If you’ve never had Puerto Rican food before, then you’re seriously missing out.
This is because Puerto Rico is home to some of the tastiest food in the world. Full of rich flavors, unique spices, and fresh ingredients, Puerto Rican food is a true delight for the senses.
But, once you start looking into Puerto Rican food, you’ll realize that this tiny island nation has a lot of its own unique cuisines.
How do you know which ones you absolutely have to try?
This guide will serve as your ultimate introductory course to Puerto Rican food.
Read on to learn about the top Puerto Rican dishes that you have to try.
1. Arroz Con Gandules
Let’s start with one of the biggest staples of Puerto Rican cuisine- arroz con gandules. Also known as rice with pigeon peas.
Arroz con gandules is actually Puerto Rico’s national dish. In fact, it’s the dish that many grandparents first teach their grandkids.
The dish itself has an interesting list of ingredients that you probably wouldn’t think to mix on your own. But trust us, when you try arroz con gandules, you’ll wonder how you ever ate rice any other way.
Arroz con gandules consists of white rice, olives, capers, pigeon peas, tomato sauce, sofrito (more on what that is later), and seasoning.
Some people also add bacon fat, pork, or beans to the dish.
Although sofrito isn’t a dish itself, we feel like it deserves a spot on this list because it plays such an important role in many Puerto Rican entrees.
Basically, sofrito is a sauce that’s used as a base for a variety of dishes. While each sofrito recipe varies slightly, the main ingredients are tomatoes, onions, red peppers, green peppers, and ajis dulces peppers.
To make sofrito, you’ll pretty much chop up these ingredients and throw them into a food processor. The sauce is very tasty, and it helps to make Puerto Rican dishes bright and vibrant.
Do you like mashed potatoes? How about plantains?
If you said yes, then you’ll probably love mofongo. Mofongo is pretty much the American equivalent of mashed potatoes.
In other words, instead of mashing potatoes to create a side dish, Puerto Ricans mash plantains. Sometimes, they even fry them before mashing them to boost the flavor.
The dish is typically mixed with crunchy pork skin and garlic and then stuffed with either chicken, beef, or vegetables.
Mofongo is a very versatile food that both vegetarians and meat-eaters enjoy.
If you’re a fan of pork, then you’ll love pernil.
Pernil is an entire roasted pig. That’s right, in Puerto Rico they roast the whole thing. However, you won’t find pernil at most casual restaurants you walk into.
Pernil is typically reserved for big celebrations or family functions. It’s also typically enjoyed alongside other classic Puerto Rican dishes, such as arroz con gandules or mofongo.
It’s generally seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and oregano.
And, many Puerto Ricans know how to cook the meat so tenderly that it slides right off the bone when being served. If your mouth is watering right now, wait until you actually try this peril recipe.
If you like lasagna, then you’ll absolutely love pastelon. Pastelon is basically Puerto Rico’s take on traditional Italian lasagna.
However, instead of using pasta sheets and marinara, Puerto Ricans use plantains and ground beef. But don’t worry, Puerto Ricans like to keep in the best part of lasagna- the cheese.
Typically, the meat in pastelon is seasoned with cumin and oregano. It’s then mixed in with tomato sauce, sofrito, and olives.
If you’re looking for a hearty meal that is both salty and sweet, pastelon is your answer.
Who doesn’t love a nice, juicy sandwich?
Even though Puerto Rico may not be known for its bread, they sure know how to put together a tasty sandwich.
The jibarito is a sandwich that consists of steak, garlicky mayo, lettuce, tomato and cheese sandwiched between two slices of grilled plantain.
Pretty much just imagine a Philly Cheesesteak on steroids, and you have yourself a jibarito.
Honestly, after having one bite of a jibarito, you’ll never be able to eat at Subway again.
Empanadilla is basically a cute way of saying empanada. In fact, the word translates to “little empanada”.
An empanadilla is a fried meat pie that’s either filled with beef, chicken, or cheese.
Basically just think of a pastry, but one that’s super savory.
And, although empanadillas are very similar to empanadas, they do tend to have a thinner crust.
Not to be confused with pastelones, pasteles are a dough that’s made from grated plantains, green bananas, yuca, and calabaza squash.
And, just like many other Puerto Rican dishes, pasteles are often stuffed with rice or chicken.
Think of it as sort of like a tamale, but instead of being made from masa, it’s made from plantain and yuca.
Pasteles are also typically wrapped in a banana lead instead of a corn husk. Also, while you can find this dish year-round, it’s usually most popular at Christmas time.
Tostones are made of thick slices of green plantain. (In case you haven’t noticed, Puerto Ricans love cooking with plantain).
Puerto Ricans start by frying the plantain, then flattening it, and then refrying it.
You can basically think of tostones as french fries, but hardier. In other words, they’re an excuse to eat french fries as your main meal because they actually fill you up.
They’re typically served with mayo-ketchup, (if you haven’t tried combining mayo and ketchup before, stop what you’re doing and try it now) fresh garlic, and fresh spices.
Puerto Ricans also typically serve tostones with a side of arroz con gandules or rice and beans.
Some Puerto Ricans even like to dip their tostones right into their rice and beans.
As you can see, a lot of Puerto Rican dishes are hearty and savory. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t make a great desserts in Puerto Rico.
In fact, Puerto Rico is home to one of the most famous desserts in the world- flan.
Flan is a bit like creme brulee and a bit like cheesecake. In other words, it’s absolutely delicious.
Just like cheesecake, there are different kinds of flavors of flan to enjoy. But in Puerto Rico, the most popular flavor is flan de queso. This type of flan is most similar to cheesecake.
You can also get flan de naranja (flan flavored with oranges), dulce de leche flan (flan made with sweet milk), and many more flavors.
Flan is the perfect dessert because it’s enough to satisfy your sweet tooth without putting you in a complete food coma.
Of course, we can’t talk about delicious Puerto Rican food without talking about the country’s most famous sweet drink, coquito.
If you’re a fan of eggnog, then coquito is totally for you.
Coquito means “little coconut”, and it’s an eggless rum cream that contains coconut milk, coconut cream, vanilla, and sweetened condensed milk.
It’s also typically served with a cinnamon stick, and just like eggnog, coquito is a holiday favorite. Get your Coquito recipe here.
12. Cafe Con Leche
While coquito is enjoyed during the holiday season, cafe con leche is a drink that’s enjoyed year-round by Puerto Ricans.
When people think of coffee and Latin American countries, they often think of Colombia. However, coffee is a huge staple in Puerto Rico and finding a delicious cup of Café Yaucono, a popular Puerto Rican coffee, is quite easy.
13. Coco Rico
Coco Rico is essentially Puerto Rico’s version of Coca Cola.
In other words, it’s the perfect drink for cooling off on a hot summer day, even when you know that you should really be drinking water.
Coco Rico is a carbonated beverage that tastes like coconut and has a lightness to it that’s similar to 7 Up. And just like Coca Cola, you can find Coco Rico pretty much all over the place, from restaurants to grocery stores to drug stores. The brand can even be found in some spots in the US now too. So the next time you’re in the grocery store, keep your eyes peeled.
In addition to drinking a Coco Rico plain, you can also make a pretty mean mojito using Coco Rico as a base.
14. Arroz Con Dulce
If you still haven’t had your fix after indulging in all of the savory rice dishes Puerto Rico has to offer, then you need to get your hands on some arroz con dulce.
Arroz con dulce is a sweet coconut rice pudding that consists of rice, coconut milk, cinnamon, sugar, cloves, and nutmeg.
It’s also typically garnished with raisins and cinnamon sticks.
After a bite of arroz con dulce, you’ll never want to eat a dessert that doesn’t contain rice in it again.
If arroz con dulce isn’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, then you should also try tembleque.
Tembleque is a creamy coconut pudding that is made from cornstarch, sugar and coconut milk. Or you can buy Tembleque mix to instead.
Although it’s very similar to arroz con dulce, tembleque has a much smoother consistency. It’s typically topped with cinnamon for an extra punch of flavor, and although served year-round, it’s most popular during the Christmas season.
16. Rellenos de Papa
If you’re all plantain-ed out and you’re craving some good ol’ potatoes, then you have to try rellenos de papa.
Rellenos de papa are potatoes stuffed with, you guessed it, meat. The outer layer is deep-fried, making it extra crispy and delicious.
And, the great thing about this food is that it makes the perfect snack that you can find pretty much anywhere, from restaurants to food trucks.
Also, the meat filling isn’t just any meat filling. It’s called picadillo, and it’s made from ground beef, sofrito, adobo, olives, tomato sauce, garlic powder, and oregano.
The meat is then stuffed into the potato ball and deep-fried.
17. Pollo Guisado
While Puerto Ricans use a lot of pork in their dishes, they definitely still know what they’re doing when it comes to chicken.
Pollo guisado is a perfect example of this. Pollo guisado is a chicken stew that’s made from a variety of ingredients including adobo, garlic, sofrito, oregano, cilantro, and other seasonings.
Some people add vegetables, while others leave them out.
This is another dish where the chicken is cooked so tenderly that it slides right off the bone.
Sancocho is basically the comfort food of Puerto Rican cuisine.
The dish actually originates in the Spanish Canary Islands, but Puerto Ricans have created their own unique spin on it.
Sancocho consists of vegetables, corn, pumpkin, ginger root, cumin, chile pepper, yuca, plantains, and beef.
Sancocho is the perfect food to curl up with on a rainy, lazy day. Get Sancocho recipe here.
Asopao is a dish that’s actually popular across the whole Caribbean. It’s essentially a blend of rice, soup, and some kind of protein (usually pork, chicken, or seafood).
The closest thing to compare it to would probably be gumbo.
And while there are many variations of this dish, the most popular combines chicken, tomato, oregano, olives, garlic, onion, and a variety of other seasonings.
20. Habichuelas Guisadas
If you’re looking for the perfect side dish, habichuelas guisadas is your answer.
Habichuelas guisadas are basically the Puerto Rican version of baked beans. The beans are seasoned with sofrito, tomato sauce, and Sazon.
If you love mofongo, then it’s time to extend your palet bit and try trifongo.
Trifongo is basically the same thing as mofongo, but instead of being made from green plantains, it’s made from sweet plantains.
This is also probably a good time to note that if you try to make any of these dishes at home, the type of plantain you choose is very important. If the recipe calls for green plantains, don’t think you can get away with substituting sweet plantains or green bananas. The recipe just won’t be the same!
Are You Ready to Try These Puerto Rican Dishes?
As you can see, there are a lot of Puerto Rican dishes that you have to try.
All you have to do is buy the right ingredients and start cooking! And we are here to help. Visit our online store and shop for all the Puerto Rican foods and drinks you’ll need.
And if you think Puerto Rican food is a foodie’s dream, then be sure to check out our Brazilian food section.
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.