Ajili-Mójili (1006 Ave. Ashford, 787/725-9195, ajiligroup [at] yahoo [dot] com, Mon.–Fri. 11:45 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat. noon–3:30 p.m., Sun. buffet noon–4 p.m., Sun.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., $14–29) comes highly recommended for its upscale take on traditional Puerto Rican cuisine if you don’t mind the Disneyfied ambiance. The large space is tricked out like a faux colonial-style hacienda, and the wait staff wears plantation garb, including suspenders and Panama hats. Dishes include mofongo, arroz con pollo, plantain-breaded snapper fillets, coconut shrimp with piña colada sauce, and stuffed Cornish hen. The clubby wood and glass-tile bar is a great place to meet for cocktails.
The late-night party crowd likes Latin Star Restaurant (1128 Ave. Ashford, 787/724-8141, $3.95–29.95) less for the food and more for the fact that it’s open 24-7. It serves a huge menu, including authentic local dishes such as goat or rabbit stew, tripe soup, and brandied guinea. There’s indoor and sidewalk dining, and if you want to keep the party going, Dom Perignon is on the wine list.
Orozco’s Restaurant (1126 Ave. Ashford, 787/721-7669, daily 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m., $9.95–19.95) serves traditional Puerto Rican cuisine featuring mofongo, grilled steak, pork, and chicken, plus daily specials. There is a full bar; try the house-made sangria.
It’s rare to find a true locals’ place in Condado. That’s what makes Cafe Condado (Ashford Medical Center, Ave. Ashford, 787/722-5963, Sun.–Fri. 5:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.–2 p.m.) so appealing. Little more than a drab crowded diner, this eatery is the perfect antidote to the corporate American chain restaurants that line the eastern end of Ashford Avenue. In the back of Ashford Medical Center, it serves good cheap Puerto Rican cuisine, including carne guisada (beef stew) and ham croquettes ($5.50–7.25), breakfast and sandwiches ($2.25–4.75), and an excellent cup of coffee ($0.50).
Platos Restaurant (below Coral by the Sea hotel, 2 Calle Rosa, 787/791-7474 or 787/721-0396, Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–midnight, $17–23) is not named after the Greek philosopher but rather the Spanish word for “plates.” This trendy, touristy restaurant is decorated in moss green and burned orange with a large steel counter and big-screen TV in the bar. Tropical-drink specials are tall, but weak and pricey at $12 a pop. The formerly froufrou menu has been replaced with streamlined traditional dishes including mofongo, steaks, pork chops, and fettuccine. Creativity reigns among the seafood dishes, which include mahimahi in coconut–passion fruit sauce.
Casa Dante (39 Ave. Isla Verde, 787/726-7310, Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., $8–30) is a casual, low-key locals’ restaurant serving authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, specializing in a variety of mofongos with choice of fish, seafood, beef, chicken, or pork. There are also a few pasta dishes available.
At the opposite end of the cost spectrum is Plaza del Mercado, at the end of Calle Roberts off Calle Canals. If the tourist scene along the Condado gets to be too predictable, venture just eight blocks inland for an authentic Puerto Rican experience. At this small historic market built in 1910, vendors sell fresh fruit, vegetables, and cut-to-order meat for far less than you’d pay at the local grocery store. You can also find herbs and roots from the botanicas, pick up a few sundries, and have a fresh blended fruit shake, with or without rum. Packed around the market are a number of bars and restaurants serving Puerto Rican cuisine. This is a popular place for working-class locals to congregate on Friday afternoons to get their weekends started, and the partying lasts well into the night. A convenient ATM is on Calle Roberts just before the market entrance.