Food once again wins when choosing a destination for my birthday vacation this April.
Our love for all Latin food is very apparent, if you browse through GypsyPlate. Our first encounter with Puerto Rican cuisine was with their Picadillo. We’ve been hooked on adobos, sofritos and sazon ever since.
Booking our 10 day vacation to this Caribbean Island was easy, as it was a quick flight out of Florida. We were immediately drawn towards colorful San Juan and Rincon, for the laid back feel and beautiful vibes. We were looking so forward to their stews and steaks and fried bites.
Puerto Rican food is very flavorful and delicious, albeit not meant for someone watching their calories, or vegetarians.
Most of their food is geared towards different meats, along with their beloved plantains in some form, and fried appetizers and snacks.
Here are some of the foods you MUST try when visiting this tropical paradise:
What to Eat in Puerto Rico
Mofongo is the island’s beloved side that outshines the mains. It’s a star on every restaurant’s menu.
Mofongo is a Latin staple with African roots, and is made with fried plantains as the main ingredient. Plantains are picked green, fried, and then mashed with salt, garlic, broth, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bacon in a wooden pilón (mortar and pestle).
The goal is to produce a tight ball of mashed plantains that will absorb the attending condiments. It is traditionally served with beef, chicken, shrimp, or vegetables packed inside or around the plantain orb.
Mofongo is the thing they feed all the tourists that visit the island with gusto.
Churrasco is a Latin American term used to describe steak grilled on an open flame. It is typically made with a long flat cut of skirt steak that is marinated until tender, and grilled to juicy perfection.
In Puerto Rico, Churrasco is often served with a chimichurri, a raw onion, parsley and olive oil green sauce.
Pinchos, Spanish for “spikes,” are a Puerto Rican “fast food” staple. Delicious, simple, handheld and versatile, pinchos are usually made with marinated chunks of pork or chicken on stick.
Nothing beats a pincho hot off the grill, served at many road side food trucks, or some BBQ style restaurants.
Tostones (Fried Green Plantains) are another the favorite Puerto Rican side dish, and a Latin food staple.
Unripe green plantains are fried twice for the ultimate golden crisp side dish. Check out our great homemade tostones recipe.
5. Piña Colada
The Piña Colada is a sweet and creamy tropical cocktail that has been celebrated as the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978. It hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico where it is said to have been created by bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, at the Caribe Hilton in 1954.
He mixed up a fruity blend of rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice and boom… the rest is history.
This sweet and creamy tropical cocktail has since been celebrated all over the world. We had our share of Piña Coladas over 10 days, along with some killer mojitos and other local mixed drinks.
6. Bistec Encebollado, aka Steak & Onions
This is another main you would find in every single restaurant. Bisctec encebollado is a traditional Puerto Rican beef stew that’s pure comfort food.
Beef is braised for a long time until fork tender, along with all the staple Puerto Rican seasonings and caramelized onions… simple yum.
Try our own GypsyPlate version of Puerto Rican Bistec Encebollado.
How can you leave an island without trying their fresh, delicious seafood? Try their amazing snapper, branzino, shrimp, lobsters, conch, octopus, and much more…
8. Asopao de Camarones (Shrimp and Rice Soup or Stew)
This was one of our favorite seafood delicacies out of this island. Asopao de camarones (shrimp gumbo) is a thick Puerto Rican shrimp stew made with shrimp and rice.
This soup has all of the flavors you’ve come to love from the Puerto Rican cuisine. It reminds me of shrimp gumbo, but with Puerto Rican flavors.
9. Pastelón (Puerto Rican Plantain “Lasagna”)
Pastelón is a classic Puerto Rican dish made with layers of thinly-sliced plantains, ground beef, and cheese! Think of it as a Puerto Rican version of lasagna.
We had a chance to bite into a Pastelón during one of our buffet lunches at a very local eatery.
10. Arroz con Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice and Pigeon Peas)
There’s nothing more quintessentially Puerto Rican than arroz con gandules. It’s part of their national dish, along with Pernil, and is served usually around Christmas season or special occasions.
Gandules, which is pigeon peas in English, is essential to the rice dish and is packed with nutrients. You’ll be surprised how flavorful the little pigeon peas are in combination with the seasoning in this rice.
Try our Arroz con Gandules recipe on GypsyPlate.
11. Habichuelas Guisadas (Puerto Rican Stewed Beans)
Habichuelas Guisadas (Puerto Rican Stewed Beans) are another essential Puerto Rican side dish whenever you’ve having rice. They’re perfectly creamy, tender, simple to make, and bursting with Latin flavors.
We have a great recipe for Habichuelas Guisadas if you want to try them at home.
12. Carne Guisada
Carne Guisada is a Latin meat stew. Carne in Spanish means “meat” and Guisada is “stewed”, so it literally translates to “Stewed Meat”.
We loved our own version of Puerto Rican Carne Guisada on GypsyPlate, and were really looking forward to try it in its birth country. We were super excited to find it in one of the local restaurants on outskirts of Rincon, on the way to Gozlandia waterfalls.
13. Camarones al Ajillo
Camarones al Ajillo is the Caribbean version of garlic shrimp. The dish is very popular because it’s easy to make and has amazing flavors.
Shrimp are cooked in a delicious broth of butter, garlic, lime, white wine and cilantro or parsley. Serve as an appetizer, with pasta, or on top of rice. Yummylicious!!
14. Tapas and Spanish Food
Local food has lot of Spanish influence, and you would find many restaurants with a Spanish flair. Paellas and tapas plates are quite common. We tried some tapas in Sheraton’s main restaurant our first night in San Juan, and at some of the sunset restaurants in Rincon.
15. Pernil (Roast Pork)
We tried the countries national dish, Pernil, aka roasted pork, on the Pork Highway… a little excursion out of San Juan.
Puerto Rico’s Pork Highway Is a Meat Lover’s Dream!! Pork is a staple across Latin America, but few places showcase the simplistic beauty of the meat than the “Pork Highway” in Puerto Rico.
The dozens of restaurants that make up “La Ruta del Lechón” have become a bit of a tourist excursion of late. But that doesn’t stop the locals from continuing to congregate, as the delicious menu options provide a roadside oasis.
With pigs roasting on open spits, their skin crispy and gorgeously caramelized and meat that tastes like heaven, it’s not hard to see why it’s become so popular.
If you want to cook it at home, be sure to try our Pernil recipe.
Empanadas are one of the most popular snacks in Puerto Rico. They’re often sold at roadside stands, or on restaurant menus as appetizers.
These handheld treats are picadillo stuffed inside a pocket of dough, then deep fried. They’re deliciously crispy outside, and tender and flavorful inside.
Flan is a classic Puerto Rican dessert (also known as an egg custard to many), and is made with a milk and egg base.
Traditionally, this custard is poured over a caramelized sugar base, baked and flipped upside down to reveal a beautiful caramel topping. It’s the perfect combination of light creamy custard and rich sweet caramel.
Where to Eat in Puerto Rico
San Juan Restaurants
First of all, we had some wonderful dining experiences in San Juan. However, we feel we wouldn’t be giving you the most complete information without also telling you what to avoid.
On the Eastern side of the historic district, the road Calle de Tetuán is lined with one restaurant after another.
We attempted to eat at several of these tourist traps, and at every stop we were met with some combination of indifference, contempt and outright neglect.
In particular, our worst experiences were at Raíces, Puerto Criollo, and Moreno’s Spot. We can’t speak for the food in any of these places, the service was so abysmal we never got that far.
Lesson learned, take the Tripadvisor reviews seriously.
That being said, here are some places you should try in San Juan:
Perched on the edge of the historic and picturesque shantytown, La Perla, this restaurant has the best dining views in Old San Juan.
After a lot of walking the previous day, we spent several hours chilling out with drinks there, before enjoying some nice churrasco steak with tostones.
Triana Tapas and Flamenco
Not only is this a charming restaurant, if you come at the right time you get a flamenco show! Noah had a blast, and the food was excellent, too.
We tried several tapas, but the main star was the super generous paella. Rice with seafood? Nope, SEAFOOD with rice. We ordered the paella for two, but barely got through half of it, so bring a big appetite!
We stumbled across this very new Latin fusion restaurant on one of our last nights in San Juan.
I tried one of their mofongos, and Jason tried an fish dish with chickpeas. The food was excellent, and the service was some of the best in San Juan. We would definitely eat there again.
While in Rincon, try some of the restaurants lined on the beach, famous for their sunset dinners.
Though we enjoyed cooking at our little beach house, we tried a few of the restaurants, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset vibes, sipping the coolest drinks and great seafood.
La Ana de Cofresí
La Ana de Cofresí Restaurant is located at Villa Cofresi Hotel, and is one of the first restaurants in Rincón.
It’s a very popular spot for sunsets. As the sun starts to touch the horizon, the servers ring bells and count down, giving it a very festive and fun atmosphere.
La Copa Ilena
La Copa Ilena is another great beachfront spot for watching sunsets. Plus, the beach it overlooks is a popular surfing spot, so you get a show while sipping your drinks.
The menu is not huge, but what we tried was very good. And the atmosphere couldn’t be beat.
On Fire BBQ
Puerto Rico has some amazing street side food stands, and On Fire BBQ was the best we tried. The ribs and chicken were melt in your mouth delicious.
You better get there early, they usually sell out before the lunch hour is over.
If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Rico, we hope you find this food guide helpful. Puerto Rican cuisine is wonderfully flavorful, and well worth a short flight from the mainland for foodies like us.
While you’re here, be sure to check out our post on the top Things to Do in Puerto Rico, so you can make the most of your trip to that beautiful island.
And, if you haven’t already, take a moment to subscribe to our newsletter. Along with some travel guides, we’re always cooking up great recipes from around the world for you. Until next time…
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