Puerto Rico is a beautiful territory of the United States, which is a hugely popular travel destination. It is often referred to as “La Isla del Encanto”, which translates to The Island of Enchantment, and Puerto Rico is indeed enchanting in many aspects, one of them being its food.
Puerto Rico has a rich mixture that combines its American influence with the native culture and history, resulting in some delicious food dishes that all tourists fall in love with. If you want to learn about the 24 top Puerto Rican dishes, stick around and keep reading!
Food in Puerto Rico
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Before we dive right into the 24 top Puerto Rican dishes, it’s worth mentioning a few more facts about the food there in general.
As an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico is known for its rich flavors and colorful dishes, thanks to the seasoning that makes the food extra savory. The food in Puerto Rico is also a mixture of three main different cultures: The African, the Spanish, and the Taíno.
African and Spanish you will probably know of, but as for the Taíno, they were the native people that Christopher Columbus first met on the island, when he arrived. Their diet consisted mainly of fruit, vegetables, and fish.
Top 24 Puerto Rican Dishes
Whether you’re planning on going to Puerto Rico, are going to have some food at a Puerto Rican restaurant, or you’re simply trying to find out more so you can experiment with some Puerto Rican cooking...you’re going to need a list of the most typical and common dishes from the island.
We’ve put together a list of the top 24 most popular and beloved dishes from Puerto Rico, but there are many more if you want to keep researching! And to make things a little easier, we’ve divided them up into groups depending on what kind of dishes they are.
Let’s get right into it!
It might be the American influence, as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, but there are plenty of deep-fried dishes on this island, all of them delicious.
These deep-fried foods are most often cooked over an open wood fire, and they are most popularly served by the sea-side, in beach kiosks or restaurants. In fact, many tourists notice that upon arriving in Puerto Rico, it is not the sea you smell, but the frying of food!
Here are some of the most well-known deep-fried Puerto Rican dishes:
Alcapurrias are made from green plantains, and some added taro root, known as yautia. The dough is then filled with stewed crab meat, or alternatively with things such as chicken, beef, or seafood. Then, for the final touch, it is deep-fried in oil over an open wood fire, until it has the distinctive golden brown color.
Bacalaitos are basically just cod fritters, and they are most often found being served in cultural festivals, at roadside food establishments, and at beach kiosks during the summer months. They are deep-fried in oil, which gives them a delicious crispy coating and leaves the center soft and chewy.
Plantain is an ingredient used in many Puerto Rican dishes, and it is an ingredient we will mention in most of the dishes within this list of top 24.
But what is a plantain? Well, plantains are essentially a type of banana, also often referred to as a cooking banana. They are green bananas that would not be nice to eat raw as a fruit, so instead, they are completely used for cooking, and Puerto Rico uses them in many of their signature dishes!
Here are some of the most popular plantain dishes in Puerto Rico:
Amarillos are the sweet version of Tostones (which we will explain further on down). They are made out of ripe plantain that has turned yellow, hence the name “amarillos” which translates into yellows. The plantain used is peeled and sliced, then fried in oil to make it crispy and golden.
Remember how we mentioned that Puerto Rican food is a mixture of three different major cultures? Well, Guanimes con Bacalao relies heavily on one of them: the Taíno. (The native people of the island).
This dish is made with cornflour and coconut milk, which are mixed to form a dough. The dough is then molded over a plantain leaf and boiled. Stewed cod is then added on top, and it’s a simple yet delicious result!
This is a dish most often served on the side of other food, so it’s usually an addition to other bigger dishes. It is essentially green bananas that have been boiled and then marinated in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, olives, and sautéed onions.
Mofongo is a hugely popular Puerto Rican dish, often served as the centerpiece of a table. It consists of green plantains that are fried in oil, and then mashed and seasoned, with some olive oil and garlic. It is then served with some sort of meat, usually chicken. Although it can also be served with seafood, such as shrimp!
It sometimes also comes with a side dish of rice, and it can be found anywhere on the island as it is extremely well-loved and favored by many tourists.
Pastelón looks very similar to lasagna, and that’s because it is, in a way, the Puerto Rican version of what we would call lasagna. It is made from ripe plantain that has been fried, and layers of ground beef, making it a delicious dish that is both savory and sweet.
Pionono is made from ripe plantain, which is peeled and sliced, then fried. Then it is rolled and turned into a little bowl so that it can be filled with meat. Then it is covered with egg wash and cheese and is baked into the oven. So basically, it’s a meat pie, Puerto Rican style!
Tostones are a super easy dish to make, and all you need is some green plantain. This plantain should be peeled and sliced into small pieces, to then be fried in oil. (Sometimes, they leave them to soak in salt water before frying, for some extra flavor.)
Next, they are squashed with a tostonera, used to make tostones, and are fried again. The result is a golden and crispy dish, best eaten with sauce and topped with other foods.
Rice is popular all over the world, but in Puerto Rico, it is used in many of their different dishes and has therefore become a signature ingredient within the island. Rice can be accompanied by many different ingredients and can be served in many different ways, and Puerto Ricans make the most of this!
Here are some of the best Puerto Rican rice dishes:
This is one of the best-known dishes from Puerto Rico, as it is simple, not too exotic, and is perfect for any meal. It is essentially just white rice, served with beans and meat, all mixed together with some sauce. The meat can vary according to preference, but it is most commonly either fried pork chops or beef.
If you love rice, but you also love dessert, Puerto Rico has this delicious rice dessert dish that is ideal for those with a sweet tooth.
It is essentially a rice pudding with a coconut base, and it is often served with some cinnamon powder on top, or similar. It is served all year round but is especially popular during holiday seasons when more importance is given to dessert dishes.
Arroz con Gandules is a Puerto Rican dish most often served at family gatherings, as it makes for a great side addition to other types of foods, and acts as a sort of filler so that nobody leaves hungry. It is simply rice, served with pigeon peas and seasoned with Puerto Rican sofrito.
It is also traditionally eaten during Thanksgiving, and during Christmas, as they are two holidays in which family gatherings are traditional.
This dish is made out of white rice, and red kidney beans. Only a key ingredient is then added to the mixture: sofrito. The sofrito is a paste mixture that is hugely common in Puerto Rican cuisine, made out of peppers, onions, garlic, culantro, and cilantro. This gives the dish an extra savory taste, and is what makes it so good!
It is also very common to add some diced ham into the mixture, and it is often served alongside other foods.
Soups are often known as a dish for wintertime, or for when you’re feeling under the weather and need a pick me up. But in Puerto Rico, soups are also the perfect food medium for experimenting with flavor.
Here are some of the most popular Puerto Rican soups:
Asopao de Camarones is a delicious seafood soup, and the main ingredient is shrimp.
To add to the flavor, the soup also includes the typical Puerto Rican sofrito, along with rice, tomato sauce, garlic, peppers, and any other small vegetables desired. It is often served with some avocado on the side, and although it looks light, it is incredibly filling!
This soup is mainly defined by having pigeon peas, but different types of plantain can be added, along with different vegetables and seasoning, to give it as much flavor as possible. It is basically a Puerto Rican stew, and it is often served with a side of sliced avocado.
Pastries and desserts are a must when you visit Puerto Rico. And here are some of the most popular and well-beloved:
Brazo Gitano is a pastry or cake dish also highly popular in Spain, which is no surprise as both places have a linked history and cuisine. The name itself translates as “Gypsy Arm”, and it is essentially a sponge cake that has been rolled into a cylindrical shape.
The Puerto Rican version has a filling of guava jelly and is sprinkled with sugar before serving. It is a delicious dessert, which is commonly served during the holiday seasonings or during important festivities.
Mallorca is a beautiful island off the coast of Spain, known for being a sunny tourist destination, right next to Ibiza. But Mallorcas, on the other hand, are a type of Puerto Rican sweet roll that are often served for dessert, with a sprinkle of sugar on top. They can be found at almost every bakery, and there are many variations.
They are also often served as a sandwich, with the roll being cut in half and stuffed with ham, cheese, and scrambled eggs.
Pastelillos de Guayaba are also commonly known and referred to as Guava Turnovers. They are made with filo pastry that is filled with guava paste and then served with sprinkled sugar on top. They are very sweet, and they make for a delicious dessert or snack.
Although Puerto Rico is an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, it also has some European influence within its cuisine, and the Quesitos are a great example of this.
It’s a puff pastry dessert, filled with cream cheese and with a coating of sweet honey. It is often served with some coffee with milk, and it is ideal as a light dessert or as an afternoon coffee snack.
Puerto Rico has a strong history and culture known for valuing family and family gatherings. So it is no wonder that Christmas is so well-regarded, as it is the perfect holiday for having the family come together.
Here are some of the most popular Puerto Rican Christmas dishes:
A coquito is like a traditional Christmas eggnog, but with a kick of Puerto Rican flavor and cuisine to mix it up a little. It has a rum base and some coconut cream.
However, there are plenty of coquito variations in which it has Nutella, pistachio, or other things to play with the flavor. It should be served cold, and it is the perfect drink to put you into a Christmas mood.
Once again, this is a Puerto Rican dish closely linked to Spanish cuisine, and it is most commonly served during the Christmas holiday season, although it can also be eaten throughout the rest of the year if you’re feeling special. It is basically a pork casing, filled with pig’s blood, cooked rice, garlic, and many different species for flavoring.
It is usually served atop a piece of bread, although it can also be put into soups and stews.
Pasteles translates to “cakes”, which is confusing because this dish is not a cake in the slightest. Instead, Puerto Rican pasteles are made with green plantain and yuca, which are then filled with chicken or other meats, and served with a side dish of rice or similar.
So they are like little wrapped presents of green plantain and meat! They’re incredibly delicious and are almost always served during the Christmas holiday season.
Pernil Asado is a dish traditionally served during the Christmas meal, but it can also be served throughout the rest of the year, to mark any sort of special occasion.
It is a delicious dish of slow-cooked pork, seasoned to combine all of the Puerto Rican flavors, and left in the oven until it is completely crispy. It is then often served with a side dish of vegetables or can be paired with a sauce depending on preference.
Tembleque is also commonly referred to as the Tembleque de Coco, and it is essentially a coconut milk-based pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon.
It is rich in both texture and flavor and is most commonly served as a dessert during the Christmas holiday season. “Tembleque” translates into “jiggly”, which is pretty fitting because this pudding is very jiggly if you move the table!
Tres Leche translates into “Three Milks”, which is pretty apt because this dessert is a sponge cake made out of three different types of milk, hence the name!
It uses evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and full-fat milk, resulting in a moist and light cake that is then served with a topping of whipped cream. Sometimes even a cherry on top, and a lot of sprinkled sugar.