Puerto Rico's cuisine is a unique amalgamation of ingredients, cultures, and recipes. The native Taíno Indians, the Spanish conquistadores, and the African slaves have all historically influenced what has come to be known around the island as cocina criolla, meaning Creole cooking. The local dishes, which are the island's most distinctive and representative foods, are worth a try.
Mofongo is the unofficial king of Puerto Rican cuisine. This is a tasty and filling concoction of mashed plantain, seasonings, and an unlimited choice of fillings, including vegetables, shrimp, steak, pork, seafood... whatever your dietary preference, there is a mofongo to match it! Almost every Puerto Rican restaurant, from roadside shacks to some of the island's most refined local eateries, will have their own mofongo recipe.
Lechón is the famous spit-roasted suckling pig of Puerto Rico and is one of the many traditional delicacies worth traveling for. In fact, it's such a beloved dish that there is one road in Guavate, Puerto Rico that is known as the Ruta del Lechón, or Puerto Rico's Pork Highway. This road is roughly an hour south of San Juan via Highway 52 south to exit 33 and then Road 184. You'll know you've arrived when you start seeing (and smelling) the delicious lechoneras, or rustic, open-air roadside eateries.
Arroz con Gandules
If mofongo is the unofficial standard of Puerto Rico, arroz con gandules is the national dish of the island. Pigeon peas with rice have distinctly Caribbean roots, but the Puerto Rican twist to the dish is its secret sauce, known as sofrito. Arroz con gandules is typically made with ham, pork, chorizo, red peppers, and olives. This dish was heavily influenced by the Spanish, who introduced some of the ingredients—especially olives—to the island.
Tip: If you'd like to eat rice and beans, do not ask for arroz con gandules. Instead, order a plate of arroz con habichuelas.
Asopao is Puerto Rico's answer to chicken noodle soup. This homemade classic is a savory soup usually cooked with chicken and rice. Fortunately, many restaurants have the dish on their menus, as it is a perennial favorite with islanders. Just know that it's more like a gumbo than a soup, and it can come in several variations, including chicken, shellfish, pork, ham, peppers, pigeon peas, olives, and tomatoes, among other ingredients.
Fritters, Alcapurrias, and Other Fried Snacks
This dish is more like a whole smorgasbord of finger foods that can be found all over the island. These include cuchifritos, alcapurrias (a kind of fried turnover), frituras, almojábanas (cheese-flavored rice fritters), bacalaítos (codfish-flavored fritters), and buñuelos (yam fritters), to name just a few. Many street food stalls sell these goodies, and most restaurants will have a sample of them for you to taste.