Planning a trip to the island of Puerto Rico anytime soon? Well, you should at least have an idea about each famous dish in Puerto Rico. This way, you won’t be confused when you see the menu, and you will have an idea of what to order.
Explore Puerto Rico through the attractions, the people, and of course, through your stomach. There are tons of meals to try, from appetizers through to desserts.
You may find yourself salivating while we discuss each famous dish, but try to control yourself! You’ll have enough time to enjoy them all on your trip.
What is Puerto Rican Cuisine?
Puerto Rico lies in one of the most diverse regions of the world, with multiple influences: the Caribbean. Here, the cuisine is heavily influenced by Spanish culinary styles, with a unique blend of African, Taino, Mexican, and American cooking practices.
The original inhabitants of the island, the Taino people, had a diet rich in starches such as yuca (cassava) and maize (corn); fruits and vegetables such as avocados, soursops, pineapples, guavas, and pumpkin; along with spices and peppers such as allspice and annatto peppers.
When the Spaniards came, they brought with them olives, wheat, garlic, onions along with meats such as beef, pork, and lamb.
Africans introduced the deep-frying method of cooking, along with yams, okra, pigeon peas and a variety of other root vegetables present in modern Puerto Rican meals.
Trade and immigration from the Dutch, Chinese, Americans, Italians, French, Mexicans, and other Caribbean territories introduced other staples in Puerto Rican cuisine such as cocoa, breadfruit, tomatoes, bacon, and bell peppers.
Today, this exchange of culinary styles, foods, and culture makes up what we know as Puerto Rican cuisine.
The Most Famous Dishes In Puerto Rico To Try
Are you ready for a sneak peek at what Puerto Rico’s cuisine has to offer? How many of these dishes do you think you’ll be able to try?
Famous Puerto Rican Appetizers
1. Bacalaitos (Fried Codfish Fritters)
Bacalaitos are the Puerto Rican version of fried codfish fritters. The name actually comes from the Spanish word ‘bacalao’, which translates to salt cod in English. Codfish fritters are popular throughout the Caribbean, but bacalaitos is a famous dish in Puerto Rico with a unique touch. It’s made of simple ingredients, namely codfish, flour, and a variety of local seasonings and spices such as adobo, a Puerto-Rican favorite. Bacalaitos can be enjoyed by themselves or dipped in various sauces for an extra kick. They also pair well with other Puerto Rican stews and soups.
2. Tostones (Fried Green Plantains)
If you know a bit of Spanish, you would realize that the word tostones comes from the Spanish verb for toast, ‘tostar’. Some Puerto Ricans prepare them as thin slices, while others like them thick, but they are simply fried green plantains. Tostones make a perfect appetizer when sprinkled with salt and dipped in a mixture of mayo, garlic, herbs and ketchup, but they also make a great side dish.
3. Chicharrones de Pollo (Bite-sized Pieces of Chicken)
Are you a picky eater, or plan to bring kids on your trip? While you may not be able to stomach some of the spicier meals, chicharrones de pollo is a famous dish in Puerto Rico that you may be able to tolerate better. Chicharrones de pollo is made of small, bite-sized pieces of chicken marinated in local seasonings and cumin, oregano, and garlic then deep fried and served as street food or an appetizer. Note that traditional chicharrones de pollo contains bones, so be careful.
4. Empanadillas (Meat-filled Pies)
Empanadas are already popular in places such as the Philippines, Spain, and Latin America, and are deep-fried or baked beef, chicken or cheese patties, or meat-filled pies. Empanadillas are smaller versions of empanadas, with thicker crusts, and the name comes from the Spanish word ‘empanar’, which means ‘covered in breadcrumbs’. You can get a vegetable-filled option if you’re vegan/vegetarian.
Famous Main Courses in Puerto Rico
5. Pollo Guisado (Chicken Stew )
If you’re not a fan of pork, here’s a famous dish in Puerto Rico that’s made of chicken and won’t make you feel like you’re missing out on anything! You can find other versions of this dish throughout the Caribbean, such as in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Central and Southern America. Like many flavorful Puerto Rican dishes, pollo guisado starts with a sofrito base and is seasoned with adobo, cilantro, garlic, oregano and other local seasonings. This chicken stew may or may not contain vegetables, depending on the particular cooking style, but either way, you are sure to be delighted.
6. Tripleta (Chicken, Pork, and Ham Sandwich)
Tripleta is one of the most popular street foods in Puerto Rico and can be enjoyed as lunch or as a hangover meal after a wild night out on the town. It’s called tripleta because it’s made with three different types of meat, namely chicken, pork, and ham, and also features other ingredients like onions, tomatoes, swiss cheese, lettuce, cabbage, potato stick, plus mayonnaise and ketchup. When grilled, the bread has just the right amount of crunch to add texture to your loaded sandwich, and fill your stomach to the brim! It’s usually big enough for two, so don’t be too greedy to share!
7. Lechon Asado (Barbequed Pork Cooked over a Wood Fire)
Lechon asado is arguably the most famous dish in Puerto Rico during the holidays. Its recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and have been perfected to become the barbequed dish we see today. Originally a Taino dish cooked for festivities, lechon asado is pork traditionally seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and other seasonings before being basted with a special sour orange juice mix and slow cooked over a wood fire. When lechon asado is being made, the aroma fills the air for roughly 8 hours before it is served over green plantains with a rich sauce, pigeon pea rice, or mofongo.
8. Sancocho (Beef, Vegetables Stew)
Sancocho is a hearty stew, popular in Latin America and Puerto Rico that originated in the Spanish Canary Islands. It’s the ultimate comfort food made primarily of beef, vegetables (especially pumpkin), cumin, ginger, chili peppers, yuca, and plantains. Some versions of sancocho also include meats such as chicken and pork, but regardless, they are all slow cooked before being served with a side of plantains, bread, or plain white rice.
9. Morcilla (Blood Sausage / Pudding )
Morcilla is Puerto Rico’s version of the blood sausage/pudding that can be identified in various cultures around the world. Inside the pork intestine casing of morcilla, you can expect to taste rice or noodles combined with fat, onions, and roasted pig’s blood. It is then fried in Spanish olive oil and eaten, or hung to cure.
10. Pernil (Roast Pork)
Pernil is another famous dish in Puerto Rico which is based around roast pork. While you might not be able to get this delicacy year-round, if you stick around for the holidays and festivals, you can get a plate of this tender pork alongside some mofongo or arroz con gandules. Seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and oregano, this shoulder-cut or leg-cut of pork usually comes with the bone, but you can get it in the form of a sandwich with your choice of condiments.
11. Pastelón (Lasagne)
Puerto Rico’s cuisine has also been influenced by Italian migrants. Pastelón is the Puerto Rican version of an Italian classic: lasagne. Unlike Italian lasagna, which uses pasta and Bolognese sauce, Puerto Ricans add island flair by substituting the pasta sheets for thin/thick cuts of plantain and for the sauce, they use ground beef seasoned with sofrito, cumin, and oregano. It is then combined with tomato sauce and olives, incorporating cheese between layers before it is baked and served with your pick of a side dish.
Popular Side Dishes in Puerto Rico
12. Mofongo (Mash Green Plantains)
Anywhere you go in Puerto Rico, you’re sure to find mofongo either being served by itself, or as a side dish. It will remind you of loaded mash potatoes, but instead of potatoes, Puerto Ricans use plantains. Green plantains are fried, then mashed with seasonings such as garlic and salt then combined with your choice of fried pork skin, shrimp, beef, chicken or vegetables. This famous dish in Puerto Rico may be served as a mound or hollowed to the shape of a bowl and loaded with just about anything that complements its flavor.
13. Plátanos Maduros (Fried Ripe Plantains)
If you’re a fan of ripe plantains, then you’ll definitely love plátanos maduros. Their taste is similar to caramelized bananas. Plátanos maduros, or ‘fried ripe plantains’ in English, can be enjoyed on their own, but usually they are a side dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are perfect for kids who may not like the bitter or salty taste of green plantains.
14. Habichuelas Guisada (Baked Beans / Stewed Red Beans)
Puerto Ricans love incorporating beans in their meals and have mastered various preparation styles. Habichuelas guisada is their version of baked beans or stewed red beans, but they’re unique in that they are seasoned with local seasonings, and every household has its preferred way to make this famous dish in Puerto Rico.
15. Yuca Frita (Fried Cassava)
Yuca frita is made from a starchy vegetable native to Puerto Rico called cassava, but it’s also popular in other parts of the Caribbean, Central America and Africa. It vaguely resembles a sweet potato, but the exterior is a dark brown color and the flavor is quite different. ‘Frita’ means fried, and that’s exactly how it’s enjoyed. This fried cassava side dish is often served with a garlic mojo sauce and sliced like large french fries.
Pasta / Rice / Noodles
16. Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pork and Sofrito)
You can’t convince anyone you’ve had an authentic Puerto Rican experience if you’ve never tried arroz con gandules at least once. It is rightfully the national dish of Puerto Rico and is the first dish many Puerto Ricans master. This takes plain boring rice and transforms it into a flavorful blend thanks to the sofrito (peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes) as its base. In addition to the sofrito, the dish combines rice, pigeon peas, olives, and pork. Arroz con gandules is most appreciated during the Christmas holidays and special occasions, but you can find this famous dish in Puerto Rico in many restaurants year-round.
17. Mamposteao (Slow-cooked Rice with Green Peppers, Cilantro and Beans)
Mamposteao is another rice dish unique to Puerto Rico that transforms a sometimes- boring staple into something immaculate. It is a slow-cooked rice dish available all over the island. As you take your first bite, you can expect to experience tastes of green peppers, cilantro, olive oil, onions and beans dancing on your tongue. Take notice, meat lovers! Some mamposteao dishes also feature ham and bacon.
18. Asopao (Stew with Chicken and Rice)
Asopao is a one-pot meal in Puerto Rico. Sometimes called asopao de gallo, this famous dish in Puerto Rico can be considered as in between a soup and a stew. It starts with pieces of chicken, which are simmered into a stock, in which the rice is allowed to cook, and which is combined with delicious sofrito seasoning, vegetables, tomato sauce, and other local seasonings. Asopao is served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, and pairs well with tostones, yuca frita and other delicious sides mentioned previously.
19. Sopa de Fideo (Chicken Noodle Soup )
If you ever feel homesick while in Puerto Rico, this rendition of the classic chicken noodle soup is sure to warm your heart. Sopa de fideo means ‘soup with noodles’ but in reality, it is much more than that. Sopa de fideo is a famous dish in Puerto Rico made from the well-known sofrito base and combined with ingredients such as red peppers, carrots, onions, boneless chicken and thin pasta. This spicy dish is said to have come from Mexico, but the Puerto Ricans have certainly given it their own twist!
Popular Puerto Rican Desserts
20. Arroz con Dulce (Sweet Rice)
By now, you’ve probably noticed that Puerto Ricans are pretty creative with rice. Arroz con dulce is a famous dish in Puerto Rico that may be described as a sweeter version of traditional steamed rice in the form of a pudding. The rice is soaked, then combined with coconut milk, sugar, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon before being twice boiled to infuse all the flavors. Raisins are then added before the water is fully absorbed by the rice. After being refrigerated overnight, cinnamon sticks are added before it is served in slices as a yummy dessert.
21. Tembleque (Coconut Pudding)
Tembleque is another popular Puerto Rican pudding, but instead of rice, this pudding is made from coconut milk, sugar, and cornstarch. It also has a much smoother and lighter texture. The word ‘tembleque’ comes from the word ‘tiembla’, which means ‘to shake’; appropriate given it is a jiggly dessert. It is most popular during the Christmas season and it is sometimes topped with cinnamon for an extra kick.
22. Flan de Queso (Cheesecake with Caramel Notes)
Flan de queso may remind you of another dessert you are familiar with. It is often compared to cheesecake but with notes of caramel. Traditionally, flan is made of cream cheese, eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, condensed milk, vanilla, and topped off with a caramel sauce. Flan may also be topped with Nutella, oranges, or sweet milk. There are other variations of flan in other countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Spain, but the most popular version is Puerto Rico’s flan de queso.
23. Tres Leches (Three Milk Sponge Cake)
‘Tres leches’ in Spanish translates to ‘three milk cake’ in English. It is popular in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, tres leches is a sponge cake that is soaked in three types of milk, namely coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. It is then topped with whipped cream or doused in rum for an island vibe.
Famous Puerto Rican Snacks / Pastries
24. Quesito (Puff-Pastry with Cream Cheese)
When translated to English, ‘quesito’ stands for ‘little cheese’. It is one of the most popular pastries in Puerto Rico and can be found everywhere from restaurants to street carts and trucks. Quesito is made of a puff-pastry casing, which is stuffed with cream cheese, or even guava and bacon. It is then baked or deep-fried, before being brushed with a sugar glaze. Yum!
25. Dulzura Borincana (Seeds and Nuts Snack Brand)
Dulzura borincana is actually a famous packaged candy snack in Puerto Rico. You’ll probably have to head to a candy shop or supermarket to get a taste, but it’s worth it. This snack is made of seeds combined with nuts and/or fruits and combines great taste with great nutritional benefit. You could compare it to popular granola bar brands.
26. Alcapurrias (Yuca or Plantain stuffed with Ground Beef)
Alcapurrias are a type of street food similar to the American corndogs. However, this famous dish in Puerto Rico is made of yuca or plantain and is typically stuffed with ground beef. Alcapurrias may instead be stuffed with seafood such as lobster, shrimp, or crab, or pork/chicken. They may be dipped in sauce, or enjoyed as-is with a pina colada or cold beer!
27. El Pegao (Crunchy Blocks of Rice)
‘Pegao’ refers to the pieces of rice that stick to the bottom of the pot. These crunchy blocks of rice are especially loved by Puerto Rican children and are served with eggs on top or with delicious gravy. They are served in restaurants as a base to stews but are also available in kiosks or street shops.
Famous Drinks in Puerto Rico
28. Piña colada (Cocktail with Rum, Pineapple Juice and Coconut Milk)
Did you know that the Piña Colada was created in Puerto Rico and it became their official drink in 1954? Consisting of pineapple juice, rum, and coconut cream, this shaken or blended drink is the perfect way to cool down after a tour or while sitting on the beach. Piña Coladas are also offered without rum and have creative variations.
29. Coquito (Little Coconut)
Coquito is one of the most famous drinks in Puerto Rico. The word means ‘little coconut’ and is made of coconut milk, coconut cream, vanilla, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, then topped off with a cinnamon stick. It’s sometimes compared to eggnog, but without the eggs, and is most popularly consumed during the holidays.
30. Café con Leche (Café Latte)
Café con leche simply means ‘coffee with milk.’ It’s just as popular as coquito and is enjoyed year-round since Puerto Rico produces its own strong, black coffee in its mountainous interior. Most Puerto Ricans enjoy it in the morning to keep them going throughout the day, and some even add rum and coconut milk to make an iced version of this drink.
Which famous dish in Puerto Rico are you most excited to try? Is it their empanadillas, or maybe alcapurrias? If you’re lucky, you can even try out one of the roast pork dishes, or hearty stews. When you’ve had most of the food items on this list, you’ll never want to leave! Locals may even be willing to show you how you can make any famous Puerto Rican dish once you get back home!