Puerto Rican cuisine is an amalgamation of several other cooking styles adopted from the Spanish, African, and Taino people. This makes it both similar to other Latin cuisines and unique because of its use of indigenous seasonings and ingredients.
When I traveled to Puerto Rico in the summer of 2018, the island was still recovering from the devastating blow dealt by Hurricane Maria just one year earlier. Despite that, the island’s people seemed resilient as ever and its food scene was thriving. I traveled all over the island, from the capital of San Juan to Piñones to El Yunque Rainforest, eager to try as many local dishes as I could.
As someone who is very familiar with Latin cuisine, I found lots of dishes that reminded me of those from other countries and others that were uniquely Puerto Rican. I found myself craving them more and more as I explored the island further and knew I had to share my favorites on my blog. These are the 25 Puerto Rican foods you must eat when you visit Puerto Rico.
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Because Puerto Rico has direct access to some of the freshest and most delicious seafood on the planet, it would be a crime to not try bacalaito while you’re there. Bacalaito is a thin, deep-fried fritter that is made with cod fish, flour, and baking powder. The best place to get it is at Donde Olga Bar & Restaurant in the town of Piñones.
This fantastic street food dish is crunchy on the outside, dense and chewy in the middle, and packed with delicious cod fish flavor. It’s seasoned beautifully with garlic, cilantro, and sazón, which complement the cod and make it one of the Puerto Rican foods you must eat. Bacalaito is also pretty greasy, so I recommend enjoying it with an ice-cold beer. Cheers!
Before you leave Donde Olga Bar & Restaurant in Piñones, you’ll want to take a beat and sample the dish called alcapurria. Alcapurria is traditionally made by taking dough made from mashed green plantains or yuca, filling it with a protein, and deep-frying it. It’s basically a cylindrical fritter and can have beef or blue crab meat inside. I recommend the crab since it’s incredibly fresh!
Alcapurria is full of mouthwatering plantain flavor, but it doesn’t overpower the crab meat, which is succulent and practically melts in your mouth. The inside of the fritter is soft and buttery and heaven for any seafood lover. If your Puerto Rico itinerary doesn’t include Piñones, never fear. You can find alcapurria at Kiosko Luquillo in the town of Luquillo as well.
Where do I begin with mofongo? There’s a reason why it has become one of the more popular Puerto Rican foods you must eat, and it has everything to do with its phenomenal flavors and incredible textures. Mofongo is made with mashed and fried green plantains and usually includes meat and vegetables. The dish is then covered in a sauce made from garlic, oil, and broth.
There are several varieties of mofongo, which can be found all over the island. I recommend trying it at Los Barriles in Piñones, Vaca Brava in Old San Juan, and at Costa Mia in Las Croabas. The latter of the three contained lots of succulent shrimp and mussels in a spicy and flavorful sauce. They perfectly complemented the starchy plantains and had my taste buds clamoring for more!
Local Puerto Rican Oysters
I’m a lover of all types of seafood, so my time in Puerto Rico was heaven for me. When it comes to seafood, the fresher the better! You can’t get much fresher seafood than the local oysters at Ostiones Vivos Kiosko, a small hut in Piñones. Oysters, or ostras as they’re called in Puerto Rico, have always been one of my favorites.
The oysters served here may be smaller than colder-water oysters in other parts of the world, but they more than make up for it in flavor! With a splash of lime, these raw, succulent morsels are absolute perfection. And at just $5 USD for six, they’re the perfect snack for travelers on a budget!
While you’re in Piñones, you have to make a pit stop at Sabores de Piñones to try the local specialty known as Pionono. This dish is made up of a yellow plantain dough that’s stuffed with ground beef and deep-fried.
The Pionono is very sweet because of the plantains and tastes almost like a Cuban maduro. It’s soft and is like a sweet but savory fried dessert. It’s also quite oily from the deep-frying process, so it’s definitely not a diet food! But trust me, it’s so worth it. After just one bite, you’ll understand why it’s one of the top Puerto Rican foods you must eat!
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Relleños de Papa
After you try your Pionono at Sabores de Piñones, you should also order some relleños de papa. This is another example of stuffed and fried Puerto Rican foods you must eat. Instead of a plantain, though, this dish is made up of fried mashed potatoes, which are stuffed with ground beef.
It’s yet another fantastic, greasy dish. My hands were coated in it just from picking it up, but the mess is definitely worth it. The relleños de papa has a crispy exterior but is soft in the middle and contains lots of savory, juicy beef. If you love mashed potatoes with minced meat, this dish is for you!
While I’m usually not much of a sweets guy and almost always prefer something savory over something sugary, I’ll make an exception here. When you visit the town of Luquillo, you have to try the coconut candy at the strip of restaurants called Kiosko Luquillo. It looks like a flat cookie and contains a lot of sugar and a little bit of coconut.
Flavor-wise, it is a total sugar rush, but the big pieces of coconut throughout are phenomenal. I’m a big coconut lover, so I could not get enough of this amazing snack. This is one sweet treat you cannot afford to miss when you visit Puerto Rico!
Blue Crab Empanada
Further along Kiosko Luquillo, you’ll come across another eatery called Antojito, which sells lots of deep-fried Puerto Rican dishes. I suggest trying the blue crab empanada there. I eat empanadas all the time in my hometown of Miami, which has lots of Latin influences, especially Cuban.
The blue crab empanada is made of crispy maza on the outside. On the inside, it’s filled with sweet, succulent crab meat, which gave the empanada a very different flavor than I was used to. However, they don’t call this dish an empanada at Antojito; they call it a taco! Enjoy yours with a refreshing Medalla beer and a small cup of spicy sauce.
To find the next entry in my list of Puerto Rican foods you must eat, you’ll have to travel to the town of Luquillo. There, you’ll find an amazing carrucho ceviche that had my mouth watering from the very first bite. A lot of Puerto Rican dishes are quite heavy, but this light, refreshing dish is perfect for a day under the blazing hot Caribbean sun.
Stop by Kiosko Luquillo to grab a cup of this fantastic raw seafood dish. It’s made from conch, which is moist and has a soft, buttery texture. The texture is very similar to that of a scallop, but the flavor reminded me more of a mussel. It’s also seasoned with a superb spice blend that adds a new layer of flavor!
If you’d like to try a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink while exploring La Ruta de Lechon, allow me to suggest the coconut frappe at El Rancho Original. It’s a rich, silky drink that seemed to contain a lot of pureed coconut and milk. It was topped with a healthy dollop of whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, and a cherry.
With the way the sun beats down on you during the day in Puerto Rico, you’ll need a drink like this to keep you feeling refreshed and hydrated. It’s very tasty and is a great way to sample delicious Puerto Rican coconut in a drink without getting a buzz!
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In addition to seafood, pork is another popular element of Puerto Rican cuisine. One of the most popular pork dishes on the island is lechon. This dish is made by roasting a whole pig over a fire for four hours. To try the best lechon on the island, head to the town of Guavate. There, you’ll find a road called La Ruta de Lechon, whose name literally translates to “the piglet route.”
Stop at El Rancho Original Restaurant and Los Pinos Restaurant to sink into delicious, pork heaven. When I tell you this is some of the most incredible pork on the planet, I’m not exaggerating! The long cooking time allows the pork skin, or cuerito, to get crispy, while the meat holds on to its natural juices. The end result is a fatty and incredibly tasty dish that is heaven for any pork lover. No list of Puerto Rican foods you must eat is complete without it!
Lechon is not the only Puerto Rican food you must eat along La Ruta de Lechon. One of the sides you can have along with it is one of my all-time favorites, morcilla. Morcilla is a blood sausage, made with a pork intestine casing, that contains rice and blood from the roasted pig.
The rice gives the sausage a beautiful texture. It also has a nice, iron-rich flavor that goes well with the spices that are mixed throughout. I’ve been eating morcilla ever since I was a child and this particular variety blew me away!
Arroz con Gandules
There is no way you can travel to Puerto Rico without trying one of the island’s signature rice dishes, arroz con gandules. This dish is a flavorful combination of rice, pigeon peas, and pork, which is then cooked in a pot with a Puerto Rican-style sofrito.
One thing you’ll notice along La Ruta de Lechon—where I recommend you try this dish—is that the vendors all claim to have the best arroz con gandules. All of the varieties I tried were nice and tasty, but be sure to try it at different places to see which one you like the best!
Pork dishes aren’t the only tasty, roasted meats available along La Ruta de Lechon. You can also find a mouthwatering roasted turkey that blew my socks off! I got to sample a small amount this dish as I met and filmed the cooks working in their kitchen.
It was so tender, moist, and flavorful. There were also some spices on it that had seeped into the meat, which gave it an added boost of amazing flavor. It’s one of the moistest turkeys I’ve ever had and is easily one of the top Puerto Rican foods you must eat!
Guineítos en Escabeche
Another local dish I recommend trying at the eateries along La Ruta de Lechon is guineítos en escabeche. This Puerto Rican food you must eat is basically hard pieces of green banana with a bit of onion, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and vinegar.
This tangy, savory, and sour green banana salad may be an acquired taste for some, myself included, but it’s still another great representation of how diverse Puerto Rican cuisine is! If you travel to Guavate, give it a taste and let me know what you think of it!
The next Puerto Rican food you must eat isn’t a food at all; it’s a drink called pitorro. This alcoholic beverage is a moonshine-style drink that people make in their homes. But because it’s illegal to sell it, it might be hard for you to find if you don’t know the right people. Trust me, the quest to chase some down will have been worth it after you try it!
During my time in the town of Guavate, I tried three flavors of pitorro: coconut, tamarind-passionfruit, and coconut-almond. The coconut flavor isn’t particularly strong and is similar to a dessert wine. I loved the tamarind-passionfruit, which was full of delicious fruit flavor. It was a little stronger than the coconut, but nowhere near as potent as the coconut-almond! Too much of that one and you’ll be done for the day very quickly!
If you’re a lover of alcoholic beverages, you have to visit the Casa Bacardi factory in San Juan. It’s an awesome spot where you can take a mixology class and even bottle your own limited-edition Bacardi rum. You can also taste a lot of the creations, including the traditional mojito!
They make it with four wedges of lime, two bar spoons of white sugar, two ounces of Bacardi Superior, and muddle it seven times. Then, they add eight to twelve mint leaves, stir it up to marry the flavors, and top it off with ice. It’s delicious and full of zesty lime flavor!
You can’t truly experience Puerto Rico without a trip to Viejo San Juan, the oldest part of the city. There, you’ll find a spot called Vaca Brava, which is known for their outrageous food presentations.
When you dine at Vaca Brava, you have to order a Medalla light beer. It’s a roughly 70-year-old beer that is basically the signature beer on the island. It’s light, so it’s the perfect beer to enjoy on the beach!
Red Snapper with Skirt Steak, Mofongo & Yucca
Speaking of the mind-blowing food presentations at Vaca Brava in Old San Juan, the next Puerto Rican foods you must eat are their red snapper, skirt steak, mofongo, and yucca. The red snapper is a fried fish served on a vertical spit with the strips of skirt steak arranged on a bed of lettuce below it! It’s the type of dish you could easily recreate with an air fryer.
The mofongo on the side is mashed plantains with garlic and contains chicken, steak, and a ridiculous amount of cheese. It’s topped with a red salsa that helps cut the thickness of the mofongo. The red snapper is full of tasty and tender meat, but the juiciest parts are the eyes, so don’t leave them! All in all, it’s an insanely eye-catching meal you will never forget!
Unlike the pitorro we discussed earlier, the popular piña colada is very easy to find in Puerto Rico. One of the best piña coladas I’ve ever had was at Costa Mia Restaurant in Las Croabas. There, they top their delicious, pineapple-flavored drink with a huge mound of whipped cream.
The sweetness of the pineapple flavor is accented by a cherry and lots of rum! It’s easy to get exhausted from walking around in the heat in Puerto Rico, especially if you visit in the middle of the summer like I did. But this cool, refreshing piña colada was the perfect way to beat the heat after a long day out in the sun!
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Volcano Surf & Turf
After you spend a morning island-hopping off the coast of Puerto Rico, I recommend returning to the town of Fajardo and finding a small restaurant called Costa Mia. I mentioned their outstanding seafood mofongo earlier, but now let’s dive into their meatier option, the Volcano Surf & Turf!
This dish consists of a massive hunk of steak that is topped with shrimp, mushrooms, and gravy so that it resembles an erupting volcano. The presentation alone makes it one of the top Puerto Rican foods you must eat, but it’s nothing compared to the taste. The shrimp are incredibly fresh, and the meat is perfectly tender and juicy. The best way to eat it is to get everything on your fork at once and just go to town on it like I did!
During my time in Puerto Rico, I teamed up with the Intercontinental San Juan, which is where I stayed and enjoyed a heavenly Puerto Rican gourmet feast. One of my favorite dishes I tried at their on-site restaurant, Alelí, were the amarillitos. These amarillitos are pieces of sweet plantain that are wrapped in bacon. They’re also topped with manchego cheese and coated in a balsamic reduction.
They reminded me a lot of bacon-wrapped dates, but with a distinctly Puerto Rican flair because of the plantains. They were described to us as orgasmic and after trying them myself, they’re absolutely right! The amarillitos were easily one of the highlights of what shaped up to be a remarkable gourmet meal.
The other Puerto Rican food you must eat at Alelí in the Intercontinental San Juan is the dessert option called budin. Budin is a Puerto Rican bread pudding with raisins, Bacardi rum, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and vanilla ice cream.
It’s the perfect alcoholic dessert and is so tasty. I loved the contrast of the hot bread pudding with the cold ice cream and the freshness of the berries. The rum tied all the flavors together and had my taste buds dancing with every bite!
One of my favorite dishes in the capital of San Juan is a traditional Puerto Rican bowl called fiambrera. Its name translates to “everything mixed into a big plate.” It can contain meat, chicken, corned beef, ropa vieja, carne asada, chicharron, vegetables, or cod fish. The toppings are typically served on top of rice, beans, and tostones.
One of the top Puerto Rican foods you must eat, fiambrera can be found at Alcapurria Quema at the Lote 23 food truck center. This outstanding dish was once considered working-class food and is a total flavor explosion in your mouth. It’s very filling and boasts lots of contrasting textures that keep your palate guessing with each bite!
Another of Puerto Rico’s signature dishes is the Pernil sandwich, which contains slow-roasted, marinated pork. It’s a staple in the local cuisine, which is very pork heavy. I tried this magnificent, meaty sandwich at Lote 23, a food truck center in San Juan where 15 food trucks assemble.
There, you’ll find La Pernileria, who pack this sandwich with cilantro, carrots, and fried plantains along with the juicy, tender pork. The combination of flavors, meatiness, freshness, and crunchiness is out of this world. The flavors and textures made this pernil sandwich one of my favorite sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. There’s no way I couldn’t include it in my list of the 25 Puerto Rican foods you must eat!
Regardless of the type of food you like to indulge in, Puerto Rico has it in droves. If you want something rich, heavy, and greasy, the island is full of it. If light and fresh is more your jam, you can find that, too. And whether you’re craving meat, seafood, or fresh produce, it’s just around the corner. Grab your favorite alcoholic beverage—there’s no shortage of them on the island—and kick back and enjoy the amazing flavors of Puerto Rico. Book your trip to San Juan today!
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