If you're new to Puerto Rican cooking, you might not recognize many of the best things on the menu. Why? Because you're not likely to find them anywhere else. Dishes like mofongo, asopao, and lechón won't be found in your neighborhood Spanish restaurant, and they certainly deserve to be sampled while you're here.
Here's a helpful guide to the best foods on a typical Puerto Rican menu.
Mofongo, a mashed mound of plantain (and sometimes cassava) filled with a variety of stuffings, is the most popular dish on the island, and a must-try if you want to get to know Puerto Rican comida criolla, or local cooking.
You can get your mofongo stuffed with steak, chicken, vegetables, shrimp, crab, or mixed seafood, to name the most common options.
A few restaurants where you can find a great mofongo:
I'm not sure pork is the other white meat in Puerto Rico; it clearly hurdles any other meat, white or not, in popularity. Lechón, or roast suckling pig is not unique to Puerto Rico, but you'll have a tough time finding a destination or a people more devoted to this dish. A weekend family tradition, a must-serve at any large family gathering, and a dish that comes with its own restaurant (called a lechonera), lechón is hallowed culinary ground in Puerto Rico.
A few places that specialize in lechón:
- Guavate (the town of Guavate is the undisputed capital of lechón, and lechoneras)
- Lechonera El Paso
- Lechonera La Estación
This is a dish that you might have to hunt for, even in Puerto Rico. Pastelón is a kind of lasagna made from sweet plantains. The dish is usually made with ground beef and tomato sauce (like a regular lasagna), but the plantains give it a sweetness and a texture that's completely unique.
Three places that serve pastelón:
Chillo Frito, or fried whole red snapper (be sure to get the whole fish, not the filet), is among my favorite seafood dishes in Puerto Rico. Again, this one isn't unique to the island, but it's found on plenty of menus and is usually prepared with a simple flair that seals in the flavor of the fish. Have it with tostones or amarillos.
Where to find a crispy and tasty chillo frito:
- La Tasca del Pescador
- Pasión por el Fogón (Fajardo)
- Lola (Ponce)
- El Jibarito (Old San Juan)
A fried pork chop that's been invented at a restaurant on the island, Chuletas Can Can (sometimes Kan Kan) are found in many 'Rican restaurants, although it's not as ubiquitous as the other dishes on this list. The key to this classic is that the chops are served with ribs and cuero, or crackling pork skin.
Restaurants that serve chuletas can can:
Salmorejo de Jueyes
One of the most popular seafood dishes in Puerto Rico, salmorejo de jueyes, or crabmeat stew, is a rich and flavorful dish with shredded crabmeat usually eaten with tostones. The sofrito gives it its flavor and makes it a tropical Caribbean specialty. You can find salmorejo de jueye at most seaside kiosks and eateries.
Five places that serve salmorejo:
- Cafe Puerto Rico (Old San Juan)
- La Casa de los Pastelillos (Guayama)
- The kiosks at Luquillo
- The kiosks at Piñones
Frituras, which means "fritters," is a collection of fried foods and snacks that are among the tastiest, if least healthy, appetizers on the Puerto Rican menu. You'll also find most of these foods in a typical kiosk. There's no point listing five restaurants that serve frituras. You can find them almost anywhere, and especially, in Puerto Rico's two kiosk-heavy destinations.
The official dish of Puerto Rico, asopao is a hearty stew made with chicken, rice, and vegetables, and usually a few extra ingredients that serve as the chef's signature on the dish. It's a delicious staple that can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a light meal.
A few restaurants where you can get asopao:
- Marbella at the Rio Mar Beach Resort (Rio Grande)
- José Enrique (Santurce)
- Cafe Puerto Rico (Old San Juan)