The University of Puerto Rico is a large system of state-run universities in Puerto Rico. They have 11 campuses scattered all throughout the island, all varying in size, degrees, and programs. All, however, are recognized for being leaders in specific fields. In this article, we’ll focus on the best places to eat around the University of Puerto Rico, around the Rio Piedras campus, located in San Juan, the island’s capital. Get your walking shoes ready, because we’re about to go on a culinary stroll through the streets of Rio Piedras!
1. Taqueria Azteca
This mom-and-pop shop opened its doors in 2003 and has withstood hurricanes as well as the COVID-19 island-wide lockdown back in March 2020. It’s located on Ave. Universidad, about a 4-minute walk from the University of Puerto Rico’s main entrance. Their menu is a varied offering of authentic tex-mex food, prepared fresh every time upon ordering. They have a small menu of vegetarian options, but from personal experience, I can confirm that the owners are very flexible when creating vegetarian dishes. You can add in almost any ingredient, and take out those that don’t go with your dietary needs! My favorite dish is the vegetarian nachos with extra hot sauce. It is delicious and the portion is huge, so it’s a good plate to share with friends or on a date. “Taqueria Azteca” definitely holds a special place in my heart. The owners were even kind enough to allow me to throw my dorm buddy her birthday party in the restaurant. If you’re ever near the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, definitely stop by “Taqueria Azteca” for a plate of their nachos!
“Arrope” is THE place to go to if you’re around the University of Puerto Rico and need a quick caffeine fix. Inspired by “los arropaos” from the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Architecture, “Arrope” is a cool café decked out in architectural designs and masterpieces. Their space is divided into 4 areas: the outdoor deck, which is protected by greenery so it always has shade and a nice breeze, the main area, which is right when you walk inside the main door. Once inside, they also have the reading area, which is off to the side of the main area, and it has neat benches that have free books placed along them and next to that area, through a glass door, is the study room. The study room is very much comparable to a library: cold, quiet, and if you make a sound, you’ll get the stink eye. The café is located about an 8-minute walk from the University of Puerto Rico’s main entrance. They also serve brunch and have a small lunch menu that is both served at all hours of the day, and that includes vegetarian options.
3. El 8 de Blanco
“El 8 de Blanco” is the hangout spot on Thursday evenings after classes end. Located on Ave. Universidad, it’s a 3-story building, and each level has its own purpose. Imagine yourself: Thursday afternoon and you just got out of a killer exam that you’ve been preparing all week for. You want to hang out with your friends, unwind and celebrate that test that you obviously aced, what do you do? You go to “El 8 de Blanco” of course! First, you dance to the music, order drinks from a varied cocktail menu, and play billiards with your friends on the first floor. Then, when you get hungry, you and your crew move on to the restaurant on the second floor. You enjoy drinks in a nice sports bar environment with a menu that caters to many palettes. After you eat, you and your friends relax on the 3rd floor, which is an open-air lounge with TVs and plush couches. Sounds like a nice night, right?
4. Los Monkeys
If you ever want a burger or veggie burger that’s creative and with a side of the best wedge fries you’ll ever eat, then head to “Los Monkeys”. They’re located about a 5-minute walk from the University of Puerto Rico’s main entrance and they have a small parking lot (which is no easy feat in Rio Piedras!). The place is small, decorated in vibrant hues of pink, blue, yellow and, you guessed it, decorated with cool and sometimes vintage images of monkeys. Their menu is big and creative and features local delicacies such as a “guava” sauce and a “Maduro” burger. If you’re a vegetarian on the hunt for an amazing veggie burger, I’d recommend their soy burger with pesto sauce, it’s to die for.
5. Cocina Rebelde
“Cocina Rebelde” is an amazing social kitchen with a cause, located by the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus’ School of Communication entrance. They mainly serve nutritious and creative vegan and vegetarian foods (although they do carry some meat options) and are responsible for creating the “lenturria”, which is a take on the traditional Puerto Rican street food “alcapurria”, but made into a vegan option by using lentils instead of meat. “Cocina Rebelde” is a restaurant with a mission though: they make sure everyone has access to delicious, nutritious food at rock bottom prices. More importantly, they source their food locally, and they run local food drives and other events to help food-impoverished communities.
6. Pa’l Café
Another great spot for a quick caffeine fix is Pa’l Cafe! Located by the Universidad subway station, it’s a small coffee shop that’s great for a recharge. It’s run by an Argentinian family that’s passionate about coffee and people! They always greet you with a warm smile and a great welcome. They have coffee, juices, pastries, sandwiches, Argentinian empanadas, and a wide variety of snacks. I have a long list of favorites from here, so I’ll shorten it. If you’re ever up for a small, quick lunch, their Argentinian empanada with their fresh lemonade always hits the spot. As for caffeine, you can never go wrong with their cappuccino with almond milk.