A nondescript road leads you to the mountains 30-40 minutes south of San Juan, Puerto Rico. La Ruta del Lechon has a fun ring to it and sounds much better than PR-184. Following its twists and turns and a rise in elevation, the temperature gets cooler.
Your senses are alert because of the narrow road snaking its way around hidden corners. Soon many restaurants begin to appear, all similarly named with some form of Lechonera. You have made your way towards Guavate out into the countryside. This, my friend, is the Pork Highway. Have you heard of it?
What is this place? Is it heaven? Hog heaven, maybe! In a dreamlike trance, giddy with excitement, for a Lechon connoisseur, perhaps it could be.
You see smiling pigs on storefronts and billboards as you drive by. Parking lots are filling up with cars. People are stopping for breaks. Locals and visitors alike gather at this go-to destination.
Remember that when you see a crowd of people, especially around a food establishment, that should signal something good to your brain and stomach. That is where you want to be!
An enticing aroma hangs about in the cooler air. Then, you realize you are starting to get hungry.
The Pork Highway Puerto Rico, is a food lover’s paradise known for its roadside stands selling deliciously seasoned, spit-roasted pork.
The Best Place to Get Lechon In Puerto Rico
La Ruta del Lechon, or the Pork Highway, is the ground zero of roasted whole pork, aka lechon in Puerto Rico. A fantastic place to come and try many of the best traditional and family favorites of Puerto Rican cuisine. It has to be the best place to get Lechon in Puerto Rico! Come on; there is a whole highway dedicated to it!
Some restaurants along the pork highway feature live music and have a celebratory atmosphere on the weekends. Most of these are open-air eateries with outdoor dining areas built for gathering and fun. These restaurants can get busy and even a tad loud, especially on the weekends. Many establishments these days are open during the week as well, but less crowded.
I watched as families sat together and the grandmothers doled out food onto everyone’s plates. They knew what they were doing and were in total control. You get a little of this and some of that with assembly-line precision. So please don’t mess with those abuelas as we can see, they are in charge.
People sang, danced, ate, drank, and enjoyed each other’s company. It made me happy. During the pandemic, it was the little things like this that could bring moments of joy.
How Do I Get to the Pork Highway?
Riding southbound down Puerto Rico Highway 1 or 52, you will see an exit for PR-184 once you pass Beatriz. I invite you to take this exit and go on a magical journey full of porky goodness.
This road, PR-184, is known as La Ruta del Lechon or the famed Pork Highway. It is a rural road stretching from Cayey to Patillas. I like to think that the PR in PR-184 stands for Pork Road instead of Puerto Rico. Sprinkled along the route, close to Guavate, you’ll see many inviting restaurants waiting for you to pull in. They are called lechoneras, and they specialize in whole roasted pigs, known lovingly as Lechon. A mouthwatering and succulent treat that you won’t forget and should try while in Puerto Rico.
What to Expect on the Pork Highway (La Ruta del Lechon)
Once you enter a lechonera, there are usually separate lines—one to get your food and another line to buy your beverages. Therefore, I’d suggest dividing and conquering if you are a group and have less time to wait.
You’ll see whole pigs and chickens (sometimes turkey) roasting on a spit. In addition, various fried items, ribs, sausages, and more are available. A person wielding a machete is always nearby to chop the pork into pieces for serving.
A carnivore’s dream cafeteria of unique tastes awaits as you look over the menu. First, choose what meats you want, then your vegetables and side dishes, and finally, move on to salads. Puerto Rico is pretty meat-forward. A vegetarian must work harder, but you could pull it off.
There is always some hot sauce to try or buy near the register. So we grabbed and bought a locally made hot sauce that came in a Jack Daniels bottle. A nice souvenir for my friend’s house that I can use when I return.
I found it a perfect complement to things like the morcilla (blood sausage) and Arroz con gandules, Puerto Rico’s national dish (rice with pigeon peas). On the other hand, my friend Chris found that it set his mouth on fire. I think he had a heavy pour, or he’s just worthless. Who knows.
We made our way through several fabulous Lechoneras, devouring the roast pork and crispy skin, finger-licking good bbq ribs, and even some tasty roast chicken. Next, we sampled Arroz con gandules, morcilla, and other sausages like longaniza. If you feel brave and have a strong fortitude, you can try out the pig stomach dish called Cuajito. You could also try a taste of Gandinga, a hearty stew made with pig hearts, livers, and kidneys, if you are up for it. Pina Coladas and Medalla beers were cold and refreshing and helped to wash everything down.
How to Best Spend a Day on La Ruta del Lechon?
The best way to spend your day is hopping from one spot to another, sampling along the way. Come hungry and graze the offerings at the many different lechoneras. Have a drink here and a bite to eat there. Walk around the little markets and purchase a few souvenirs or enjoy the nearby forest and mountain views.
Follow in the footsteps of food and travel personalities such as Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain by stopping at Lechonera Los Pinos or El Rancho Original. Those two locations are probably the best known.
Or blaze your own trail and go off track to explore a fun-sounding place like Doctor Lechon or Lechonera El Mojito. How could you not love a name like the Doctor of roasted pork?
I couldn’t help myself and kept trying the Lechon at every stop. Yeah, I guess I am a pig. La Ruta del Lechon Puerto Rico is a must visit!
After stuffing ourselves full (like, well, you know, oink), we found a cool little bar on the road with a fantastic deck overlooking the foliage and greenery around. This spot, AlaVera Bar & Kitchen, did not have Lechon, but they offered decent menu choices (not that I could eat anything yet) and served up a fabulous coconut mojito with a view!
Finally, if quick on time or for a shorter trip, you could stick close to the main highways and try a place like Lechonera Los Amigos. The choices are many, and the food will be grand. Traveling on La Ruta Lechon (The Pork Highway) makes for a memorable day out in the country, discovering the secrets and traditions of Puerto Rican Lechon.
Bucket List Food Item Checked Off
I was enthralled and obsessed with the pork highway and thankful that I could visit. My friend had never been nor really heard about it. Now he has something new to show his future visitors since I drug his ass out of the house to play tourist. He has even been back since and sent me pictures that I am incredibly jealous of with heaping plates of pork.
Unfortunately, it rained heavily for a few days, and my explorations of the capital weren’t meant to be. Coming back from the pork highway, we got caught in heavy storms with torrential flooding on the road. Scary stuff that made headlines the next day.
Sadly, I didn’t get to see any of San Juan. But I did make it to the pork highway (la ruta de lechon), and I’m alright with that. Exploring La Ruta del Lechon was, without a doubt, the highlight of my trip!
Please share this post with your friends or foodies heading to Puerto Rico; I’m sure it is a culinary adventure they would not want to miss. My friend didn’t even know about it and has lived there for over four years now. Visiting the Pork Highway is a beautiful way to spend part of the day not too far from San Juan.
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