Culinary Styles

Photo credit: © Postlatino

Puerto Rico's rich history has led to a rich culinary palate of local fare, or comida criolla. These foods begin with local ingredients and end as something uniquely Puerto Rican.

...local seafood specialty is conch stuffed...


In most cases, coastal cities have the best selection of seafood - a great way to begin exploring local island cuisine. Try Caribbean lobster, a sweeter variety than its Maine cousin. Dolphinfish and red snapper are also widely available, but the local seafood specialty is conch stuffed with tomato for a fritter or mixed into a ceviche salad.  Mojo isleño is a sauce of olive oil, olives, pimientos, onions, capers, garlic, bay leaves, and tomato sauce often used to marinade seafood. In cities and towns away from the coast, pork is widely popular, and chicken is the number one source of protein throughout the country.

Government sponsored mesónes gastronómicos are a great way to experience criolla cuisine, but many smaller restaurants throughout the island also serve this local "down home" fare. Puerto Rico's criolla is a mix of Taíno Indian, Spanish, and African cuisines that have fused over the years. The following foods are examples of some of the most well-known and widely-available criolla dishes:

  • Lechón asado: roasted pork dish.

  • Asopao de pollo: stewed chicken dish.

  • Arepa: corn-based bread often stuffed with meats or used to make sandwiches.

  • Empanadillas: any filling you can imagine wrapped in a casava flour dough and fried. 

  • Habichuelas: rice and red beans served with most meats.

  • Tostones: mashed slices of green plantains, more salty than sweet

  • Plátanos: plantains, but not cooked like tostones.

  • Pionono: picadillo meat and cheeses surrounded by sweet plaintains and deep fried.  

  • Pinchos: kabob of seafood, chicken, or pork marinaded in adobo and achiote olive oil.

  • Mofongo: a ball of crushed plantains, fried and seasoned.

  • Sofrito: a sauce that is a mix of spices and seasonings including cilantro, onions, garlic, and peppers.

  • Adobo: a popular seasoning made of garlic, oregano, paprika, vinegar, and oil.

Soups are often eaten at the beginning of the meal.  Fijoles negroes (black bean soup), sopo de pescado (fish soup flavored with garlic, tomatoes, spices, onions, sherry, and vinegar), sopon de pollo con arroz (chicken and rice soup with pumpkin and potatoes), and caldo gallego (Grecian broth with white beans, Spanish sausage, salt pork, ham, and greens) are the four classic soup choices.  In the soup family, asopao is Puerto Rico's version of gumbo, made with various spiced meats, peppers, onions, cilantro, olives, pimientos, and tomatoes.  Hearty stews are popular as well.  For the best of the best, sample the national dish of Puerto Rico: Arroz con Gandulez y Pernil, which is rice mixed with pigeon peas, and served with pork shoulder.

Adventurous travelers may be interested in sampling some Puerto Rican dishes that might curl the toes of many American eaters.  Lengua rellana (stuffed beef tongue), rinoñes guisados (calf kidneys), and sesos empanados (breaded calf brains) are a few such dishes.

In some restaurants, world-renowned chefs have also begun to cook what is referred to as Nuevo Latino cuisine. Nuevo Latino cuisine puts a twist on comida criolla and focuses on fish, fruits, and tubers with tropical marinades and dark rum sauces. Restaurants featuring Nuevo Latino fare are more likely to be found in San Juan or other large cities.

Of course, Puerto Rico is also known for a few strong beverages. Coffee is served extremely strong or sweetened and with milk and called café con leche. However, the national drink is rum. Here you'll find more than 20 different brands of rum. Both the locally-brewed beer Medalla and Presidente beer from the Dominican Republic are equally popular.

If you're looking for beverages with a little less kick, check out coco frío, drank straight from a chilled coconut. Or take a sip of some of the popular fresh fruit juices. You may want to try the concoction known a jugo de china, a combination of mangos, papayas, and oranges.

Because the food in Puerto Rico can be so different than what you are used to back home, a vacation on the island just isn't complete without sampling the local cuisine.  Find out which restaurants serve up the specific foods you want to try by checking out our Restaurant Directory, which lists eateries by type of cuisine they sell.  If you know the name of the restaurant you're seeking out, click here.

Many people like to arrive in Puerto Rico prepared, knowing exactly which restaurants are nearest their hotels, and what type of food, service, and prices these places offer.  By visiting our complete list of accommodations on the island (A to Z: Hotels in Detail), you will be able to view details about the hotels you are interested in staying at, including among other things, a list of restaurants that surround the property.  By reading the Best Hotels for Dining Options page, you can also learn which hotels have restaurants right on site. 

You're sure to find interesting food and drink that are uniquely Puerto Rican on this island. Experiment and enjoy!


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