.Over the last five years or so, as the number of Old San Juan tourists have continued to increase (pre-pandemic), restaurants have become more responsive to the needs of their patrons. 10 years ago, most restaurants in the old city knew very little about gluten and food allergies. Visitors struggled to be understood due to the language barrier and a lack of food allergy awareness. Today, more than half of the restaurants in Old San Juan are familiar with the term “gluten” and way more knowledgeable about food allergies.
Most Restaurants in Old San Juan have wait staff that speak English due to the high volume of tourists that come to visit each year. Just bear in mind they may not be as fluent as a native speaker. You will need to be patient. You may need to ask your questions a couple of different ways before you get an answer. If the answers you get don’t put your mind at ease, find another restaurant. There are numerous places to eat in Old San Juan.
Try a restaurant that offers salads. You can see all of the ingredients in it and you can ask for a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing. A good place to go for a salad is St. Germain on Calle San Sebastián. Another good option would be the Stuffed Avocado on Calle San Francisco. They have a “build your own bowl” option and plenty of ingredients to choose from. If you are looking for a farm to table option, you can check out Mesa Verde on Calle Tetuan. They offer vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free menu options, but may not make changes or substitutions to their ingredients. We encourage you to ask them good questions before ordering.
Another strategy is to sign up for a cooking class. At a cooking class you can see all of the ingredients that go into making the dish. You will have access to the labels for most of the ingredients and control over what you put into your dish. You can omit anything that contains your allergen. In the end, your dish may not be as authentic, but it will be safer for you to eat, and you will become more familiar with traditional foods served in Puerto Rico. The more you become acquainted with the authentic criollo cuisine, the better you will be able to ask the right questions to ensure what you order is safe. Spoon and Air BnB have some options in the metro San Juan area.
Lastly, you can stay in a hostel in Old San Juan. Most have kitchens you can use to cook many of your meals. Old San Juan has a few hostels to choose from. There is a small grocery store on Calle Cruz near the Plaza de Armas called Super Max. Due to the store’s size, they don’t sell a large variety of things compared to their larger stores elsewhere on the island, and you won’t find anything organic, but they do have all of the basics needed to create a safe, simple, meal.
Navigating meals when you have special considerations doesn’t have to be a headache when traveling in Old San Juan. You have many options when it comes to sourcing safe, delicious local cuisine. Give one of our recommended restaurants a try or sign up for a cooking class and discover Puerto Rico’s wonderful gastronomy!
We are not affiliated with these restaurants or companies offering cooking classes in any way, nor do we endorse them. No compensation of any kind is received if you click their links. We have provided them as suggestions. Please use your judgement and ask good questions before dining or participating in their classes.