Content by Brik’s Travel Guides:
When visiting our island you must know the top 10 foods you must eat in Puerto Rico. Traveling to another country can be a life changing experience. If you do it right, you get the opportunity to not only see a country’s monuments and attractions, but you also experience their culture and lifestyle. One extremely important aspect of a country’s culture is their food, and this is no exception for Puerto Rico. Our traditional criollo cuisine plays an integral role in every cultural activity and family gathering. Similar to the people of Puerto Rico, our traditional cuisine has a rich history resulting from the blend of our African, Taíno and Spanish ancestor’s traditions resulting in what legendary Spanish Chef Jose Andrés described as one of the most interesting cuisines in the world! With so many delicious food options to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start. But, don’t worry, in this travel guide I’ll show you my picks for the top 10 traditional Puerto Rican foods and precisely where to get them!
Our first stop for authentic Puerto Rican comfort food is the community of Piñones. Piñones stretches from the municipality of Carolina all the way to the municipality of Loiza and is heavily influenced by the traditions of our African ancestors who settled in this area many years ago. Today, their descendants have artfully kept their traditions and cooking styles alive for everyone’s enjoyment. Here we stopped at one of the kiosks right next to the beach called El Guariquitén and indulged in the food that occupies the number one spot on this list: alcapurrias.
The ultimate list – Top 10 Foods You Must Eat in Puerto Rico
Alcapurrias are a deep fried fritter made by placing a yautia, green banana and plantain dough called masa on a sea grape leaf that helps in giving the alcapurria its shape. Alcapurrias are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside which is most commonly filled with ground beef, but can also be filled with other types of proteins such as crabs.
#2 Bacalitos (bah-cah-lah-ee-tohs)
Here, we also tried my personal favorite and number two on this list: Bacalaitos. A bacalaito is a fried cod fritter made with a mixture of cod fish, flower and adobo. Their shape is circular and flat, but they can range in size. Bacalaitos are deliciously crunchy on the ends and generally softer on the inside. You will notice that many businesses will sell alcapurrias, but not many will sell bacalaitos, and that’s generally because it can be relatively complicated to make. However, Piñones is a sure bet if you want to find this delicious and somewhat rare authentic Puerto Rican food.
The third food we ate at Piñones were some delicious empanadillas. Empanadillas are fried turnovers made with flaky dough and filled with all sorts of locally caught seafood such as fish, crustaceans, and octopus. Empanadillas look very similar to other authentic Puerto Rican foods called empanadas and pastelillos. In fact, there is a debate about the difference between these foods, but you don’t have to worry about that, because these three foods are essentially the same thing and they all taste delicious. So, if you pull up at a kiosk with traditional fried food and you can’t differentiate an empandilla from an empanada or a pastelillo, just point at one and I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.
Although this list is all about our delicious food, it would not be fair to talk about Piñones without talking about its breathtaking natural landscape. Piñones’ beaches are some of the most beautiful and pure beaches you will find near the metro area. Their crystal clear waters are surrounded by a luscious forest full of pine trees, sand dunes, salt flats, beautiful animals such as leatherback turtles, and the most extensive natural system of mangrove in all of the island.
After taking a dip in the water under the blazing sun, we decided to stop by the restaurant Contra Viento & Marea where we had the food that occupies the fourth spot on this list, the famous piña colada. This traditional Puerto Rican drink is made out of coconut cream, coconut milk, pineapple juice and can be spiked with rum which is then blended or shaken with crushed ice. If you go to Old San Juan, you can actually stop by what is considered to be the birthplace of the piña colada, the restaurant called Barrachina. But, I can assure you that many places like Contra Viento & Marea also serve a deliciously refreshing piña colada and even experiment with other ingredients to amplify the experience, like adding coconut flakes and even by garnishing it with a likable gummy sharks.
To get the food that occupies the number five spot on this list we head over to Lote 23. Located in the heart of Santurce, Lote 23 is a gastronomic park with a variety of food options. But, today we’re going straight to El Cuchifrito which serves some seriously delicious mofongos. Mofongos are usually made by frying and mashing green plantains with garlic and other ingredients using a traditional wooden mortar and pestle called a pilón. Mofongo can be eaten by itself or it can be filled with many types of protein such as chicken, fried meat, fish and octopus. Other types of mofongo can be made by combining green plantains with ripe plantains and yuca. A mofongo made using two of these ingredients is called a bi-fongo and one that uses three ingredients is called a tri-fongo. Mofongo is usually served with a side of mayoketchup, but in this case I decided to dip my mofongo into some delicious cilantro aioli.
To get the food that occupies the sixth spot on the list, we need to head over to the famous Bebo’s Cafe. Bebo’s is conveniently located about five minutes away from Puerto Rico’s main airport and is extremely close to many car rental companies. So if you’re stuck waiting to receive or hand in your rental car, make sure to stop by Bebo’s and get some delicious pernil. Pernil is a traditional way of roasting pork shoulder. It is usually marinated overnight with several herbs and spices called adobo, and it is then slow roasted to perfection. Pernil is most popular during christmas time when it is served with other authentic Puerto Rican foods, but in this case I’m pairing it with the number seven on this list, the delicious Yuca.
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Yuca, also known as cassava, is a root vegetable which is usually prepared by cutting, boiling and mixing it with olive oil, spices, garlic and onions. Yuca is extremely versatile and can also be fried or mashed to complement any dish.
And to top it all off we add the number eight on this list, the delicious amarillitos. Amarillitos are easily made by frying ripe plantains and are perfect for adding sweetness to any dish. This combination of pernil, yuca and amarillitos is a fantastic example of the influence that our African, Taíno and Spanish ancestor’s cooking styles had on what today is our authentic criollo cuisine.
If you think you’ve tried a good cup of coffee, but haven’t tasted and smelled the delicious aroma of Puerto Rican coffee, then you seriously need to think again. In the 19th century, Puerto Rico was one of the largest exporters of coffee on the planet. Unfortunately, for many reasons, the coffee industry in the island dwindled in size. But, recently there has been a resurgence of interest in coffee and a strong effort by both young and old farmers to rejuvenate and reinvent the coffee industry in Puerto Rico. The island’s tropical climate and high altitude mountains allow for the growth of beans used to produce coffee that is both complex and rich in flavor. It is for this reason that Puerto Rican coffee holds the ninth spot on this list. If you want a guaranteed spot that sells coffee made with a special blend of 100% locally grown beans, you need to head over to Tostado* at their locations in Calle Loiza or Calle Condado. And, while you’re there, make sure to check out their absolutely mouth watering brunch options such as their savory breakfast burger and their unique pumpkin pancakes. So, next time you visit Puerto Rico, help the coffee industry, skip the Starbucks Frappuccinos and get yourself a cup of 100% locally grown specialty coffee by local farmers.
And last, but definitely not least, we head over to the bakery called Hornofino to get the authentic Puerto Rican pastry called Quesito. Quesitos are made by stuffing puff pastry dough with cream cheese which is then baked to delicious perfection and glazed with honey and sugar. Other variations of quesitos are also stuffed with both cream cheese and delicious guava paste. However in this case we visited Hornofino, formerly called Panaderia Apolo, specifically to try their famous 24 inch extra large quesitos. As you might have imagined, we paired this sweet treat with some delicious locally grown coffee, and I have to say we were definitely not disappointed.
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And that wraps up my list of the TOP 10 foods you must try when visiting Puerto Rico. However, this is just the tip of the extensive repertoire of delicious authentic Puerto Rican foods. Similar to other countries, there are even special dishes that are only served at specific times of the year like Christmas or dishes that you can only find if you visit specific municipalities or regions within Puerto Rico like the cetí in the municipality of Arecibo.
And that’s it! I hope you found this travel guide helpful. Make sure to check out my YouTube channel, Brik’s Travel Guides, to see the full video of this and other Puerto Rico travel guides.