From the piña coladas to fried plantain tostones, Puerto Rican food and drink reflect the island’s heritage. Native Taino Indians contributed root vegetables. Africans brought plantains. Spaniards imported cilantro and stews. Islander zest — resounding in the salsa tunes that ring out among San Juan’s cobbled streets — adds spice and color to a food scene that is exploding with new takes on traditional dishes.
Whether updated or classic, the following are 10 must-try food and drinks in San Juan.
The classic rum-pineapple-coconut cream cocktail was purportedly blended up for the first time in 1954 by a bartender at the Caribe Hilton. We recommend one at sunset at the resort’s indoor/outdoor Caribar or at the tropical Piña Colada Club on— a diner on-site which honor's the cocktail’s creation. The Caribe Hilton is only about a two mile cab ride from port.
Puerto Ricans love fried food and often eat fritters as snacks or appetizers. Look for bacalaitos (cod fritters), alcapurrias (green-banana fritters usually stuffed with meat) and empanadillas (meat-stuffed pies) at the kiosks in Piñones, a popular beach area close to Isla Verde.
Fried green plantains are mashed with broth, garlic and pork cracklings to make one of the island’s most fortifying staples. Mofongo relleno is filled with meat. Get it — and many other PR staples — at the lovely patio restaurant of the historic Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan.
Puerto Ricans go crazy for roast pork, or lechon asado, especially from roadside stands that pop up across the islands, often on weekends. Look for it among the food stands that line the beach on Highway 3 in Luquillo, an hour from San Juan en route to El Yunque rainforest.
Puerto Rico grows fragrant Arabica coffee in its highland interior at haciendas that truck their beans to indie coffee shops. Grab a cup at Don Ruiz Coffee Shop in the old Spanish colonial barracks in Old San Juan.
Naturally, the island offers plenty of seafood. But the best is fried whole and served with limes, papaya and avocado at Jose Enrique, the popular restaurant from the eponymous chef in the Santurce neighborhood. It takes no reservations, and the entire menu is created daily and listed on a chalkboard.
Addictive fried crispy plantain disks known as tostones come as a side dish at many restaurants. Try them — along with fried snapper, mofongo and other specialties — at Aguaviva on restaurant-lined Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan.
Come hungry to dine on asopao, a hearty gumbo of rice, pigeon peas and either chicken or shellfish. Get it, and many PR staples, at traditional Café Puerto Rico in Old San Juan.
An island take on chicken and rice, arroz con pollo gets its flavor from sofrito, an onion-pepper-garlic sauce commonly used in island dishes. Order it at Ropa Vieja Grill in the restaurant-packed Condado neighborhood.
If there’s one dessert (or postre) on every menu across the island, it’s flan, the classic custard with a caramel top. In Old San Juan, The Parrot Club adds popular guava.