With a cuisine that has roots in several parts of the globe, Puerto Rico has some of the best food found in the Caribbean.
Eating your way around the island territory is a culinary adventure thanks to the diverse dining options on offer. Upscale restaurants are readily found in places like San Juan serving traditional cuisine with a twist.
While the abundance of food trucks keeps the authentic flavors of Puerto Rico alive. The medley of flavors and creativity sets the cuisine apart and delights the tastebuds.
From the national dish Arroz Con Gandules to scrumptious homegrown deserts, you’ll wake up each morning wanting to try something new.
On the fence about traveling to Puerto Rico? Read our guide to why you should visit.
Table of Contents
Similar to Mexican Empanadas, Empanadillas are savory pastries and one of the best dishes to try in Puerto Rico. Beginning with a simple pastry base, the dish is then stuffed with seasoned meat (you can also use seafood or vegetables). You then fold it into half-moons and fry them in oil until golden brown.
Thinly chopped vegetables, garlic, and oregano are sometimes added for additional flavor. Once fried, Empanadillas tend to have a thicker crust than the Mexican dish.
Puerto Rican restaurants can sometimes switch out beef with seafood. Here is a great recipe if you want to make them at home.
A staple of Puerto Rican cuisine, Aranitas comprises shredded, then fried, plantains. The word Aranitas arises from the Spanish word for ‘little spiders’. Indeed, this tasty savory dish looks like a mash of tiny critters.
But what it may lack in aesthetic appeal, Aranitas makes up for it with a crispy flavor. The ease of creation also allows those at home to bring a taste of Puerto Rico into their kitchens.
Alongside your hot and crunchy Puerto Rican dish, add a dip such as guacamole. Many restaurants around the territory will place a delightful garlic-infused sauce to complement the shredded plantains.
Sold at cuchifritos, aka traditional Puerto Rican restaurants that specialize in deep-fried foods, Alcapurrias is made with plantains and yucca and is made in a similar fashion to pasteles.
You combine shredded green banana with yautia(taro root) then season it with salt and achiote oil. This makes the “mesa” or batter. You then grab a banana leaf, or parchment paper if you don’t have one handy, place a bit of the mesa onto it, and spread it out a bit. Then add your seasoned beef, fold it all together and then fry it.
The end result is a dish similar to an American corn dog, but Puerto Ricans have made a fantastic improvement.
As one of the most iconic Puerto Rican dishes, Pernil comfortably belongs on our list. Pernil is a roast pork shoulder that is soaked in a traditional marinaded named adobo mojado.
The result is a succulent meal and a must-try on your travels around the country. The delicious marinade comprises spices that are common throughout Caribbean cuisine. These are garlic, oregano, vinegar, paprika, and salt.
While the traditional Spanish Pernil uses ham, the Puerto Rican version became popular due to access and being the cheaper option. But locals will tell you it’s the tastier choice and has since become a staple at weddings and festivals. For the full experience, don’t skip that crunchy pork skin.
Puerto Rican foods that make for the perfect lunch meal include the scrumptious Tripleta sandwich. This hearty meal is a meat-lovers dream comprising a generous serving of three different types of meat.
The trio of meats used in the aptly named Tripleta is ham, grilled steak, and Lechon pork. Lechon pork is a controversial ingredient in Puerto Rican Cuisine. The pork is derived from the roasting of a suckling pig.
The combination of meats is then combined with a variety of toppings, including mayonnaise, ketchup, plus cheese. Vegetables are also added such as diced cabbage, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.
But to complete the dish, fries are stuffed into the sandwich, giving the hearty meal an extra crunch.
A popular Puerto Rican dish that can also be found in Cuba ( and the Dominican Republic, is Mofongo. Derived from unripe green plantains, the end result is a common vegetarian dish, although you’ll find meat filling options around Puerto Rico.
Mofongo may be the Puerto Rican version, however, the dish has strong roots in Western Africa. The dish was then brought to Latin America by slaves.
At first, the plantains are sliced, boiled, then fried, and then mashed into a soft texture from which it can absorb the additional spices or extra toppings like chicken, lobster, bacon, or prawn. Mofongo is usually served as a main meal, with the addition of chopped vegetables. But for extra flavor, add a warm broth to the plantains. The starchiness of the dish is perfect for soaking it up!
In some ways similar to a traditional Italian Lasagna, Pastelon is a delicious Puerto Rican food that is also popular in Dominican cuisine. The main ingredient for Pastelon is mashed or sliced ripe plantains.
The plantains act as the layer that splits the mincemeat into separate levels. The added meat is first mixed in with tomato sauce. A sauce that changes slightly wherever you’re in Old San Juan or Bayamon. Common additions to the meat, tomato sauce, and plantains are green beans and shredded cheese.
If you’re traveling around Puerto Rico, then you may notice that the name of the dish changes depending on the region. If you can’t find Pastelon on the menu, then keep an eye out for Pinon.
Check out our guide to the top ten things to do in the Caribbean.
Similar to Tostones (found below) Amarillos are instead the sweet version of one of the best Puerto Rican dishes. Such is the ease of making this side dish that Amarillos are one of the best ways to recreate Puerto Rican cuisine at home.
To begin, find as many ripe plantains (ones that have yellowed or are almost black) as your heart desires. The darker the plantain the sweeter the taste. Once you have peeled the plantains, slice them up into thin pieces before frying them quickly and only once.
Although Amarillos are sweet, common additions include sprinkled sugar (white or brown) or salt to create a fun balance of flavors. If you’re eating out in Puerto Rico, then Amarillos are a common side dish for your main meal.
Fried plantains have culinary flexibility matched by few other ingredients around the world. This is on full display in our next Puerto Rican food. Pionono is made of ripe fried plantains that are transformed into small cups.
From there, picadillo (ground beef) is added along with some thinly chopped onions, chilis, and coriander. Once the fillings are in place, egg wash coats the Pionono before shredded cheese is sprinkled over the top.
The dish is then placed in the oven for a short while before coming out as something akin to a fluffy bakery dish. Some might say it is Puerto Rico’s answer to the meat pie.
Check out this Pionono recipe if you want o make it at home.
Puerto Rican cooking combines many types of influences and ideas. This is certainly the case with Asopao, which is a mix between a stew and a soup. The dish is always made with white rice, but the added ingredients can change depending on where you go.
Some additions to the rice dish are seafood, pork, or beef. However, the most popular meat choice is chicken, creating the readily found Asopao de Pollo. Both vegetarian and meat options will feature pigeon peas along with spices and olives, tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
Asopao is simple and filling making the delicious food a common choice for dinner in Puerto Rican households.
Arroz Con Gandules
If you’re in tune with popular Puerto Rican dishes, then you may have been wondering when Arroz Con Gandules was going to show up in our guide. Well, better late than never, the national dish of Puerto Rico is a traditional meal that has been cooked in the territory for centuries.
The one-pot rice dish comprises pigeon peas and Sofrito, with every household in Puerto Rico having its own twist. Sofrito is a flavor that is found in a lot of Puerto Rican food. The flavor is made up of coriander, garlic, onions, and green peppers.
The traditional version of Arroz Con Gandules is a vegetarian meal. However, sausages and pork are common additions. While bacon is sometimes cooked with the Sofrito, to create a smoky flavor.
Rellenos de Papa
Whether you’re eating out in Puerto Rico at a restaurant, or wandering by food trucks or cuchifritos, you’ll likely stumble across Rellenos de Papa. One of the most popular Puerto Rican dishes, the potato-based treat, is a common mid-afternoon snack.
Rellenos de Papa comprises mashed potato balls that are filled with ground beef before being deep-fried. The meat filling is called Picadillo and is similar to the filling used in Pastelon. The beef is pan-fried alongside adobo seasoning, Sofrito, olives, garlic, and tomato sauce.
The end result is a crispy ball that is like a savory croquette.
Arroz con Dulce
A popular dessert dish in Puerto Rican cuisine, Arroz Con Dulce, is a coconut rice pudding that is a delightful exclamation point for your evening meal. Made from cooking white rice in coconut milk along with cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, you’ll be surprised with how sweet cooked rice can taste.
Before being served, Arroz Con Dulce is garnished with raisins plus cinnamon sticks. Although a common dish at restaurants year-round, creamy coconut pudding is a popular choice during the holiday season.
Excited to explore the Caribbean? Read our guide to the best Caribbean Islands.
Plantains are the base for many Puerto Rican dishes. So it’s only natural that one of the most famous dishes in Puerto Rico uses them. Similar to Mofongo, Tostones make use of unripe fried green plantains.
The hard green plantains are sliced into pieces before being fried on each side. The plantains are then taken off the pan before being further flattened. They’re then deep-fried once more until golden.
Once cooked, the Tostones are topped with sea salt. They are common side dishes around Puerto Rican restaurants and make for a perfect addition to your meal at home. Dip them in garlic sauce to round out the traditional treat.
When you’re traveling through the stunning island territory of Puerto Rico, you’ll be spending a lot of time relaxing by the Caribbean Sea. As the sparkling white sands dance between your toes, you won’t have to go far for a quick snack.
Bacalaitos are small cod fritters that are readily found at beach kiosks around Puerto Rico. The codfish (I like to use salted Pollock Chunks) is coated in a batter then deep-fried in oil, providing a crispy exterior with delightfully chewy and soft insides.
The popular beachside treat can also be found in other settings. Street vendors also serve up bacalaitos, while all festivals will have their own version of the fritter.
Common throughout Latin America, Bistec Encebollado is also readily found around Puerto Rico. The rice and meat dish is bursting with flavor and is a must-try as an evening meal.
The main part of Bistec Encebollado is the beef, which is first marinated in adobo seasoning. The marinating process isn’t a short one either. Tradition recipes call for the beef to sit in the seasoning for up to 12 hours!
So start preparing in the morning and at night you’ll have a scrumptious meat dish to enjoy. Complementing the beef are large onion rings with a topping of onion sauce. Round out the hearty meal with a side of white rice, pigeon peas, and some Tostones.
What to Know about Traditional Puerto Rican Cuisine
If it wasn’t already obvious, Puerto Rican foods are delicious. The local cuisine has been influenced by many parts of the world, including Spanish, Taino, and African cuisine.
The flavors pop and you may recognize many of them if you’ve traveled through Spain, Africa, and to other regions of the Caribbean.
However, Puerto Rico features plenty of homegrown inspiration, especially in their seasonings. In order to experience the best dishes on this list while exploring Puerto Rico, here’s what you need to know about the local cuisine.
Food is an enormous part of the culture in Puerto Rico. Eating is as much a social experience as it is a culinary one. For this reason, you’ll discover an array of different dining choices when traveling through the country.
From your upscale tourist restaurants that cater to an international crowd, to the down-home, simple establishments that continue the local food traditions.
In order to experience the best that Puerto Rico has to offer, you will need to venture beyond the resort to cuchifritos and the many food trucks around the island.
Not only will you save a dollar or two, but the food will be authentic and downright delicious. They are the best places to go for Empanadillas, Alcapurrias, and Bacalaitos. You’ll discover many food trucks, especially within San Juan and Aguadilla.
Cafes and restaurants around Puerto Rico cover all budgets and tastes. From simple joints to expansive restaurants with oceanside views. If you’re all about eating local, ask around or see what places are filling up around lunchtime.
Having one of the best cuisines in the Caribbean, it’s only appropriate that the flavors extend to breakfast. Puerto Rican breakfast combines traditional treats with native fruits. Plus, they make a great morning coffee.
Common breakfast eats include Pan de Mallorca. This is a sweet bread pastry topped with a light sprinkling of sugar. Pan de Mallorca is somewhat of a cross between a donut and a pretzel.
Speaking of pastries, another popular choice to begin the day is with a Questio. The small pastry item combines perfectly with a Cafe Con Leche (coffee with milk). The simple pastry is filled with cream cheese and topped with sugar.
For a warm breakfast, you can’t go past the local Cremas. The Puerto Rican version of Porridge, Cremas comes in different flavors, such as corn, rice, or wheat. By itself it can be bland, so add some native fruits or ground cinnamon.
Vegetarian Puerto Rican Food
Puerto Rican cuisine is very meat-based. Popular vegetarian dishes such as Mofongo and Empanadillas regularly use a meat filling. This can create an extra layer of communication at restaurants, especially at food trucks or simple establishments.
However, after crossing that hurdle, you will find a cuisine that combines the flexibility of plantains with immense flavors plus a variety of veggies.
Arroz Con Gandules and Arroz Con Habichuelas are two popular vegetarian dishes that can be ordered as a main course.
Additionally, for those playing along at home, traditional Puerto Rican recipes can easily be switched up to be vegetarian or even vegan.
Eating around Puerto Rico is a treat and provides travelers with the best culinary experience in the region. A proper appetite will be needed to tick off the full breadth of options on the list. Thankfully, many local dishes are easy to make at home.
But it isn’t just the traditional cuisine that puts a smile on the faces of those that visit. The restaurant scene in Puerto Rico is innovative, finding new ways to thrill while maintaining authenticity.
From the basic fritters and plantain-based dishes to Asopao and the sweet Arroz Con Dulce, the food here promises to be as memorable as the beaches.
Ready to explore more Caribbean Cuisine? Read our guide to Cuban food.