Puerto Rico's Latin Flavors

These five restaurants offer Nuevo Latino menus that are as hot as the island's weather.
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Sun worshipping foodies can have it all in Puerto Rico. Thanks to a new generation of chefs specializing in Nuevo Latino cuisine -- a style that mixes Latin American, European and Asian ingredients and techniques -- the island's culinary scene is as hot as the weather.

The term

Nuevo Latino

was coined in the '90s by Cuban-American chef Douglas Rodriguez, the creative force behind New York City's acclaimed (but now closed) Patria restaurant. His fun mélange of flavors set off a trend that's thriving with gusto in this Caribbean island.

For the smart-mouthed traveler, here are five of Puerto Rico's most creative Latin-flavored menus.

Dragonfly

, on a charming cobblestone street in Old San Juan, attracts the city's young and chic with an inventive menu that blends Asian and Latin American ingredients in dishes like pork and

amarillo

(yellow plantain) dumplings, duck nachos with wasabi sour cream, or

churrasco

(steak) marinated in a sweet soy sauce with shoestring yautia fries.

Burgundy walls, gilded mirrors and dim lanterns give the space a decidedly Asian, old-opium-den look. Show up early and be prepared to wait at the bar, perhaps while sipping the house's dragon punch, a guava-passion-ginger and rum concoction.

(364 Fortaleza St., 787-977-3886)

Next door, turquoise-hued

Aguaviva

specializes in seafood with a Latin flair. Start with one of the six ceviches on the menu, served with a side of Puerto Rican

tostones

(fried salty plantains). Follow with the whole, breaded snapper with

mofongo

(a mash made with fried plantains, garlic and pork cracklings), or the couscous paella, made with chorizo, mussels and clams. At the bar, it's hard to resist the watermelon sangria, a hot pink blend of wine, brandy, triple sec and fruits.

(364 Fortaleza St., 787-722-0665)

Pikayo

, inside

Puerto Rico's Museum of Art

, raises the bar for Caribbean fusion cuisine.

Wilo Benet

, arguably the island's top chef, creates haute versions of traditional local dishes like

bistec encebollado

(steak with caramelized onions) or

empanadillas

(small turnovers) made with truffle cheese. Also stellar is the grilled shrimp with thinly sliced chorizo and

guanábana

(sweetsop) butter. If you go for lunch, visit the gorgeous botanic garden right outside, with 365 trees and more than 100,000 plants and flowers.

(299 Avenida De Diego, 787-721-6194)

Pamela's

offers Caribbean-inspired food in an unbeatable setting. The stylish, breezy restaurant spills out into a vast beach in the residential Ocean Park neighborhood (ocean view tables, right on the sand, are highly coveted). Chef Esteban Torres looks to the Antilles for ideas, serving entrees like seared pork chops with a rum and guava glaze, or fresh codfish with mashed

malanga

, a type of root, and a side of diced grilled jumbo shrimp in

ajillo

sauce.

(1 Calle Santa Ana, 787-726-5010)

Recently opened

Koco

, inside the

El San Juan Hotel & Casino

, dishes out fusion cuisine with playfulness. Chef Linton Romero experiments with Caribbean flavors and techniques to prepare a Jamaican spiced tuna tartare, guava-braised short ribs with sweet potato mash or a pan-roasted duck with passion fruit glaze and pumpkin puree. The rum bar has one of the largest selections on the island, including Puerto Rico's Ron del Barrilito, Bacardi Añejo, and Venezuela's Cacique rum. For privacy, or just for fun, book one of the round booth tables, surrounded by faux palm trees.

(1660 Isla Verde Avenue, 787-791-7078)

Paola Singer is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, Newsday and Hemispheres magazine.