San Juan, Puerto Rico is a world-class destination. And with that comes a world-class food scene. From Latin influences to tropical libations to completely unique inventions, the city offers visitors some great chances to taste their way around the various cultures that have built Puerto Rico and called it home.
Please note, these are only my personal opinions from my own experiences. I am not paid to endorse any restaurants, nor do I get free food when I travel. I am just someone who loves food and likes to share my hits with the rest of you.
Puerto Rican Cuisine
What is Puerto Rican cuisine? It is a mix of Caribbean, Latin, and American palates and ingredients. Starches focus on rice, beans, and plantains. Protein is heavy on seafood (it is an island after all) and pork, although beef and chicken make appearances.
If Puerto Rico has a national dish, it is mofongo. Mofongo is mashed plantains (sometimes mixed with sweet potatoes) served with a protein. Plantains are like super starchy bananas, for those who haven’t had them before. They can be sweet, but also very savory, especially when used before they ripen. A dish of mofongo will look like a small tower of yellow mash, topped with (and sometimes filled with) pork, chicken, or shrimp, and sauce. Even if you think you don’t like plantains – I didn’t before this trip – you must try mofongo once while on the island. If you are anywhere near Condado, check out Orozco’s. They have a lot of different kinds of mofongo, and you’ll find one that fits your tastes. (Note, eat it fresh. It doesn’t save or travel well.)
For a more decentralized look into island cuisine, try Deaverdura in Old San Juan. The bistec (marinated flank steak) and pulled pork were both great. Add yellow rice or tostones (fried plantains) to round out your tastes. And the tostones here are the best I’ve ever had, especially covered in the juices from the bistec.
For the pork lovers, lechon is a must. Lechon is spit-roasted pig. The skin is crispy; the meat is juicy. It is incredible. Most top lechoneras are outside the city, but one is right in Santurce here in San Juan. I wrote all about it here.
Puerto Rico, while American, is also very Latin, with immigrant communities from all over Latin America. Try the fried shrimp tacos at La Cueva del Mar in Ocean Park, or any number of streetside empanada stands.
Like other Latin cultures, Puerto Rico also has some awesome salsas. Do not leave the island without trying guava hot sauce, available at any grocery store. Trust me on this.
The Pina Colada
Nothing screams Puerto Rico like the pina colada, which was invented here in San Juan. You must have one – or five. I wrote about where to find some of the best here. Note that Barrachina offers a non-alcoholic version for kids or those who prefer not to drink alcohol.
All Hail the Sandwiches
If you want a totally unique way to eat here, check out the monstrous sandwiches. Two, in particular, stand out.
First, the tripleta. Named because it has at least three different kinds of meat – along with cheese, sauce, and whatever else – it is as Puerto Rican as it gets. The best seem to be served from food trucks parked all over in the evenings. I had mine from El Tripleton in Ocean Park. It was incredible, but I wish I hadn’t eaten the whole thing in a single sitting.
The mallorca sandwich is ham, cheese, and fried eggs on a sweet roll (think King’s Hawaiian bread) with powdered sugar. It is to die for. My favorite bite in San Juan was a mallorca sandwich from Pinky’s in Ocean Park, but Cafeteria Mallorca in Old San Juan also has a solid version, though theirs is made with American cheese.
San Juan has some good Chinese food that locals insist on people trying. I had pineapple fried rice that was really good from Silk in Ocean Park.
Guava pastries are popular here, though not quite up to the scale of Cuba. Another dessert popular with locals is piragua, a shaved ice. Or tres leches, cake drenched with sweetened condensed milk.
No matter where you choose to eat, you’ll find some wonderful food in San Juan. I barely scratched the surface in my two weeks there, but I hope these recommendations help you to plan some amazing meals!
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