Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a drive-through buffet. All you need is a car, an appetite the bigger the better, time, and the realization that your swimsuit won't fit as well when you get to your destination. The island has the most diverse culinary offerings in the entire Caribbean. There's something for everyone. You can enjoy the finest Puerto Rican food at most traditional town squares and also for those of you who get homesick have a steak at a place like Morton's.


Authentic Puerto Rican food comida criolla can be summed up in two words: plantains and pork, usually served up with rice and beans arroz y habichuelas. It is rarely if ever spicy, and to many visitors' surprise has very little in common with Mexican cooking.

Plantains plátanos are essentially savory bananas and the primary source of starch back in the bad old days, although you will occasionally also encounter cassava yuca and other tropical tubers. Served with nearly every meal, incarnations include:

mofongo - plantains mashed, fried, and mashed again, when filled up relleno with seafood this is probably the best-known Puerto Rican dish of them all

tostones - twice deep-fried plantain chips, best when freshly made

sopa de plátanos - mashed plantain soup

The main meat eaten on Puerto Rico is pork cerdo, with chicken a close second and beef and mutton way down the list. Seafood, surprisingly, is only a minor part of the traditional repertoire: the deep waters around Puerto Rico are poorly suited to fishing, and most of the seafood served in restaurants for tourists is in fact imported. Still, fresh local fish can be found in restaurants across the east and west coast of the island, especially in Naguabo or Cabo Rojo respectively.

chicharrones - crispy dry pork rinds, Puerto Rico's favorite snack

chuletas - huge, juicy pork chops, available grilled or deep fried.

lechón asado - roast suckling pig, this is the pinnacle of Puerto Rican porkcraft. Served at specialty restaurants, with the town of Guavate off the San Juan-Ponce highway being particularly famous.

morcilla - blood sausage

pernil de cerdo - pork shoulder with oregano and garlic

A few other puertorriqueño classics include:

arroz con gandules - rice with pigeon peas, the unofficial national dish of Puerto Rico

arroz con jueyes - rice with land crab meat

asopao - a spicy tomato stew with rice and chicken or seafood

bacalaitos — salted cod fritters

chillo - red snapper, the most common fresh fish on the island

empanadillas — fritters of cheese, meat or lobster

sofrito - a fragrant sauce of sweet pepper, herbs, garlic and oil, used as base and seasoning for many dishes

quenepas - a green grape-like fruit common in summer, don't eat the skin or seeds and watch where you put them, they stain clothes easily

dietary restrictions

Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Puerto Rico, although the larger towns have restaurants that can cater to their tastes. Traditionally almost all Puerto Rican food is prepared with lard, and while this has been largely supplanted by cheaper corn oil, mofongo is still commonly made using lard, bacon or both.

places to eat

Meals in sit-down restaurants tend to be fairly pricey and most touristy restaurants will happily charge $10-30 for main dishes. Restaurants geared for locals may not appear much cheaper, but the quality and quantity of food is usually considerably better. It's not uncommon for restaurants to charge tourists more than locals, so bring along a local friend if you can! Note that many restaurants are closed on Mondays and Tuesday.

If you want to eat like a local, look for places that are out of the way. There is a roadside food stand or 10 at every corner when you get out of the cities. Deep-fried foods are the most common, but they serve everything from octopus salad to rum in a coconut. You might want to think twice and consult your stomach before choosing some items - but do be willing to try new things. Most of the roadside stand food is fantastic, and if you're not hung up with the need for a table, you might have dinner on a beach, chomping on all sorts of seafood fritters at $1 a pop, drinking rum from a coconut. At the end of dinner, you can see all the stars. In the southwest of the island, in Boqueron, you might find fresh oysters and clams for sale at 25 cents a piece.

If you are really lucky, you might get invited to a pork roast. It's not just food - it's a whole day - and it's cultural. Folks singing, drinking, hanging out telling stories, and checking to see if the pig is ready, and staying on topic, you'll find the pig likely paired with arroz con gandules.

Typical fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's and Wendy's are numerous in Puerto Rico and identical to their American counterparts. Some feel, however, that fried chicken restaurants are somewhat different in PR.

Finally, there are some wonderful restaurants, and like everywhere, the best are found mostly near the metropolitan areas. Old San Juan is probably your best bet for a 4-star meal in a 4-star restaurant. However if your experimental nature wanes, there are lots of "Americanized" opportunities in and around San Juan. Good luck, keep your eyes open for the next roadside stand, and make sure to take advantage of all the sports to counteract the moving buffet.