Although it might seem like it at first glance, trendy upscale restaurants are not the only options in Old San Juan  for traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Fairly new on the scene is Restaurante Raices (315 Calle Recinto Sur, 787/289-2121, www.restauranteraices.com , daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m., $10–29), a casual, moderately priced spot for expertly prepared traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Specialties include mofongo stuffed with chimichurri and mahimahi stuffed with shrimp. The original location is in Caguas.
Despite the dreadful service, La Fonda El Jibarito (280 Calle Sol, 787/725-8375, daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m., $5.50–18) is one of the best bets for authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, including codfish stew, fried pork, fried snapper, great rice and beans, and mofongo, cooked and mashed plantain seasoned with garlic. It’s a major staple. Sometimes it’s stuffed with meat or seafood. Patrons share tables in this casual restaurant designed to look like a traditional country house. Between the blaring TV and many families with small children, the noise level can be overwhelming. Thank goodness there’s a full bar.
Café Puerto Rico (208 Calle O’Donnell, 787/724-2281, cafepr [at] coqui [dot] net, Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., $9–20) has a whole new lease on life. The plain little café beside Plaza Colon that was there forever and never changed a bit is no more: The place has been outfitted in rich dark wood paneling and a new tile bar with tastefully lit contemporary artwork hanging on the walls. It’s quite a transformation, but the coffee is still outstanding, and the Puerto Rican cuisine is still good solid fare. You can get everything from asopao and mofongo to paella and steak.
Several historic restaurants in Old San Juan  have been serving customers for more than 100 years. One of the most venerable is La Mallorquina (207 Calle San Justo, 787/722-3261, Mon.–Sat. noon–10 p.m., $9–36), which has been in operation since 1848. This Old World white-linen restaurant serves traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, specializing in asopao, a hearty traditional rice stew served with a choice of meats or seafoods.
La Bombonera (259 Calle San Franciso, 787/722-0658, fax 787/795-2175, daily 6 a.m.–8 p.m., $7.25–14.45) was established in 1902. This huge dingy diner and bakery serves a large menu of fairly pedestrian Puerto Rican fare, including rice stews and sandwiches. But the best reason to go is for its famous mallorca, a light flaky piece of swirled pastry split lengthwise, stuffed with butter, smashed, heated on a grill press, and dusted with powdered sugar. The crispy breakfast sandwiches are also a good hearty way to start the day. But be prepared to wait: Service is excruciatingly slow, especially when you’re waiting for the morning’s first cup of coffee.
Mallorca (300 Calle San Francisco, 787/724-4607, daily 7 a.m.–7 p.m., $5.95–17.95) offers a very similar dining experience to that at La Bombonera, complete with its namesake pastry, but with friendlier, more attentive service.
Barrachina (104 Calle Fortaleza, 787/721-5852,787/725-7912, www.barrachina.com , Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., $14–45), located in the courtyard of a 17th-century building, is one of two places in Puerto Rico  (the Caribe Hilton being the other) that claims to have invented the piña colada. They mix up a pretty good one. But the budget decor was looking pretty shabby on a recent visit, and the Puerto Rican cuisine was only adequate.