The best local dishes in Puerto Rico have a combination of flavours derived from Africa, Europe, and Latin America over hundreds of years. The Caribbean island is known for its natural landscape of tropical rainforests, mountains, and waterfalls that are overflowing with tasty ingredients. Many Puerto Rican dishes use this fresh, local produce.

    Whether you prefer hearty home-cooked meals, street food or fine dining, you won’t have a problem finding somewhere and something wonderful to eat during your visit to Puerto Rico. Try these must-have dishes to understand why the local cuisine is considered so special.

    1

    Arroz con gandules

    Try this hearty national dish of Puerto Rico with a side of pork

    Arroz con gandules is widely recognised as one of the national dishes of Puerto Rico, often served alongside pernil – roasted pork – at festive times throughout the year. Whether you're celebrating Christmas, New Year's Eve or just attending a big party, there's a high chance you'll come across this tasty combination of rice, pigeon peas and pork.

    With the entire dish rendered in fat, sweet tomato sauce and heavenly spices, arroz con gandules is a much-loved signature meal that basically every Puerto Rican loves.

    2

    Empanadillas

    Munch down a handful of these savoury snacks with hot sauce

    Empanadillas are massively popular savoury snacks in Puerto Rico. The local version differs from common empanadas as the dough is slightly thinner and more orange in appearance due to the spices inside.

    While empanadillas are usually made with beef, it’s possible to find some with seafood and vegetable fillings. No matter where you are on the Caribbean island, you'll find restaurants and street vendors selling empanadillas with hot sauce.

    3

    Bistec encebollado

    Enjoy this slow-cooked steak with fluffy rice and fried plantains

    Bistec encebollado is a cherished dish you can find in every corner of Puerto Rico. It has cube steak marinated in a delectable combination of sofrito, onions and vinegar for around 12 hours, resulting in a succulently tender texture. 

    To complete this traditional feast, bistec encebollado is usually served with fluffy rice, pigeon peas and fried plantains. While there are various types of bistec encebollado found across Latin America, the Puerto Rican version is arguably one of the best.

    4

    Mofongo

    A traditional dish of mashed plantains

    Mofongo is made from fried green plantains that are mashed together with garlic and pork rind. It’s usually shaped into individual balls or a large dome. Mofongo originates in Africa and spread throughout the Caribbean with various culinary iterations. You can enjoy it either as a main dish or a side plate.

    While there are many ways to eat mofongo, it’s typically served with chicken, shrimp or beans and rice. For a traditional dish found across Puerto Rico, you can’t go wrong with mofongo.

    5

    Pastelón

    Puerto Rico’s take on lasagne

    Pastelón is best understood as the Puerto Rican version of lasagne. With the layers alternating between thinly sliced plantains, ground meat and plenty of cheese, it’s a rich dish that usually includes adobo, sazón and recaito seasoning to further elevate the flavours.

    For the most authentic version of this beloved meal, picadillo is used for the meat, which combines sofrito, tomatoes and peppers with ground beef. Pastelón is a popular one-dish meal for family gatherings and events in Puerto Rico.

    6

    Pasteles

    Meat-filled snacks best enjoyed with rice and pork

    Pasteles are common accompaniments to huge plates of arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice) and pernil (roasted pork). Made from masa dough and delicately wrapped in green plantain leaves, it’s best described as a meat pie with pork and adobo stuffing.

    The Puerto Rican version of this dish is boiled and served with pique criollo (pickled hot sauce), cold marinated meats, and other festive favourites. You can usually find pasteles during annual celebrations like Christmas.

    7

    Tripleta

    You won’t find a better sandwich anywhere in Latin America

    Tripleta is a certified street food classic that you can find across Puerto Rico. Definitely one for those who love a hearty sandwich, it’s named after the 3 tasty types of meat inside –grilled steak, lechon pork, and ham.

    This filling combination is complemented by cheese, mixed vegetables, tomato sauce, and mayonnaise, along with a side of fries. No visit to Puerto Rico is complete without trying this hearty sandwich. In fact, these sandwiches are so dense they can be shared between 2 people.

    foto door Paul Lowry (CC BY 2.0) bewerkt

    8

    Asopao de pollo

    A much-loved stew great on gloomy days

    Asopao de pollo is a comforting dish that’s usually enjoyed in winter. A cross between soup and paella, this sumptuous rice-based dish contains a variety of ingredients, including beef, pigeon peas, sausage. However, chicken is arguably the most popular addition to this stew. 

    Asopao de pollo also contains sofrito seasoning, veggies, olives and peppers, with a side of crunchy tostones (fried green plantains). This is a well-rounded dish for lunch or dinner in Puerto Rico.

    foto door RBerteig (CC BY 2.0) bewerkt

    9

    Bacalaitos

    Experience the flavours of the sea with this local deep-fried snack

    Bacalaitos are deep-fried codfish often served as appetisers before the main course appears on the table. These fritters are coated in flour and seasoned with a wealth of local herbs and spices, ensuring the flavours of Puerto Rico shine through even after being deep-fried.

    If you want to sample bacalaitos during your trip to Puerto Rico, seaside communities like Loíza and Luquillo are must-visits. You can also find them at many food stands across the island. 

    foto door stu_spivack (CC BY-SA 2.0) bewerkt

    10

    Pernil

    Find out what makes Puerto Rican meats so special

    Pernil is a Puerto Rican classic that’s typically served for lunches and dinners during the holiday season. This style of slow-cooked roast pork usually involves the animal’s shoulder, rump, or leg, making it incredibly juicy and delicious when prepared properly.

    Although everyone has their favourite seasonings, you’ll find pernil usually coated in sofrito, adobo, citrus hints and garlic. With the meat ideally coming out of the oven crunchy and salty, pernil is best served with arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice) or lots of tostones (fried green plantains).

    Hudson Brown | Schrijver

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