In Puerto Rico, eating and socializing go together, so one of the most authentic dining experiences to be had is a visit to one of the many chinchorros — specifically, bars with inexpensive food and drinks. These bars exist at the heart of the island’s expansive food scene, as they combine the flavors of Puerto Rican cuisine with the music and social atmosphere that feeds every Puerto Rican’s soul.

With its time-perfected traditional flavors and fresh and progressive gastronomy innovations, Puerto Rico is a veritable smorgasbord of unique feasting opportunities — especially during major annual celebrations like Saborea, a food festival that runs the gamut of Puerto Rico's countless top-notch chefs. However, no island adventure would be complete without sampling these six authentic Puerto Rican delicacies.
Mofongo, the unofficial national dish of Puerto Rico, is traditionally made by mashing fried green plantains with an old-fashioned pilón (mortar and pestle). Occasionally though, this popular dish is created using sweet plantains or yuca instead, or all three ingredients are combined as a trifongo. The base is only the beginning, however, as this savory treat is almost always stuffed. Shrimp, churrasco (skirt steak), beef, chicken, octopus, vegetables — you name it, it can probably be used as a mofongo filling.

Mofongo will often appear on restaurant menus as a side dish, but once you add a filling, the dish becomes a hearty main course all on its own. Wander into virtually any eatery across the island and you’ll find a plate of mofongo waiting for you, but if you want to cut yourself a real slice of the action, why not try your hand at whipping your own rendition?
Pork is so popular in Puerto Rico that there's even a town unofficially (but comprehensively) dedicated to lechón, or roasted pig. That’s right: Guavate, a town about 45 minutes south of San Juan, boasts La Ruta del Lechón, a designated Pork Highway that’s overflowing with open-air kiosks and restaurants. Many of Guavate’s lechoneras — the sellers of lechón — also offer live music on the weekends, making a trip down La Ruta del Lechón a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture while also enjoying some authentic Puerto Rican flavors and beats.
Arroz con gandules
Arroz con gandules is a national dish with a history dating back to Spanish rule in the 1800s. To authentically prepare this dish, rice and pigeon peas are seasoned with the iconic herbs-and-spices mix known as sofrito and placed in a pot under a layer of large plantain leaves to cook. The rice is then typically paired with ají dulce peppers, Spanish onions, cilantro, recao (spiny coriander) and garlic. Meat is often mixed in, and the plate is usually accented by a bright-green slice of ripe avocado.
A Puerto Rican holiday is certifiably incomplete without pasteles, a meat-filled delicacy made with a masa (dough) of grated ingredients like yautía (taro root), green plantain and pumpkin. Wrapped up in a plantain leaf and tied with a string, pasteles both taste and look like a savory, mouth-watering gift from the native Taínos, who are thought to have first introduced the dish. The pasteles season kicks off in November in Orocovis during the Festival del Pastel, which draws thousands of pastel-loving Puerto Ricans each year and features an incredible variety of fillings and masa combinations. Revelers can grab pasteles from any of the many kiosks, then wander the grounds to take in the festival’s live music, dancing and eating competitions.
Frituras, or Puerto Rican fried treats, can be found right across the island, from the colorful kiosks around Piñones, a beachside town about 30 minutes east of San Juan, to the lengthy stretch of restaurants with walk-up windows in Luquillo, near El Yunque rainforest. At any given spot, you'll likely see the same incredible variety of frituras, like bacalaítos (salted cod), tostones (fried plantains), empanadillas and pastelillos (pastry pockets stuffed with meat or seafood) and sorullos de maíz (corn fritters that you should dip in the iconic Puerto Rican mayoketchup sauce).
What's a meal without dessert? Puerto Ricans’ dessert of choice would have to be tembleque, a coconut-milk pudding named for its slightly jiggly appearance (tembleque means wiggly). Like many traditional Puerto Rican dishes, it's a major part of holiday celebrations, but this cherished finale is reliably available at bakeries and restaurants everywhere, all year round. It's popular throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, but tembleque is rightfully claimed by Puerto Ricans as their own original.
If you want to truly experience the Puerto Rican culture, you should start by sampling these six essential dishes. However, food is only one part of the Puerto Rican culinary scene — socializing and community are so ingrained in the island's cuisine, that they have become an essential part of every Puerto Rican meal.

Add a little flavor to your visit to Puerto Rico by partaking in one of the island’s iconic chinchorreos — essentially, a chinchorro bar crawl. Regular chinchorreo tours run in various towns across the island, which allow travelers to truly experience the local passion for drinking, eating and dancing. Truly, no comida criolla experience is complete without it.

If you’re ready to experience the flavors of Puerto Rico for yourself, be sure to include these traditional eateries on your itinerary.