Explore the Flavors of Puerto Rican Dishes

Puerto Rican cuisine is a mouthwatering fusion of Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino influences. The use of succulent meats and aromatic spices creates a sumptuous variety of dishes that encapsulate the spirit of Puerto Rico.

While rice and beans are staples in most Puerto Rican dishes, often served with meat or seafood, plantains are commonly used in many dishes, either fried or mashed.

From the appetizers to the meat-loaded dishes and desserts, every bite will transport you to the Caribbean island.

Appetizers and Sides

There are the American sides of fries or mashed potatoes, and then there are the diverse Puerto Rican sides. Feast your eyes on these flavorful appetizers and sides.

Tostones (Fried Green Plantains)

Here’s where you’ll start noticing that Puerto Ricans love cooking with plantain. Tostones are thick slices of fried plantain. It’s almost like french fries but with green plantains instead of potatoes.

The plantains are sliced into thick wheels, fried on each side, and smashed or flattened. This is followed by deep-frying them once more till they’re golden.

Add a dash of salt, fresh spices, and garlic, and relish tostones with a side of mayo-ketchup (yes, you read that right!). You can also have tostones with a side of arroz can gandules.

Want to take it up a notch? Try tostones with spicy mango salsa!

Alcapurrias (Deep-Fried Fritters Filled With Meat or Seafood)

A common dish sold by street vendors in Puerto Rico, alcapurria has an outside shell made of plantains mixed with any mashed root vegetable.

The masa (dough) is made by grating the yautia root and green plantains and mixing the ingredients to a smooth paste. A bit of this batter is then spread on a banana leaf, and the filling is placed on it.

The filling can be chicken, crab meat, ground beef, fish, conch, octopus, or any other protein. Then, the alcapurria is folded and fried until golden brown.

These torpedo-shaped fritters almost look like an American corndog. It doesn’t get any better than alcapurrias in one hand and a chilled beer in the other by the open-air, beachside restaurants in Puerto Rico.

Bacalaitos (Codfish Fritters)

Puerto Ricans sure love their deep-fried treats, and bacalaitos is another traditional fried fritter made with salted cod fish. Adobo, sofrito, and sazon are commonly used seasonings.

Bacalao stands for salt cod, hence the name bacalaitos. Often found at beach kiosks or street vendors around Puerto Rico, the codfish is coated in a simple batter of all-purpose flour, dried oregano, salt, and sweet peppers. Then, it’s deep-fried in oil for a crispy exterior and delightfully soft insides.

Pasteles (Meat-Filled Plantain Dumplings)

Here’s another popular Puerto Rican dish made using plantains. This one’s like a Puerto Rican tamale.

Made with a dough of grated plantains, green bananas, calabaza squash, and yuca, the stuffing can be rice or ground meat (chicken or pork). Pasteles are wrapped in a green banana leaf to give the dish a nutty flavor.

This beloved dish is often enjoyed around Christmas with a side of arroz can gandules and a slice of pernil. In fact, a Puerto Rican Christmas meal is incomplete without these three dishes.

Special Mention: Spices and Seasonings

Sofrito is a seasoning blend made from onions, peppers, garlic, cilantro, and other herbs/spices that add flavor to many dishes. This is used as a base for many Puerto Rican dishes.

Adobo is another popular seasoning blend made from salt, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper, and other spices that can be used on meats or vegetables.

Meat Lover’s Delight

Puerto Rican specialties are loaded with meat, especially pork, and in varieties that will have you longing to try it all.

Pernil (Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder)

Traditionally made with a whole suckling pig, this is a staple dish in Puerto Rican households. The meat is marinated overnight with a marinade called adobo mojado, a blend of oregano, garlic, vinegar, salt, and paprika, and roasted till it’s juicy and tender.

Pernil is more of a showstopper dish for holidays and special occasions when families get together to enjoy this traditional dish’s tantalizing aromas and flavors.

Don’t forget to try that crunchy skin, called cuerito, over the roasted meat; it’s the most desirable part. This is a must-try delicacy for any meat enthusiast.

Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)

Have you noticed that almost every culture has rice and beans dish variants?

Arroz con gandules is considered the national dish of Puerto Rico – the quintessential Puerto Rican dish. It’s a fragrant rice dish seasoned with a blend of sofrito and savory ham or pork. Other ingredients include olives, capers, tomato sauce, bay leaves, and seasoning.

Adding pigeon peas lends it a unique flavor and texture to complement the rice perfectly. Served with roasted pork, this dish is often the centerpiece of family gatherings and festivities.

Placing a plantain leaf under the lid to cover the rice brings in extra flavor.

Mofongo (Stuffed Plantain Fritter)

The iconic mofongo is a beloved Puerto Rican dish made with fried green plantains mashed with salt, garlic, and pork cracklings. You can think of it as the American equivalent of mashed potatoes.

This hearty dish has a variety of delectable fillings like chicken, seafood, or vegetables.

While mofongo is a Puerto Rican specialty, it has also become popular in other countries, with the Dominicans and Cubans adding their own spins to the dish.

Variations of mofongo include yuca mofongo and trifongo, made with sweet plantain, green plantain, and yuca.

Seafood Specialties

The coastal delights deserve to be the highlight in any list of Puerto Rican dishes.

Paella (Spanish Rice Dish)

Puerto Rican paella is any seafood lover’s dream. A savory rice dish infused with the jewels of the sea, including mussels, clams, shrimp, and lobster, is simmered with sofrito and a saffron-infused broth.

What you get to feast on is a mouthwatering blend of flavors highlighting the island’s coastal offering.

Bacalao Guisado (Codfish Stew)

A traditional Puerto Rican stew, this dish showcases the island’s ability to transform simple ingredients into something extraordinary.

Salted codfish is cooked, boiled, and then simmered with peppers, onions, tomatoes, and olives to create a rich, flavorful stew. This is best enjoyed when served over a bed of white rice.

Refreshing Drinks

There’s nothing like a refreshing Puerto Rican drink to complement the delectable Puerto Rican cuisine.


Are you a fan of eggnog? Then coquito is the drink for you.

Coquito is a traditional holiday drink made with coconut milk and rum. It’s a more popular winter drink when people fancy a thick and creamy way to drink alcohol. Rich yet light, the coquito is definitely lighter than eggnog as it doesn’t have eggs.

The typical way to make this involves coconut milk, coconut cream, and sweet condensed milk with rum, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.

Looking for an exciting twist to this holiday favorite? Try the flavored versions, including guava, pistachio, and chocolate.

Piña Colada

Who doesn’t like refreshing drinks made with fresh pineapple juice? The world-famous Piña Colada transports you to a tropical paradise with every sip. 

Invented in Puerto Rico, this refreshing tropical cocktail is made with rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream, and ice. In a nutshell, it’s almost like a taste of paradise in a glass.


Many traditional desserts feature coconut milk or cream cheese as key ingredients. As delicious as the other dishes are, you’ll find Puerto Rican desserts equally alluring.

Tembleque (Coconut Pudding)

Tembleque means trembling or wobbly, which is exactly what this dessert is – delicate and jiggly.

This delightful coconut pudding captures the true essence of Puerto Rican desserts. Made with coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch, and spices, this silky-smooth dessert has hints of cinnamon or nutmeg.

The dessert is served chilled and with a sprinkle of cinnamon. It certainly makes a satisfyingly refreshing finale to any Puerto Rican meal.

Flan de Queso (Cream Cheese Dessert)

One of the most famous desserts across the world – flan, is like creme brulee and a bit like cheesecake. Simply put, the mere sight of this dessert will have you drooling.

Adding cream cheese changes the texture of the custard in flan de queso and will remind you of cheesecake filling. A slightly tangy flavor from the cream cheese adds that extra hint of flavor beyond the regular plain vanilla flan.

A visit to Puerto Rican panaderias will introduce you to multiple flavors of flan, like dulce de leche flan (flan made with sweet milk), flan de naranja (flan flavored with oranges), and many more.

Arroz con Dulce (Sweet Rice Pudding)

You can never have enough rice, especially when dining on Puerto Rican dishes. Apart from the savory rice dishes, you simply mustn’t miss the sweet coconut rice pudding that is arroz con dulce.

White rice is cooked in coconut milk along with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Garnished with raisins and cinnamon sticks, this wholesome pudding symbolizes festivities like Christmas and home.

The best part is that this can be made as a vegan dish and is an excellent dessert option for those who can’t eat gluten. Eat it fresh and hot from the pot or eat it chilled, and when you’re done, you won’t be able to resist a second (or even third) helping!

Buen Provecho!

Puerto Rican food is a delightful blend of flavors and cultural influences.

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you need not be disappointed; many recipes of traditional Puerto Rican foods have been adapted for vegetarian or vegan diets using ingredients like tofu or seitan.

Whether you’re planning on eating these delicacies in Puerto Rico or trying to cook them in your kitchen, you’re in for a flavorful treat that will leave you craving more.

Jude Uchella

Jude Uchella is a passionate research writer whose work has been published on many reputable platforms, including MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and more! He prioritizes research, writes comprehensively, and only shares factual and helpful content. He is a reader’s delight!

Recent Posts