Sampling Puerto Rican culture one dish at a time
Puerto Rico is an island paradise with beautiful people, great music, and ridiculously good food. We were only in town for four days on our most recent visit, but we made sure to taste as much of the island’s cuisine as possible. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite dining experiences to share with you.
Getting a true taste of Puerto Rico at El Jibarito
El Jibarito might look like a hole-in-the-wall, but the sheer amount of locals dining inside indicates that it’s the place to experience an authentic meal. This Old Town haunt serves up some of the best no-nonsense Puerto Rican dishes that will feed your belly and fill your soul. Some of our favorites were the mofongo (mashed and fried plantains), conch salad, and coconut flan.
One word of warning: El Jibarito is so renowned that it can get a little crowded. Be prepared to share a table with some friendly strangers. If they’re locals, ask their advice on what to order. You really can’t go wrong with anything from the menu. It’s all incredible.
Asian fusion at Budatai
This restaurant, one of the hippest places in town, is owned by Puerto Rico’s very own Iron Chef, Roberto Treviño. The clash of Latin and Asian flavors comes through in the cleverly labeled “Los Dim Sum” appetizer menu. We suggest starting off with the duck croquettes or the pork dumplings guisados served with shaved truffles.
If you want to venture from the appetizers, Budatai boasts an extensive menu of sushi, noodle dishes, and other entrees. The Godzilla roll (crunchy hamachi, ahi tuna, and futomaki) is a great choice. So is the seared ahi tuna that’s paired with taro tots. If you save enough room for dessert, the creme brulee is the perfect ending to one heck of a meal.
Sipping a piña colada at its birthplace.
Barrachina, the birthplace of the Piña Colada
This restaurant, in Old Town, is not only known for it’s food, but also for being the birthplace of the piña colada. This claim to fame is shrouded in controversy (nearby Caribe Hilton‘s Beachcomber Bar also claims that it invented the fruity cocktail), but Barrachina’s piña coladas truly are legendary. Boozy drinks aren’t the only highlight; the extensive menu has something for everyone. Our personal favorites were the chicken neptune, mahi mahi fillet, and rib eye steak. To satisfy your sweet tooth, save some space for the guava cheesecake, tres leches, and savory rum cake.
Barrachina also offers flamenco. Every Friday and Saturday night, talented dancers take the stage to stomp their feet and twirl their skirts to the staccato rhythm of the live band. This dancing, coupled with the stellar food, made our dining experience extraordinary.
Viewfinder Tip: Don’t judge a book by its cover in Puerto Rico; the best restaurants are often the most unassuming ones.
Soleil Beach Club and Restaurant
What’s better than a beautiful beach, incredible seafood, and strong drinks? A combination of the three, obviously. This unassuming shack by the sea serves up some of the best seafood on the island. Ceviche, too. To deem it amazing would be an understatement. And we don’t even like seafood that much.
To experience Soleil the right way, grab one of the wooden benches, pick a couple of menu items at random, and prepare your taste buds for one mouthwatering ride. We also recommend ordering the house sangria; it’s the perfect refreshment on a hot and sunny day. (And if you’re lucky you might even be able to take some with you as you walk the ten yards to the beach.)
While every place we ate at in Puerto Rico was delicious, we want to encourage you to get out there and find your favorites. We’re still on a mission for the best mofongo on the island. We’ll be sure to report back as soon as we find it.
How do you approach meals when visiting a faraway place?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube