Food & Drink

Typical Foods in Puerto Rico, From San Juan to Fajardo

Prior to spring-breaking there with the household in 2022, I hadn’t been to Puerto Rico in practically 20 years. And whereas I’ve a robust reminiscence of consuming glorious mofongo within the mountains whereas driving across the island for a travel article (in addition to some terrific ice cream in Ponce), my recall of scrumptious and typical meals in Puerto Rico was fairly … nonexistent. I wasn’t certain what to anticipate on our household foray to San Juan and Fajardo there final April.

Along the north coast we traveled there certain are a lot of seafood, plantains, rice and beans, fritters—however beneath the floor, the overarching influences to find out about in trendy Puerto Rican delicacies, aka cocina criolla (Creole cooking), embody the native Taíno, the Spanish colonizers, and the West African slaves dropped at the island. The Spanish launched the idea of constructing sofrito—sauteeing and mixing tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, olive oil, bay leaf, and extra to kind a base for sauces—that’s so important to many conventional Puerto Rican dishes (albeit, with a definite PR spin, due to the native components integrated). Pigeon peas, tamarind, and the strategies of frying meals and mashing starches have been among the many key contributions from West Africans. Native vegetation utilized by the Taíno, akin to recao (culantro), yuca, and achiote, nonetheless determine prominently within the Puerto Rican kitchen in the present day.

A chalkboard food menu inside a pharmacy in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

As an entire, Puerto Rican delicacies could also be unassuming, and never broadly celebrated, nevertheless it’s an unbelievable supply of satisfaction for a lot of Puerto Ricans, reflecting resilience and heritage. And I’m blissful to report we ate very effectively on the island, between San Juan, Fajardo within the northeast, and the attractive seashore cities in between. I didn’t even go loopy researching eating places beforehand, like I often do. I actually wished a household trip, and I wished to seek out good native eats on the fly. Fortunately, Puerto Rico made this activity fairly straightforward. Traditional Puerto Rican meals far outnumber what we have been capable of attempt in a number of days, however these we had have been scrumptious and enjoyable to hunt out.

Here are a few of our favourite typical meals (and drinks) in Puerto Rico, as discovered alongside the north coast between San Juan and Fajardo.

A powdered sugar-dusted mallorca, with melted cheese and ham inside, from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Mallorca

Mallorcas are delicate candy bread rolls showered with powdered sugar, common for breakfast throughout Puerto Rico. They’re named for the island of Mallorca, from whence they got here and the place they’re known as ensaimadas (Filipino meals followers will acknowledge the similarity to ensaymadas). Besides being break up, buttered, and paired with café con leche (as described in this ode from The New York Times), Puerto Rican mallorcas are additionally usually crammed with breakfasty gadgets like cheese, ham, and egg earlier than being buttered and pressed, after which dusted with powdered sugar.

Where: A preferred place to do this breakfast delicacy is decades-old Cafetería Mallorca (300 Calle de San Francisco, map) in Old San Juan, which sadly for us was closed for a vacation after we visited. But mallorcas may be present in a lot of PR bakeries. We tried it in a number of locations, together with from a kiosk at Plaza del Armas known as Café Cuatro Estaciones (151 Calle de San Francisco, map). It won’t have been the OG mallorca, however, layered with ham and melty cheese inside, it was a scrumptious pairing of heat and candy, buttery and savory, to begin the day with.

Fried bread arepas stuffed with seafood in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Arepas

If, like me, you thought arepas have been restricted to the Venezualan and Colombian varieties, suppose once more. Puerto Ricans have their very own spin on the arepa, and in contrast to its South American counterparts, it doesn’t contain corn. Instead, fried wheat-based bread gives the vessel for no matter is being stuffed inside: shrimp, conch, octopus, stewed codfish, ceviche, eggs, hen, beef, pernil, tripleta (referencing a well-liked native sandwich containing pork, ham, bacon, and shoestring potatoes). The fillings may be something.

The bread itself is akin to a biscuit: barely crispy and oily on the skin, delicate and pillowy inside. It’s an ideal little sandwich you may polish off in a number of bites. (If you’re hungry, you’ll want a number of.)

Where: We feasted on these, ceviche, and a few chilly Medallas upon our arrival in San Juan (close to Ocean Park) at La Preñá (1810 Calle Loíza, map), which is an area chain with a number of branches and a meals truck. We additionally ate tasty shrimp- and crab-filled arepas at Carlos Seafood (9977+H86, Carr. Cabezas de San Juan, map) in Fajardo. Look for these all alongside the north coast—they’re in all places, however sometimes present in informal seafood spots.

A sweet and icy piragua in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Piragua

Does each Latin American tradition have its own spin on shaved ice? Possibly so! Piragua is it for Puerto Ricans, and it’s a well-liked avenue snack across the island. Choose from various fruity syrups to present your cup of pointed ice a sugary taste burst—you may choose a couple of, however you’re in all probability greatest off sticking to not more than two. We (by which I imply our children) selected pineapple and cherry. It’s refreshing on a sizzling day.

Kids split a piragua in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where: Our piragua is from one of many a number of distributors who hang around round El Morro in Old San Juan, as a result of they know that candy, artificially flavored shaved ice is simply what individuals need after spending hours underneath a tropical solar wandering the historic stays of a centuries-old fort. (It actually is, although!)

A plate of mofongo with pulpo (octopus) from a streetside kiosk in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Mofongo

One of the best-known Puerto Rican dishes, mofongo is greater than only a native meals; it’s a lifestyle round right here. Mofongo is mashed, fried plantain with garlic topped with every little thing from chicharrón (most historically) to crab, shrimp, octopus, fried hen, or steak. It’s a labor-intensive dish, but we noticed it on many menus, notably alongside the coast, the place seafood guidelines.

Anyone conversant in West African meals will observe mofongo’s similarity to fufu, the ever-present mash made with pounded yam or cassava. According to Smithsonian Magazine, whereas the Spanish conquistadors who arrived right here within the 14th century first enslaved the indigenous Taíno, they quickly turned to West African slaves for plantation and mining labor. The Taíno had lengthy used pilones (mortars and pestles) to mash corn, spices, and herbs. Once West Africans introduced their fufu into kitchens, the concept of mashing a starch took root, and finally the island’s plentiful inexperienced plantains grew to become the star ingredient. Mofongo was born.

We’ve had good mofongo everywhere in the island, however our most up-to-date journey introduced us, with out disappointment, to the King.

An open-air streetside mofongo kiosk in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where: We discovered the open-air Kiosko Freddy, El Rey del Mofongo (nook of calles Degetau & Corona;  939-260-2233, map) whereas strolling towards a special restaurant east of our home rental in Ocean Park, however we unexpectedly modified plans. Sitting exterior within the balmy breeze to dine on ceviche and mofongo at a streetside “kiosk” appeared nearly excellent for our hungry (and seafood-loving) household. And it was. The menu is a straightforward division of mariscos and carnes, and we went for the previous, ordering some garlicky, completely moist mofongo with blended seafood (octopus, shrimp, fish) and vibrant, citrusy fish ceviche with a heaping plate of tostones.

Typical Puerto Rican mofongo stuffed with jueyes, or shredded crab, from a restaurant in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

In Fajardo, we beloved the mofongo with shredded jueyes, native land crabs, at informal waterfront restaurant Costa Mía (PR 987, Las Croabas, map)—and please pair it with a few of the restaurant’s tremendous easy but deeply flavored fish broth; we wound up ordering three cups of that! In Old San Juan, we’ve heard good issues concerning the mofongo at Café Manolín (251 Calle de San Justo, map), an old-school lunch counter form of place.

The traditional Puerto Rican salted cod dish bacalao guisado with habichuelas (beans), from a San Juan restaurant.

Bacalao guisado

This tomato-based salt cod fish stew is a staple home-cooked dish in Puerto Rico, notably throughout Lent, and it’s a terrific dish to search for at less-casual seafood eating places. It’s paying homage to Spanish and Portuguese delicacies, due to the cod itself, however there’s an unmistakable Puerto Rican taste as effectively, as a result of sofrito and sazón (seasoning) used. Onions, peppers, and garlic additionally sometimes play a task, in addition to potatoes. Paired with some white rice, salad, and avocado, it’s a implausible lunch or dinner.

Where: We have been lucky to discover a good model of this in a reasonably touristy place, at Julius Restaurant in Condado (1128 Ashford Ave., map). I beloved the French fry cuts of boiled potato on this, and that we may pair it with rice and habichuelas, soupy beans (see beneath). We additionally actually loved the comforting asopao de pollo, a hen and rice stew, and the arroz con calamares right here. It was all simply as tasty the following morning, after we polished off our leftovers!

Queso frito con guayaba, fried cubes of cheese with guava sauce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Queso frito con guayaba

Perfectly fried cubes of cheese are paired with a guava dipping sauce for this common Puerto Rican appetizer. The cheese is probably going queso blanco or queso fresco, one thing delicate, unaged, and semi-soft. It’s unattainable to not take pleasure in this traditional savory-sweet pairing.

Where: We ate this a number of occasions on the island—it’s particularly kid-friendly, as you may think about—however we notably beloved the smaller reduce and crispy fry on the queso at La Taberna Lúpulo (151 Calle de San Sebastián, map), a beloved beer bar in Old San Juan. (Also, we are able to attest that fried cheese goes fairly effectively with native beer flights!)

Queso frito con guayaba made an excellent appetizer at Café Playero (Carretera PR 987 Sector Las Croabas Final KM 6.8, map), conveniently situated very close to to the place the bioluminescent bay excursions depart in Fajardo, as effectively.

Quesito, a popular cheese-filled pastry, from a bakery in Puerto Rico

Quesito

Quesitos are the kind of pastries that visiting or returning Puerto Ricans will go straight to a bakery to refill on for that rapid style of residence. Ideally paired with a morning espresso, they’re decadent fingers of pastry crammed with candy cream cheese, baked, and brushed with honey as soon as out of the oven, imparting a candy, sticky gloss.

Where: We scored some sticky-delicious quesitos from Kasalta (1966 McLeary Ave., map), a well-liked bakery (that’s additionally a restaurant and bar) in Ocean Park the place former President Obama famously as soon as stopped for a medianoche. No matter your politics, it’s exhausting to not like this place and its numerous menu of house-baked gadgets. Tip: Find the pastries (together with quesito), desserts, and muffins behind the glass in the course of the counter. If it’s a sandwich you need, head all the best way to the far finish to order (we beloved the pernil and cantimpalo sandwiches for a takeout seashore lunch; see beneath).

Pernil, or roast pork, sandwich with pickle and cheese from a cafe in Puerto Rico

Pernil

Puerto Rico’s beloved roast pork, pernil, is a simple one to like: tender, garlicky pork shoulder seasoned with adobo, hopefully served with some crispy pork pores and skin. You’ll usually see it paired with rice and arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) or tostones, as a most important course, however we loved ours on this journey in sandwich kind.

Where: The pernil sandwich from Kasalta (1966 McLeary Ave., map), a well-liked bakery/restaurant/bar in Ocean Park, got here on contemporary house-made bread with some Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickle. It was an excellent satisfying lunch we dropped at the seashore sooner or later, together with a wonderful cantimpalo sandwich, which pairs sliced chorizo with ham and cheese. To order the sandwiches, discover the counter on the far finish of this bakery

A bowl of soupy beans, or habichuelas, studded with squash, from a restaurant in Puerto Rico

Arroz y Habichuelas

Puerto Rican rice and beans are a dream, so easy and homey and satisfying. Fluffy white rice, often medium- or long-grain, is served alongside soupy pink or purple beans, usually kidney or pinto beans. (Sometimes the rice is con gandules, or pigeon peas.) The beans are deeply flavored along with your typical sofrito—made, primarily, with culantro, a citrusy, peppery herb; and sazón—and sometimes come studded with hunks of potato or squash (calabaza). It’s the final word Puerto Rican consolation meals.

Where: You actually don’t must go wherever particular to seek out good arroz y habichuelas. We beloved these habichuelas at Molini’s Cafe (1857 Calle Loíza, map) in chill Ocean Park, which occurred to be an all-around glorious restaurant. But we additionally loved the rice and beans offered from the meals counter contained in the pharmacy across the nook from the home we rented in the identical neighborhood: Farmacia Americana, 1854 Calle Loíza, map). Every morning it posted a brief menu of native dishes, whereas promoting contemporary bread, pastries, and occasional too.

Fish ceviche served with tostones, or fried plantains, is a typical meal along the Puerto Rican coast.

Ceviche

Fresh uncooked fish or shrimp marinated in lime juice, chilies, salt, and cilantro is a quite common snack alongside Puerto Rico’s coast, and it’s an absolute delight to eat. Typically paired with tostones, fried plantain chips, and ready with a fish like mero (grouper), ceviche is a splendidly vibrant and refreshing appetizer or mild most important meal, excellent for sharing. We actually ate our share of it within the San Juan and Fajardo areas.

Where: We beloved the open-air Kiosko Freddy, El Rey del Mofongo (nook of calles Degetau &  Corona;  939-260-2233, map) in Ocean Park. It’s a really informal streetside spot with scrumptious mofongo and fish ceviche, the latter refreshingly citrusy, well-portioned (for $14.99), and served with a pile of sizzling tostones. What could possibly be higher?

Filet de mero empanado, a fried fish dish, served with rice and tostones from a restaurant in Puerto Rico.

Filet de mero empanado

Fish, akin to grouper or purple snapper, that’s been breaded (empanado) and fried turns up on lots of coastal menus, and it’s scrumptious. Puerto Ricans know how one can fry, whether or not it’s a hefty plantain-taro fritter (see beneath) or a fragile filet of fish. It’s an unmissable lunch or dinner close to the coast.

Where: We found how a lot we love this dish on the glorious Molini’s Cafe (1857 Calle Loíza, map), a neighborhood restaurant close to our home rental in Ocean Park. The fish, completely fried, was purple snapper right here, and it got here smothered in sautéed peppers and onions and served alongside rice and tostones. What a good looking meal! It was a favourite on this journey.

FRITANGA

Alcapurrias, fried elongated fritters of plantain and taro, from a roadside kiosk in Pinones, Puerto Rico

Alcapurria

In a land famed for its fritanga (fried meals), alcapurrias are among the many most beloved, and fortunate for any customer to the north coast, this space is one of the best for them. Alcapurrias are elongated, burnt-orange fritters made with inexperienced banana and taro root, flavored with sofrito, and crammed with floor meat (carne), crab (jueyes), and extra. They are stated to be greatest within the Piñones space, in Loíza, the place the wood, open-air kioskos promoting these and different fried gadgets line the roadside close to the coast. Crispy on the skin, delicate and savory within the center, they make scrumptious seashore (or highway journey) snacks. We couldn’t get sufficient of them.

Where: It’s exhausting to select only one kiosk whereas cruising alongside the waterfront drag in Piñones, however we went with “the house of alcapurrias,” aka Sabor a Piñones (La casa de las alcapurrias), map, the place we received a pair with jueyes. It didn’t disappoint. (We additionally tried the bacalaítos right here, and pastelillo with pulpo, or octopus; see beneath—all scrumptious.) The kioskos de Luquillo (map) are one other nice wager for these.

Bacalaitos, large salted codfish fritters, from a roadside kiosk in Pinones, Puerto Rico

Bacalaítos

Bacalaítos are highly regarded salted codfish fritters the scale of an outstretched hand, deep-fried until crisp alongside the sides whereas remaining delicate within the heart. Recipes differ, however they’re typically merely made with flour, salted cod, garlic, cilantro, and typically inexperienced pepper, and exceedingly enjoyable to eat. Again, a savory fried seashore or highway snack? Sign us up.

Where: At Sabor a Piñones (La casa de las alcapurrias), a roadside kiosk in Pinones, bacalaítos have been fried to order in entrance of us and price $2 every. Unbeatable!

Pastelillo, like a fried empanada filled with seafood, cheese, or meat, in Puerto Rico

Pastelillo

In different components of Puerto Rico, they could name this an empanadilla, and people of us from exterior the tradition may unknowingly name it an empanada. But within the north of the island, these deep-fried wheat-based pastries with savory fillings are known as pastelillos, and so they’re scrumptious native snacks that may be crammed with all method of seafood and meat: beef, hen, pork, lobster, crab, fish, conch, shrimp. You title it.

Where: Pastelillos are customary fare among the many north coast’s informal seafood eateries and kiosks, which concentrate on tasty fried issues. We kicked off a lunch feast at Carlos Seafood (9977+H86, Carr. Cabezas de San Juan, map) in Fajardo with a pastelillo crammed with lobster, and ate a scrumptious octopus-stuffed specimen on the Sabor a Piñones (La casa de las alcapurrias) kiosk in Piñones. Also search for these on the Luquillo kiosks (map).

 

DRINKS

The original pina colada from Barrachina in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Piña colada

The final tropical trip cocktail has supposed roots in Old San Juan: At Barrachina in 1963, a bartender named Don Ramon Portas Mingot concocted the well-known drink. (A plaque exterior Barrachina commemorates this.) Nowadays the drink is in all places, and simply as common as a bedecked nonalcoholic drink served in a carved-out pineapple to fortunate children on seashores as it’s poured right into a cup for blissful hour. Sweet and refreshing and instantly summoning the tropics, it’s common for good motive.

A virgin pina colada served in a pineapple on the beach in Puerto Rico

Where: Barrachina (104 Calle de la Fortaleza, San Juan, map) does serve a very scrumptious piña colada, appropriately bedecked with an umbrella and a cherry, for about $7, and you may take it to go whilst you proceed exploring the charming streets of Old San Juan. From a seashore vendor on the cute, family-friendly Playita del Condado (map), we tried the nonalcoholic model (served within the pineapple for $12.99, alongside pineapple slices) and might verify it’s likewise glorious. (We additionally noticed various adults including their very own rum to it, so come ready if that’s your plan!)

An oversize mixed-fruit batido, or smoothie, topped with fruit, whipped cream, and cookies, in Puerto Rico

Batido

Batidos are smoothies, sometimes made with fruit, milk, and ice—a tasty deal with to chill off with on a sizzling day. But there are a number of caveats. They can typically be fairly the dedication right here, and virtually a meal. You might imagine you’re getting a health-conscious smoothie, however except in any other case specified, batidos are typically fairly candy, served with whipped cream, a cherry or two, and presumably even a few cookies. One we tried got here topped with gummy sweet! It’s an artwork kind, and completely scrumptious.

Where: Our wonderful (dessert!) batido is from the Fruitty World truck that parked subsequent to the Luquillo kiosks (map), however search for these alongside roadsides and from small eateries in all places.

Two flights of local Puerto Rican beer from a bar in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Local Puerto Rican beer

If you’re a beer drinker, you’ll absolutely be reaching for plenty of Medalla Light whereas in Puerto Rico. It’s low-cost and lightweight certainly, an ideal session beer that gained’t dehydrate you terribly. But you’ll additionally need to try the rising microbrewery scene on the island. In the San Juan space, there’s Ocean Lab Brewing and Old Harbor Brewing, each in Carolina, and brewpubs like Cervecería del Callejón, in Old San Juan. The best option to style some regionally brewed beers? Visit a craft beer bar that provides tastings.

Where: If you may rating a window-facing desk at La Taberna Lúpulo (151 Calle de San Sebastián, map), you’ll be in prime place to catch the outside breeze whereas sipping on native beers (and snacking, if you want—we beloved the aforementioned queso frito con guayaba right here). This bar has probably the most numerous beer catalogs on Puerto Rico, spanning brews made each regionally and globally. We requested for samplers of all of the PR beers and obtained tasty mini pours that included Boxlab’s scrumptious fruited bitter and Ocean Lab’s amber lager.

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