Puerto Rican cuisine is all about the two P’s: pork and plantains. There’s also a lot of rice and fried food, all of it delicious and most of it pretty un-spicy. This surprises a lot of people who are expecting something along the lines of Mexican food, with lots of peppers and hot sauce. Instead, comida criolla in Puerto Rico is all about satisfying, flavorful dishes. Here’s a list of some of the common foods and drinks in Puerto Rico, and where we ate some of our favorites!
Mofongo is probably one of Puerto Rico’s best known and most popular dishes. It’s a fried ball made of mashed plantains with vegetables, pork, or another meat inside with a broth of garlic and olive oil. We had the dish in a few different places in Puerto Rico, but our favorite was probably the one at Lola Restaurant in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Mallorca is a soft, sweet roll that can contain all sorts of yummy things–butter, cheese, ham or bacon with cheese, etc.–and is covered in powdered sugar. We had some for breakfast the first day at Cafeteria Mallorca in Old San Juan, and loved it so much that we went back every day! It was nice because it was open pretty early in the morning (a lot of the other restaurants didn’t open until 10am) and there was always a mix of tourists and locals eating there every time we went.
3. Lechón asado
Lechón asado is roast suckling pig, and it can be found at lechonerias all along the Pork Highway (Route 184) in Puerto Rico. It’s actually very popular, and has been featured on the Travel Channel and other places. It’s best to go there on weekends for the full experience. We went a little late in the day (6:30 or 7) so our lechón wasn’t the freshest (had to be microwaved), but it was still really tasty! The lechón asado was so tender that it reminded us more of prime rib than pork, and their side dishes really hit the spot after a long day of fun.
4. Fried street food
All over Puerto Rico you can get some really great fried street food. I know in Fajardo I had this great chicken on a stick with a slice of garlic bread on top, and on our first night in Old San Juan (a Sunday) we got some great food from the street vendors near the Paseo de la Princesa (above). We had jugo de parcha (like a passionfruit slushie), an empanada, an alcapurria (mashed plantain and meat fritter), and a bacalaito (fried cod fritter). Street food is a great way to have some authentic Puerto Rican food that is delicious and cheap!
5. Churrasquitos & fish tacos
Neither of these things are necessarily “Puerto Rican” dishes, (I think churrasquitos are actually Argentinean) but I wanted to mention them because they were one of our favorite dishes at our favorite restaurant in Puerto Rico, Punto de Vista Restaurant. The atmosphere in this restaurant isn’t the fanciest–there are barrel chairs at the tables and a funky colorful mural inside–but the food is really some of the best you’ll find in Old San Juan! It’s also located quite conveniently, just a few blocks from the cruise dock in OSJ.
6. Arroz mamposteao
The picture above shows another time we ate at Punto de Vista Restaurant (we normally don’t repeat restaurants, but we loved it so much we went back again!), this time to showcase the arroz mamposteao. This is a really common side dish in Puerto Rico–fried rice and beans with a great mix of spices–and you can find this sabroso side dish in a lot of restaurants there.
7. Tostones & mayoketchup
Tostones are fried plantain chips, shown at the top middle of the plate in the picture above, and mayoketchup is, well, a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup! It’s in the bottle in the picture–we didn’t see much ketchup or mustard out anywhere, but there was lots of mayoketchup! This meal was had at Gustitos Criollos, an awesome cafeteria-style place that serves inexpensive home-cookin’ Puerto Rican dishes in Arecibo. Tostones are both sweet and salty, and go nicely with the savory mayoketchup!
Puerto Rican drinks, on the other hand, are all about rum! Here are some of our favorites that are quite common in Puerto Rico.
8. Piña coladas
Puerto Rico is the birthplace of this delicious drink, and the restaurant where they were actually invented was Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan. We went there and had the original piña colada–they costed $7 but were delicious, the perfect mix of sweet and tangy. The food we had at the restaurant was also really good and the atmosphere was really nice; they had a courtyard open to the sun with a colorful macaw and a bubbling fountain.
Mojitos are a Caribbean cocktail that consists of white rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water, and mint. Everywhere will make them a little differently, and lots of places had different flavors of them too, like strawberry and coconut (above). Mojitos are quite popular in Puerto Rico, and I noticed that in a lot of the restaurants they had 2 for 1 mojitos, so it can be a cheap, refreshing cocktail to have on your visit!
10. Cuba Libres
Cuba Libre is the most popular cocktail in the world, a mix of cola, dark rum, and a slice of lime. It’s simple, but delicious! In Puerto Rico they are also sometimes called mentiritas (“little lies”) since they don’t really consider Cuba a “free country.” 🙂
Whatever you eat or drink in Puerto Rico, I’m sure you’ll have a marvelous trip! Below are some translations of common foods to make ordering a little easier if you don’t speak Spanish. ¡Buen provecho!