roast pig on a spit

Puerto Rican Food: The Best Puerto Rican Dishes

Puerto Rico offers many exciting opportunities for visitors, and I’m sure that you’re aiming to make the most out of them. Puerto Rican food and cuisine are unique and full of cultural influences from Europe, Africa, and the native Tainos. So don’t miss your chance to eat some of these Puerto Rican dishes and discover the vibrant flavors you’ll find on this island paradise. Do yourself a favor and make sure to try out some new things food-wise and enjoy your time while visiting this sun-soaked US territory in the Caribbean.

What Is the Most Popular Food in Puerto Rican Cuisine?

Mofongo is one of the more popular Puerto Rican dishes you will come across. Mofongo is made from green plantains and then typically topped with a choice of protein or vegetables and sauce and heralded as the unofficial staple of the island.

Unripened plantains are mashed down and formed using a mortar and a pestle-type device called a Pilon. Then, they are further seasoned with various additions ranging from salt, garlic, chicharron, butter or oil, and sometimes broth while being prepared. These mashed and seasoned plantains become the base of the dish and the star of the show.

Mofongo at Aguadilla Rootop Experience (ARTe)

Choose any meat to be served along with your mofongo generally placed on top, or you could have it as is with some broth (caldo), perhaps some pork crackling on the side. You’ll often see pork, seafood, beef, or chicken on many menus as accompaniments for your mofongo.

You also get to pick a salsa or sauce to finish the dish. The creamy garlic sauce was quite popular, from what I saw. I had a mofongo in Aguadilla that came with all three (Pollo, Camarones, Churrasco) on top. Talk about the deluxe version of mofongo! I was beyond stuffed.

Take your time and appreciate the flavors of your mofongo. It is a heavy and filling dish so take it easy. It is one of the main staples found anywhere on the island, from restaurants to food trucks, and it is a Puerto Rican food that you should definitely try.

As mentioned above, my friends wore me down and got me off of my seafood kick, and had me try a mofongo right before I left. We dined at ARTe (Aguadilla Rooftop Experience) with a stunning view of the bay as the sun was setting.

Try Some Fried Puerto Rican Food

Alcapurrias – Deep-fried stuffed fritters in an oblong shape like a cigar. The batter is formed in a leaf and is made from a mix of yautia, green bananas, and plantains. Meat is added and folded in, and then the raw alcapurria is dropped into bubbling hot oil.

The filling can be ground beef like a picadillo or could take on a seafood twist with crab, shrimp, or lobster. I wanted to buy and try these on the famous beach kiosks in Pinones but didn’t make it there. So I found a Puerto Rican food truck on the side of the road, and it was the next best thing! Hey, it worked for me. I liked the texture, filling, and taste profile of this alcapurria and that it paired nicely with an ice-cold beer.

More Tasty Fried Options

Bacalaitos – Deep-fried salt cod fritters with herbs and seasonings. Please don’t make the same mistake we did and order two. These hubcap-sized items are bigger than your head and can easily feed several people.

If the bacalaitos are fried right (and not too crisp), you will have a light and airy fish Frisbee. I found mine rather enjoyable with the addition of some hot sauce. My bacalaito was mild and seasoned well throughout with herbs like cilantro and parsley—a shareable pizza-sized fish fritter. Enjoy!

The Smashing Plantains (is that a band?)

Tostones – Thin and flattened green plantains fried into a crispy bite and sprinkled with salt make for a savory dish. Dip into your favorite sauce or squeeze with some lime juice. An enjoyable treat mainly found in the Caribbean and Latin American cuisines. Chances are, you will discover mayo ketchup on your plate for your dipping needs. (That stuff is everywhere!) Living in Key West and being 90 miles from Cuba, we have tostones on our island, so I won’t have any withdrawals.

tostones smashed fried plantains

There are many other fried delicacies (frituras) in Puerto Rican cuisine waiting for you to discover. Unfortunately, I could only get to a few on my visit. My plan was not to eat fried food all day. Other favorites and popular items you will hear about are Sorullitos, Empanadillas, Arepas, Rellenos de Papa, Pionono, and more. What are your favorites?

La Ruta del Lechon – Puerto Rico’s Pork Highway

Lechon – Rotisserie suckling pig. Puerto Ricans know how to cook pork well. This method, in particular, shouldn’t be missed, slow-cooked on a spit over a fire. Lechon is the ultimate for some divine swine.

Lechon has a crisp outer skin with a distinct crunch when bitten. If you are lucky enough to get a still-hot piece, some fat bubbling on the inside makes this bite a memorable culinary treat.

I watched as Andrew Zimmern and Tony Bourdain praised all of the porky goodness one could only hope to sample one day. Clearly, I was on a mission, which involved getting myself to the pork highway in Puerto Rico. There was no way I would be denied my chance to visit some of the altars of this pork heaven known as La Ruta del Lechon.

Ask for a combination plate so that you can taste all of the beautiful and different flavors in this well-prepared feast. Ribs, loin, belly, and more have a different but tasty profile. Along this route, there are lechoneras around every corner inviting you in for a lovely meal.

Lechon is popular in Spain, Cuba, Philipines, and other Spanish colonial spots worldwide.

Grilled Steak in Puerto Rican Cuisine

Churrasco – Skirt steak. Since the cave dwellers, grilled meat over a flame has been around—one of my favorite cuts to make at home for carne asada (steak tacos). You’ll see churrasco on nearly every menu you come across in Puerto Rico.

Typically churrasco comes with a nice herby, green chimichurri sauce; however, I did not find this on my visit. My chimichurri sauce was bland, oily, and didn’t have much taste. (see picture below)

Until proven wrong, I would say leave the chimichurri to the Argentinians but still order up and enjoy some Churrasco while in Puerto Rico. My steak was full of flavor from a delightful citrus and herb marinade.

churrasco steak in puerto rico
Churrasco steak and mamposteao

Visit Puerto Rican Food Trucks, Stands, and Kiosks

Pinchos – Grilled food on a stick! A gift from the heavens above and one of my absolute favorites. Pork, fish, chicken, or beef skewered and then cooked to perfection. Keep an eye out for these Puerto Rican food trucks and stands on the side of the road, in strip malls, and even at the beach. A majority of them will be serving up yummy pinchos. Who wouldn’t be happy with meat on a stick? It seldom disappoints.

Popular Puerto Rican Side Dish

Mamposteao is a preparation of stewed beans with rice and enhanced with small pieces of meat, making this a tasty option for a side dish. A favorite of my friend Chris, it has since made its way onto my plate several times. A step up from ordinary red beans and rice. Mamposteao is also pictured above on the steak plate and below on the fish platter.

Mampasteao is a common Puerto Rican side dish

Fresh Seafood with Small Bites and Big Flavor

Ceviche is fish or other seafood marinated in citrus juice (usually lime) with onions and peppers. Whenever I see this on a menu, the chances are good that I will order this appetizer. On this trip, I was fortunate enough to come across three. Two were dorado (mahi-mahi), and the other was langosta (lobster). In addition, I saw conch, octopus, and shrimp as other ceviche options on the island.

Local Island Catch

Fish: If you are a fan of having a fresh catch, you are in luck. After all, you are on an island. Tuna, Snapper, Mahi-Mahi, Hogfish, and more are waiting to grace your plate. Grilled or fried with toppings and sides offer you a lighter choice for your meal out.

I rarely will go with the fried option, but if that’s your thing, you can get it, grilled fish all day long for me.

A favorite stop for a beautiful fish meal was in La Parguera at El Karacol. So near the water, this was a perfect stop before going on a bioluminescent bay tour.

Delightful Pork Snack

Carne Frita – Cubes of marinated fried pork make a nice sharing appetizer. Fried pork chunks sound a bit less appealing. Skip the mayo ketchup, which you will see with every plate of food you order in Puerto Rico, squeeze out some lime juice, and enjoy. I like carne frita paired with a cold beer and a view of the water.

Pernil, a Traditional Favorite

Pernil – slow-roasted pork shoulder usually marinated in citrus and spices. I have been making a recipe from Puerto Rico’s own Jose Enrique for years.

Lote 23 is a food court/truck mecca in the middle of a city block in Santurce. This is a gastronomic food park where you will find different kiosks serving up delicious flavor-packed meals. Puerto Rico’s flavors truly shine at this location with many enticing quick bite offerings and cultural events.

Near San Juan, I located a popular Puerto Rican food truck with some guys serving up Pernil. They make four different sandwiches out of just pernil alone, along with all of their other foods on the menu. That’s right, So if you are hungry enough, you could have pernil four ways.

Pernilería Los Próceres is where my taste buds took me on this day. First off, I had to order up some Puerto Rican pork shoulder sandwiches. What’s not to love about Pernil on a brioche bun served out of an airstream trailer in a food truck park?

The taste was smoky and moist with hints of saltiness, much like a pulled pork. I enjoyed the crunch from the radish, carrot, and plantain. The bite from the cilantro was very fresh, and the spicy mayo was just enough to moisten the bread.

I wish my sandwich had the quintessential kicker, a piece of crispy chicharron hidden inside like a buried treasure. I have seen some in other pictures but not on mine this day. So I’ll just have to go back! It was still a delicious sandwich though.

Blood Sausage

Morcilla: If this dark favorite composed of rice, spices, peppers, and blood is up your alley, you will find it in Puerto Rico. I sampled some as a side dish on the famed pork highway. Not as flavor-packed as others I have had, but it was a nice bite when mixed with some local hot or bbq sauce to dip with. I have read that morcilla is readily available, and you’ll see a lot more around Christmas.

A Puerto Rican food plate with rice, pork, and blood sausage.
Roast pork (Lechon), rice with pigeon peas (Arroz con Gandules), Blood sausage (Morcilla)

The National Dish of Puerto Rico

Arroz con Gandules – The national dish of Puerto Rico is Arroz con Gandules otherwise known as rice with pigeon peas. Yes, this is the official staple, not the popular mofongo, as we mentioned earlier. The Arroz con Gandules pictured above and below is one of those tasty Puerto Rican dishes full of lovely flavors and helps to soak up the juices from the other items on your plate. The wonderful combination of rice and peas, added seasonings, and sofrito sauce makes this exciting dish one not to miss.

Arroz con Gandules Puerto Rico's national dish
Arroz con Gandules

What Tropical Drink Was Created in Puerto Rico?

Pina Colada – Do you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain? Did you know that they were invented in Puerto Rico? All the more reason to enjoy a few when visiting. For research, of course! Barrachina and the Caribe Hotel have competing stories on the concoction’s first days and how it came about. Let them fuss about the details of the “original” just make sure you try a few for authenticity’s sake. You can enjoy your Pina Coladas with or without rum.

What Is the Puerto Rican Local Beer?

Medalla: Local beer is found all over the island. Cheap, refreshing, and perfect on a hot day or when coming out of the water. Medalla Light is your beer of choice if you want to drink with the locals. You will find it everywhere you look. You have an option to enjoy your Medalla in a bottle or can.

Mojitos and Flavors Galore

Mojito’s – Just add Ice, rum, sugar, mint, and muddle. I have never seen so many flavor options for a drink in my life. The mojito options you’ll find in Puerto Rico will be extensive. Why not try one or three. The choice is yours. I was pretty taken with the coco-mojito on my visit once in the mountains (on a stop that did not involve pork) and again overlooking the Jobos Beach area in Isabela.

I Didn’t Know This Was a Thing

Gasolina – If you feel froggy or up for an adventure, you can try another Puerto Rican drink specialty called Sangriiia. Yes, it is a Puerto Rican juice box that you will see advertised everywhere, much like Medalla. Gasolina brand drinks are pretty much is a sippy pouch of alcohol that comes with a straw. An adult Capri Sun if you will. It is flavored with rum, acai, and other juices. Small and portable, it fits easily into your beach cooler. There are different flavors and varieties out there for you to try. I saw cases of these at Sams Club over by the wines.

Gasolina a puerto rican juice box with alcohol.
Puerto Rican Juice Box

The Best Foods To Try

Puerto Rican food is a melting pot of diverse cultures and an array of tastes. Indigenous and foreign influences blend with bursting flavors and a vibrant flair. Puerto Rican cuisine is exciting and worth diving into when your visit. The foods mentioned above should certainly be on your list of some of the best Puerto Rican dishes to try.

To learn more about Puerto Rico, what to do, planning ideas, and general information, check out the official tourism page at Discover Puerto Rico.

If you are looking for a place to stay in Puerto Rico, you can find the best deals on hotels here.

More posts on Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico Food Tour

Are you short on time and looking for an easier way to discover the deliciousness of Puerto Rico? If you don’t care to venture out too far on your own, why not consider a highly rated food tour? Let professionals guide you around their city while learning about its history and tastes.

You might also like these top activities in Puerto Rico

Get Ready to Book Your Trip: Helpful Links and Resources

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Tours, Activities, and Things to Do
Viator (a TripAdvisor company) offers many excellent options to keep you busy wherever you may be, from walking and food tours to sunset cruises and more. Make sure to give them a look and add some fun-filled activities to your itinerary.

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