras Talleres is a barrio of Santurce where in the early 1900’s was used to repair the trains for the American Railroad company.  Hence the name Talleres (garage).  This was a swampy area just outside of the exclusive

Tras Talleres El Fanguito

Tras Talleres El Fanguito

Miramar, which would flood, and turn into thick mud.  However, the mechanics of these trains would move there building make their homes over soft land.  As this area began to develop, it became a birthplace for creativity and artistic expression.  Where Ponce de Leon Ave was the main commerce road with mansions and businesses, Tras Talleres was the working class that would service the high society.  Calle Cerra is the road that transits south from Ponce De Leon Ave to Tras Talleres.   

In the 1970’s, Calle Cerra became the salsa capital of the world.  Tras Talleres gave birth to many famous salsa artists that influenced this movement in Calle Cerra.  Salsa recording studios and record stores adorned la Calle Cerra until the late 90’s.  Unfortunately, as the music industry turned to digital, the record stores began to abandon the area.  Calle Cerra became a desolate, run-down neighborhood.  However, in the early 2010’s, Calle Cerra began to take life again with the opening of art galleries like Recinto Cerra.  This artistic movement prompted for a slow shift in the area, which began to bring a different crowd.  Soon after, there was an explosion of street art in the area which was highlighted in the yearly art festival Santurce es Ley.  The art scene would serve as a backdrop for lifting this area to economic prosperity.

The New Calle Cerra

In 2015, the first restaurant opened in Calle Cerra, which is an ode to music, art, and food.  This is the Mexican restaurant El Axolote.  El Axolote opened with the intention of giving artists an outlet for creativity, and at the time

Axolote

Axolote

serve delicious Mexican street food. It is a harmony of artistic creativity with gastronomy. Soon after more restaurants began to open as the area began to develop.  Creative brunch restaurant Musa, and the amazing Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant Prole now display their creative gastronomy in Calle Cerra.  Recently there has been a boom of Airbnb apartments, which has exploded the traffic in this area causing more spaces to open for business.

  Walking south Calle Cerra, you will reach Tras Talleres.  Now no longer a swampy area, but a bustling artistic canvas that displays the creativity that history has given birth to.  Adorned with murals from famous artists from all over the world, Tras Talleres is also the location of the delicious Graziani restaurant.  They serve creative Puerto Rican dishes, and a rooftop bar on the weekends.  Around the corner is Watusi.  A local dive bar that turns into a street party on the weekends.  In addition, the late Anthony Bourdain visited Watusi on his trip to Puerto Rico.  Ans if you are in the mood to dance or hang out.  Walk down the block to El Nie.  With a younger crowd, El Nie is a bar with a pool table, and a club style speakeasy in the back of the location.  Their cheap drinks and empanadillas are delicious.

Ponce De Leon Street (Cangrejos)

Ponce De Leon Street was the main highway to San Juan.  This road was the main avenue for merchants and commuters from all over the island.  It is safe to say that Ponce de Leon Street was the pulse of Santurce.  From this street the rest of Santurce expanded, and all the the main businesses were on this main avenue.  In the past, the only transportation was by train.

Ponce de Leon Ave

Ponce de Leon Ave

Therefore, when the wealthy began to import the new modern cars, they needed a new avenue to commute.  From this need Avenida Fernandez Juncos was created.  Fernandez Juncos travels parallel to Ponce de Leon through Santurce, and then would run side by side once it entered Hato Rey.  Currently, these roads are one-way avenues that run in opposite directions.  Ponce de Leon transits towards San Juan, and Fernandez Juncos away from San Juan.

Ponce De Leon more gastronomically rich.

Eventhough Fernandez Juncos has businesses and small bars; Ponce de Leon is where all of the banks and high rises are.  This has made Ponce De Leon more gastronomically rich.  One example of this is Lote 23Lote 23 is a food stand park with a variety culinary options.  The diversity of food is

Lote 23

Lote 23

amazing.  A block away from Lote 23, is Calle Del Parque.  This street has new restaurants like Tabernas Selfies, which is Spanish tapas, and self-serve beer tap restaurant.  Next to Selfies, is unique cocktails bar called Cultivo.  They are a neurological cocktail bar.  Yup.  When you walk in to Cultivo, you get a feeling of home.  Their cocktail menu is designed to stimulate your senses.  They also have fun bran games to play while you drink.  Next to Cultivo you find High kitchen, and Sur Barra Nikkei, which is a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian.

Continue to head towards San Juan on Ponce de Leon, and you will find one of our favorite restaurants Vianda.  Vinada is a farm to table creative Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant that has won awards for their dishes, and cocktails.  Also, they have an extensive wine list.  A block down is La Penultima.  This is a casual cocktail bar with a cozy atmosphere.  Another restaurant that we love on Ponce de Leon is Cocina al Fondo.  Cocina al Fondo is farm to table Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant that bases their menu on in season ingredients from Puerto Rico.  It is one of our go-to’s for authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. If you are looking for more diversity, across the street is the Miramar Food truck park.  We suggest Yummy Dumplings, Pa’L Pita, and Que Toston.

La Placita de Santurce

Built around 1910 and 1914 to satisfy the demand for a local marketplace, La Placita de Santurce was the center for locals to buy fresh produce and meats.  An unconfirmed myth says that Gustave Eiffel (architech for the Eiffel Tower), had a part to play with the planning of La Placita’s market

La Placita

La Placita

place during a short stay from South America.  At one point, this was the center of Santurce, and today it still stands as a fresh produce market.  In the late 90’s a younger crowd began to visit La Placita for happy hour after their workdays.  Little by little, the small shops surrounding La Placita began to cater to this crowd, and more bars began to open.  This molded the current Placita atmosphere.  On Friday nights, you can find hundreds of people on the closed streets drinking, and dancing.

Over the years, La Plactita has become a tourist attraction, but also a local nightspot.  Bars like Los Cocos De Luis, which have some of the best mojitos,

la Placita new

la Placita

and el Sabroso have been in La Placita for years.  They continue to attract locals for their cheap drinks, and nostalgic ambience.  Bars have continued to appear in La Plactia, but so have restaurants.  The restaurants of La Placita take pride in serving only fresh ingredients sold by local farmers and fishermen. 

Yum Paleo

Where to Eat en La Plactia

El Pescador is considered one of the best seafood restaurants in San Juan.  They serve only fresh catch of the day and for a good price.  Santaella has one of the best cocktail bars in Puerto Rico.  In addition, their creative Puerto Rican cuisine as well as their mixology has won many awards over the years.  Jungle Bird is a tiki bar with extraordinary mixology, and a James Beard award winning chef that serve delicious appetizers.  In between La Placita and Ponce De Leon Avenue, is one of our favorite Thai restaurants on the island.  Mai Pen Rai serves the best Pad Thai you will ever taste. In addition, if you are willing to dance the night away after a good dinner, we suggest Delavida Restobar.  They have delicious creative Puerto Rican cuisine, but at 11pm, the wooden outside deck turns into an outdoor club.

El Pescador is considered one of the best seafood restaurants in San Juan.  They serve only fresh catch of the day and for a good price.  Santaella has one of the best cocktail bars in Puerto Rico.  In addition, their creative Puerto Rican cuisine as well as their mixology has won many awards over the years.  Jungle Bird is a tiki bar with extraordinary mixology,

Jungle Bird

Jungle Bird

and a James Beard award winning chef that serve delicious appetizers.  In between La Placita and Ponce De Leon Avenue, is one of our favorite Thai restaurants on the island.  Mai Pen Rai serves the best Pad Thai you will ever taste. In addition, if you are willing to dance the night away after a good dinner, we suggest Delavida Restobar.  They have delicious creative Puerto Rican cuisine, but at 11pm, the wooden outside deck turns into an outdoor club.

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Santurce Food Music History

In conclusion, the history of Santurce is over 300 years old and full of tradition.  Since the beginning, it has been a fusion of international cultures, which has shaped the current day Cangrejos.  We hope that with this article you are able to get a feel for what Santurce is, and where it came from.  We have included all of our sources below if you are interested in digging a little deeper.

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Sources:

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condado_(Santurce)
https://construccionelnuevodia.com/noticia/santurce-un-barrio-con-historia-primera-parte/
https://machuchal.blogspot.com/p/historia.html
https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santurce_(San_Juan)
https://web.archive.org/web/20091001180809/http://www.miramarpr.org/zonaelbarrio.htm
https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trastalleres
https://archive.org/details/TrasTalleresCuentaSuHistoriaMemoriasDelCentenarioDeUnaComunidadDe
https://www.placerespr.com/visita-a-la-placita-de-santurce/
https://www.noticel.com/vida/20141116/aires-parisinos-inspiraron-la-centenaria-placita-de-santurce-video/
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