Plantain Chips with a Dipping Salsa

15 THINGS YOU HAVE TO TRY: THE BEST PUERTO RICAN FOOD IN SAN JUAN

From savory side dishes to tasty treats, here's everything you need to know about finding the best food in San Juan.




Old San Juan is filled with delicious foods to sink your teeth into. From soft mofongo (mashed fried plantains) to a loaded-up tripleta (a sandwich featuring three types of meat) to a refreshing piña colada and everything in between, one thing is for sure — you won't struggle to find tasty grub in San Juan. So wander down the streets of the old town and stumble into some local joints for a taste of the real thing. And if you're stumped on what to order, here are some of the best foods in San Juan.




1. MOFONGO

Traditional Puerto Rican MofongO

Mofongo is one of those staples that you can find just about anywhere in Puerto Rico. It's made with mashed fried plantains, lots of garlicky goodness, and chicharrones, which is fried pork skin. It's often served as a side dish with pork or chicken. In order to get the best mofongo possible, the base must stay soft so you can really get the crunch of the fried pork skin. If it's cooked like that, then it definitely tops the list for the best food in San Juan. Luckily, you can find it just about anywhere in the city and give it a try.




2. CAFE

Roasting coffee beans by hand.

Because of the numerous coffee bean plantations scattered along the island of Puerto Rico, you know you're going to get a fantastic cup of coffee wherever you go. Sip on a hot cup of cafe in the morning before you begin exploring the city. Enjoy the smooth, sweet blend while you wait for the caffeine to kick in and wake you up from a late night out enjoying San Juan.

You can also pair your cup o' joe with a crispy, flaky breakfast sandwich or a hot-out-of-the-oven pastry. Either way will be delicious! Enjoy your coffee alfresco or in a trendy cafe with the locals.




3. TRIPLETA

Chicken, Steak and Ham Sandwich, Traditional Puerto Rican Tripleta

If you're looking for a monster of a sandwich, then you have to dig into a tripleta. This Puerto Rican favorite is usually made with chicken, ham and beef — yes, all three! It's the perfect late-night (or early morning) snack to soak up a night of heavy drinking. Because of this, the best places to find this colossal wonder is at a late-night food truck or bakery. Finish your night off right!

The street food staple is not only filled with three meats. It also can be stuffed with Swiss cheese, lettuce, ketchup, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise and potato sticks. If you're looking for added crunch, ask the cook to grill your bread once the sandwich has been assembled. This will result in the most delicious drippy, meaty cheesy meal you'll ever eat and definitely makes it a frontrunner for the best food in San Juan.




4. PINA COLADAS

Pinnaple and coconut puerto rican pina colada

Cool off after an afternoon of sightseeing in the sun with an ice-cold, frosty pina colada. The official drink of the island since 1978, these are served up just about anywhere — find them in bars, restaurants and even roadside kiosks and order it with or without rum. It's refreshing either way and will hit the spot as you take it easy after your explorations.

If you're interested in trying the "original," there are two spots that claim the rights to that title. The Caribe Hilton says that they've been serving it since 1954, when Ramon "Monchito" Marrero mixed up his first one. However, the staff at the Barrachina Restaurant say the original pina colada was created there by Ramon Portas Mingot in 1963. Whoever is right, the delicious cocktail is a must for your Old San Juan food tour.




5. LECHON ASADO

Lechon Asado Puerto Rico

Traditional foods are sometimes the best because a recipe has been perfected over years. One of the dishes that the Puerto Ricans have perfected is the lechon asado, a spit-roasted suckling pig. It's one of those meals that you can smell cooking from a mile away (get ready to have your mouth water!) because the entire pig is doused in salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and ajies dulces (small, sweet cooking peppers) and then cooked over a wood charcoal fire. Because of the process, the skin gets extra crispy, making an already incredible bite even better. Most places serve this up cafeteria-style. Pair it with pigeon pea rice and plantains for some of the best food in San Juan.




6. QUESITOS

Puerto Rican quesito, cheese pastry

Start your day off the right way — that is, with a quesito. The warm, crunchy, flaky pastry is usually stuffed with cheese but not always. Flavors can include guayaba (guava), dulce de leche, salted caramel and even bacon.

The deep-fried snack is filled with the flavored paste and cream cheese and then stuck in a deep fryer so that every bite you take has the perfect amount of crunch. Be sure to add it to your Old San Juan food tour and try every flavor.




7. ALCAPURRIAS

Alcapurrias, Puerto Rico local street dish

Like some of these other foods, you can often find alcapurrias at stands on the side of the road. To prepare this local Puerto Rican food, the fried fritter is made with a batter (called the masa) of green bananas and grated yautia, or Xanthosoma. It's often stuffed with crab, shrimp or lobster and deep-fried to achieve its delicious flavor.

If you're feeling adventurous (or just particularly hungry), you can also sample cuchifritos, which are stuffed with pork; almojabanas, which are cheese-filled rice flour fritters; and bunuelos, which are yam fritters. Try taking them along for a delicious lunch when you head to one of San Juan's beaches. You can pick some up on the way and then enjoy them while soaking up the sun (and try pairing it with a local beer or pina colada for a true Puerto Rican experience).




8. BACALAITOS

Bacalaitos, fried cod traditional food in puerto rico.

Bacalaitos are fried salt cod fritters, similar to pancakes, and are a greasy, satisfying snack for seafood lovers. The cod, which has been salted and boiled or left overnight, is shredded, then it's mixed with flour and milk or water. The batter has a tasty seasoning made with ingredients including sofrito and cumin. Pair it with an ice-cold local beer and enjoy it dipped in hot sauce. It's definitely one of the best foods in San Juan.



9. TOSTONES

Tostones, Plantain with Beef, Onion and Peppers

So many Puerto Rican people love tostones, whether they're still living there or have moved away. The fried plantains can be found pretty much throughout San Juan and are often paired with meat. The trick with preparing the simple starch-based dish is to double-fry them. Be sure to check the tostones out before you eat — don't indulge unless they are perfectly flattened into little medallions and are crisp and golden brown. That's the only way they should be enjoyed on a food tour of Old San Juan.




10. ARROZ CON GANDULES

Puerto rican yellow rice with vegetables

Puerto Rico's national dish clearly has a Caribbean influence, like some of the other food made in the area, but the Puerto Ricans have made arroz con gandules their own with their incredibly delectable sofrito sauce. The sauce is made with various aromatic ingredients and the rice dish is usually made with pork, red peppers and olives and then tossed in the sofrito sauce so that every grain is smothered in the sauce. Its flavor makes it a contender for some of the best food in San Juan.




11. ASOPAO DE POLLO

Asopao de pollo, puerto rico local dish

Sometimes you just need something savory and hot to warm you up and asopao de pollo is Puerto Rico's answer to classic chicken soup. Made with chicken, rice, green olives, peas, and tomatoes, this stew is the ultimate comfort food. What's the secret? As is the case with most Puerto Rican meals, the dish has a sofrito base which really gives it the pop of flavor that it's famous for. This is a popular dish to eat on Sundays in Puerto Rico. A perfect way to finish your weekend! You can find it on most restaurant menus in Old San Juan, where it's some of the best Puerto Rican food you'll find.



12. TEMBLEQUE

Tembleque Coconut Pudding, Popular Puerto Rico Dessert.

You can't visit a new place without trying something sweet and San Juan has a ton of dessert options to add to your food tour. Tembleque, which is a coconut pudding and means "wiggly," has a jelly-like texture but remains rich and creamy with each and every spoonful. The great thing about this dish is that it's not too complicated to recreate so if you love it when you try it in Puerto Rico, you can make it at home. All you need is milk, sugar and cornstarch. Just remember that the sweet coconut milk is the star of this light dessert and you'll bake up something truly remarkable.



13. FLAN DE QUESO

Puerto Rico Cheesecake Flan Dessert.

Flan de queso is like a caramel custard and a piece of cheesecake combined. The traditional Puerto Rican flan is made with simple ingredients like eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream cheese. It's usually vanilla-flavored and covered with homemade caramel sauce but you can find some variations of this popular sweet treat featuring other flavors including chocolate, coconut and even Nutella. If a caramel sauce isn't your first choice, try it topped with fresh fruit and cream.




14. TRES LECHES

Tres leches Puerto Rican Dessert

While tres leches, or three milks cake, can be found in many Latin American cultures, the Puerto Ricans have really mixed it up. It's usually made with a light sponge cake that has been soaked in a mixture of whole milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk and topped with whipped cream but in Puerto Rico, coconut milk is often used instead of whole milk to give it a bit of an island flavor. If that isn't enough island flavor for you, then order a coquito tres leches cake, which is not only made with the three kinds of milk but is also doused in some good old Puerto Rican rum, making it one of the best Puerto Rican dishes in San Juan.




15. MALLORCA BREAD

Asopao de pollo, puerto rico local dish

If you enjoy something on the sweeter side with breakfast, then ensure a great start to your day and pair your coffee with some Mallorca sweet bread. The delicious treat, which resembles a snail shell with its circular pattern, is prepared by mixing a dough that includes flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. While the treat originated on the island for which it's named, it can be found in bakeries all over Old San Juan and should definitely be added to your Old San Juan food tour. Topped with a scattering of powdered sugar, this breakfast roll is anything but basic.


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