What are the ingredients that make a world-class chef? In the case of Puerto Rican celebrity chef Wilo Benet, they start with a diploma from the Culinary Institute of America and classical French training at Le Bernardin, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. Add an endearing personality and passion that landed him the chef’s position at the Puerto Rican governor’s mansion as well as guest spots on such American cooking shows as Top Chef Masters. And blend in a heartfelt respect for the traditional dishes and ingredients of his home with the creative talent to take them in unexpected directions, as he did for 28 years at his restaurant Picayo until Hurricane Maria forced its closure in 2018.
His “next thing” is Wilo Eatery & Bar, a venue that combines a grab-and-go area and catering service with a dining room that blends global flavors, artisanal cocktails and a modern wine list.
“We cover the entire span from a great steak and foie gras to to-go alcapurrias,” Benet says. “It is a continuous effort at creativity.”
What distinguishes Puerto Rican cuisine? You have iconic dishes like sofrito and our key ingredient of plantains. It’s the intensity of the flavors and the combination of salty and sweet, which is a big part of our everyday cooking. So, sofrito, plantains, intensity, salty, sweet—that’s Puerto Rican.
Benet’s Best of San Juan
Compostela: They have a phenomenal wine list. Everything is done beautifully, like their perfectly sliced pata negra ham or paella rice or cochinillo (suckling pig).
La Lanterna: I absolutely love this Italian restaurant. Their spaghetti vongole and truffle pasta are just phenomenal.
Peko Peko: The chef of this ramen bar makes his own noodles, and the consistency and quality are terrific.