Puerto Rico has a strong, mixed culture that transcends historical and cultural sights and permeates into the daily life, including one of its most important aspects – the culinary scene.
Since there’s such a rich mixture of African, Indigenous and Spanish flavors in Puerto Rican cuisine, the ultimate dining experience in Puerto Rico cannot be described with just one or two restaurants. What follows is a curated list of some of the best eateries on the island, tapping on a variety of flavors and styles.
This is the "king" of cult food trucks in Puerto Rico. At the moment, it has five locations, but its most famous one is the one located in Isla Verde. The menu is basic: Sandwiches and wraps. But, this is no ordinary sandwich, this is a Tripleta. You can order it with chicken, beef, or mixta (mixed) in a soft, sweet French-styled bread, topped with mayonnaise, ketchup, and fried chips. This is the most delicious Tripleta in Puerto Rico!
Located in Cayey, about 45 minutes to an hour away from San Juan, El Cuñao is considered one of the best places on the island to eat the traditional lechón, or roast pork, with its crispy skin and moist meat. Also worth trying there is the morcilla, or blood sausage, which is often paired with the lechón. And if good food wasn’t enough, El Cuñao offers some excellent views of the mountainous scenery of the island.
El Rancho Original
This is the place where you truly experience Puerto Rico like a local. Located in Guavate –the go-to place for the best lechón on the island, fondly named "Pork Highway"– El Rancho Original offers a complete menu of traditional Puerto Rican food, with a rustic mountainous scene to complement the local-feel environment. It is also located about 45 minutes away from San Juan, but trust me, the drive is worth it. El Rancho has also been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods.
This European-style bakery is probably the place where you’ll taste the best French baguettes in Puerto Rico. Beyond that, its owner and chef, Jesus Fernández, makes some of the most delicious artisanal pastries, coffee, and pizza.
Unlike the previous recommendations, Piñones is not a restaurant, but a region. Like Guavate, Piñones has a series of local eateries full of traditional foods, but unlike Guavate, the main dishes here are fritters and the delicious mofongo – a plantain dish filled with chicken, beef, shrimp and other mouth-watering stuffings. Choose any spot that looks good to you as most of them are excellent, but wherever you go, don’t miss eating the mofongo, as well as some alcapurrias, bacalaitos, and pastelillos, among many other dishes.
Located in what used to be a run-down handy store, Santaella brought life to the original architecture of the small building with a sort-of industrial look, including an indoor tropical garden that makes the space feel more welcoming. Santaella’s menu is based on locally sourced, organic ingredients from the local marketplace, and blended into astonishing dished by the hands of Chef José Santaella. With no doubt, Santaella offers some of the best tapas on the island, including baby octopus casserole with chorizo and chickpeas, and the fried Nutella dessert. Don’t miss their house drink –Sandia Mojito– a cocktail made with watermelon, rum, mint and fresh lime juice.
Winner of Trip Advisor’s 2013 Traveller’s Choice Award and mentioned in some of the most respected culinary publications, Pikayo is an elegant choice to experience the gourmet side of Puerto Rican food. The restaurant triumphs in mixing sweet with salty dishes, which is one of the aspects that makes Puerto Rican cuisine so delicious. Dishes like coconut milk polenta, corned beef brisket stew, Foie gras-topped plantains, and petit pork belly hamburgers with Gouda cheese, are some of the things offered to create a balance of sweet and salty tastes in this fine-dining experience.
There are many more restaurants showing more of what Puerto Rico has to offer, but these seven options will give you an excellent overview of the flavors and blends that make Puerto Rican food so special.
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