All the best food and drink to put in your belly during a trip to Puerto Rico.
Much of Puerto Rican cuisine may be similar to that of its Latin American neighbors, but the Boricua manage to put their own unique spin on everything. If you’re on a diet, you need to put it on pause for your trip to Puerto Rico. The fare here is anything but light (i.e. almost everything is fried), but it is so delicious! In the likely event that you’re drooling by the end of this piece, it may be time to open up Google Flights, whip out that credit card, and #TreatYoSelf.
While the national dish of Puerto Rico is officially arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), most locals will tell you mofongo is the standout dish of the Island of Enchantment. Plantains are fried and then mashed together with garlic, oil, and salt, then stuffed, usually with chicken or shrimp.
The tripleta is sometimes referred to as the Puerto Rican version of a Cubano sandwich. Each tripleta will vary from the next, but they are generally made with a combination of three grilled meats served on a slightly sweet bread and topped with papitas (small and thin crispy fries).
Relleno de Papa
A popular street food snack, “stuffed potatoes” are fried balls of mashed potatoes filled with ground beef at their center. Rellenos de papa are easy to find, especially at roadside food stalls known as kioskos. One of the best places for rellenos de papa is at the Kioskos en Piñones in Loiza.
Lechon Asado is a well-seasoned pig that is slow-roasted on a spit for six to eight hours. The meat is flavorful and moist, and is a favorite among Puerto Ricans. The best place to find this fan favorite is at a lechonera, a roadside restaurant specializing in lechon asado.
Empanadas, or empanadillas, are another go-to snack in Puerto Rico. These half-moon shaped flaky pastries are stuffed and then fried. The filling is traditionally chicken or ground beef, but it’s also possible to find them stuffed with shrimp or crab.
Typically, arepas are made of corn flour and are toasted or grilled on a stove top. Puerto Rican arepas, however, are made with wheat flour and are then fried. Arepas in Puerto Rico are a specialty of the Fajardo coastal region and are stuffed with seafood like shrimp or octopus. You can also find sweetened arepas, which have had coconut milk added to the flour mixture.
Quesitos, or “little cheeses,” are long sticks of puff pastry filled with sweetened cream cheese and are a breakfast favorite. They are usually topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, or with a thin, sweet glaze. A popular variation of the quesito includes guava along with the cream cheese filling.
Mallorca is a sweet, soft, egg-based bread. Based on a type of bread originally from the Spanish island of Majorca, the Puerto Rican version has been (once again) adapted in a uniquely Puerto Rican style. As with quesitos, mallorcas can be found in any local bakeries and are often enjoyed with a cup of coffee.
Sancocho is found throughout numerous parts of Latin America. In Puerto Rico, the ingredients for this hearty stew are usually beef, chunks of corn on the cob, and a mix of root vegetables, including potatoes, carrots, plantains, and yuca. A key ingredient is sofrito, a puree of peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and other varying ingredients, which is used as the base in many Puerto Rican dishes.
Similar to tamales, pasteles are made by enclosing adobo pork in green banana masa, and then wrapping that in banana leaves. While tamales are traditionally steamed, Puerto Rican pasteles are boiled.
While flan is another favorite throughout Latin America, it’s the most iconic dessert of Puerto Rico. This creamy, custard-based dessert comes in a number of flavors, including caramel, cheese flan made with cream cheese, and coconut flan made with coconut milk.
The coffee in Puerto Rico is rich, bold, and flavorful. Coffee was Puerto Rico’s largest export once upon a time, and while that’s no longer the case, the island’s coffee retains its top-notch quality. Coffee is typically served in one of three ways: pocillo, the local term for an espresso; cortadito, an espresso with steamed milk; or café con leche, a large cup of coffee and milk similar to a latté.
Found throughout the Caribbean islands, mavi is a drink made from the fermented bark of the Mauby tree. The tree bark is boiled together with ginger and cinnamon, mixed with sugar, and then left to ferment for several hours. Mavi is often compared to root beer and is a specialty of Puerto Rico’s southern region.
While much of Puerto Rican cuisine is largely shared with its neighbors, coquito is a signature item of Puerto Rico. Translated to “little coconut,” coquito is similar to eggnog, and it is traditionally made and served at Christmas time. Coquito is made with coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and rum—aka Christmas in a cup! This is definitely a seasonal, homemade treat, but you can find local restaurants during the holidays.
As its name suggests, Malta is a malt beverage, a lightly carbonated soft drink made from hops, barley, and water. Malta, however, is nonalcoholic. High in vitamin B, malt-based beverages are said to metabolize carbs and fat into energy while helping to regulate appetite. There might still be hope for our fried food–filled bellies!