The Ultimate Gastronomic Guide to Puerto Rico

Stroll along the boardwalk in Ponce as you discover the gastronomic side of Puerto Rico
Stroll along the boardwalk in Ponce as you discover the gastronomic side of Puerto Rico | © Maria Hoffman / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor11 October 2021

As the birthplace of the piña colada, Puerto Rico has a long tradition of creating unique tastes and flavours from locally sourced ingredients. From artisanal coffee makers to their modern farm-to-table crusaders, the island offers travellers the chance to fully immerse themselves in its culinary culture and serves up a menu of delicious delights.

In Puerto Rico, every flavour, dish and gastronomic movement has its own tale to tell, with the narrative ever evolving – drawing from past practices and experimenting with the flavours of tomorrow. From skills perfected over generations, to responsive culinary innovations cultivated from changing global climates, Puerto Rico’s gastronomical highlights are a tropical feast.

If you like Piña Colada…

Puerto Rico is the birthplace of the piña colada, home of Bacardi and the world’s largest exporter of rum. It’s no surprise then that cocktail culture commands a leading role in Puerto Rico’s gastronomic narrative. The piña colada is a sweet blend of coconut cream, pineapple juice and white rum, created in San Juan, but the identity of its inventor is uncertain.

Visitors keen to solve the mystery should head to the bar at Caribe Hilton Hotel and also Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan. While there are contesting origin stories dating back to the 1960s, both institutions serve up a fantastic piña colada. There are also numerous distillery tours for visitors who want to try a tipple in the tasting rooms, learn mixology and discover the craftsmanship and history of the island’s staple spirit, rum. In the city of Ponce in southern Puerto Rico, travellers can find the Castillo Serrallés Museum, a 1930s Spanish Revival-style home which was built by the Serrallés family, of the famous Don Q rum. Or for an experience closer to San Juan, head over to Casa Bacardi, which is also known as the ‘Cathedral of Rum’.

Sip a refreshing piña colada where the drink was invented | © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The Flourishing Farm-to-Table Movement of Puerto Rico

Environmental challenges have impacted Puerto Rico’s food scene in more ways than one, but the farm-to-table movement burgeoned specifically after Hurricane Maria in 2017. The movement has come to define Puerto Rico’s gastronomy scene, a sustainable way of life and food self-sufficiency, utilised by fine dining institutions and locals alike. For adventurous travellers, the Finca Oro Rojo eco-farm, in the Orocovis rainforest, is the perfect destination to master the eco-farming basics. You can learn how to live off the land and discover ways of growing, cultivating and harvesting crops in the orchard from on-site farmers, who select the best produce for guests to cook and prepare.

Near San Juan, the Manati Farm Tour and Lunch offers guests an alternative organic farm-to-table experience – from learning about hydroponics and tasting microgreens in the greenhouse, to meeting farm animals and sampling fresh goat’s cheese paired with local honey.

Puerto Rico’s Authentic Coffee and Cafe Culture

After an evening indulging in Puerto Rico’s alcoholic delights, visitors will be pleased to know that the island also has a cafe culture that dates back over 100 years. The family-owned Hacienda San Pedro plantation sits high up in the leafy valleys of the Jayuya, an area with high rainfall, cooler temperatures and a rich combination of soils, offering the perfect environment for artisan coffee cultivation. Run by Roberto Atienza, the plantation still uses the same century-old coffee-drying drums once used by his grandfather. Today, visitors to the hacienda can tour the fields, sample the coffee, learn about Puerto Rican coffee heritage at the museum and take home a bag or two.

Unsurprisingly, Jayuya is home to a number of stellar haciendas and cafes, including Café Tres Picachos and Café Nativo, both of which are nestled in lush landscapes and offer spectacular views. San Juan is also known for its cafe culture using the freshest product from the inland hills. Fans of coffee art should visit Café Comunión, where barista Abner Roldan holds the title of Puerto Rico’s National Latte Art Champion.

Learn about Puerto Rico’s cafe culture at Hacienda San Pedro coffee plantation | © Michael Dwyer / Alamy Stock Photo

Puerto Rico’s Culinary Pioneers

Modern influences and contemporary culinary skills have infiltrated the island’s kitchens, establishing Puerto Rico as a creative hotspot and a must-visit foodie destination. San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, is paving the way with its trendy restaurants and innovative chefs. In the Santurce neighbourhood, visitors will find Vianda, which puts playful twists on classic Puerto Rican dishes with a small, ever-changing farm-to-table menu anchored to local ingredients.

Another unmissable San Juan spot is Cocina Abierta, which translates as “open kitchen”. True to its name, the open-air kitchen is where Argentinian chef Martin Louzao opens his doors to guests and to experimentation, offering a menu inspired by different cultures, products and techniques. Louzao himself was enticed by the vibrant melting pot of Puerto Rican cultures, relocating to the island and incorporating influential bold flavours into his modern cuisine. As well as enjoying an atmospheric al fresco dining experience, guests can also try their hand at the chef’s table and take an interactive cooking class.

Beach Dining at its Best

Whilst San Juan’s creative city streets are crucial to the culinary story of Puerto Rico, so too are its exquisite beaches – and there are nearly 300 of them. Guests can lap up the ocean views whilst tucking into a meal at one of Puerto Rico’s picture-perfect beachfront restaurants, bars or beach shacks. The municipality of Rincón is situated on one of Puerto Rico’s most western points and has unparalleled views over the Caribbean Sea.

The Beach House boasts a clean, fresh and organic market-driven menu with a focus on daily caught seafood. The restaurant also offers a daily Sunset Happy Hour – lasting for three hours rather than one – when guests can wine and dine watching the spectacular sunset. For those keen to channel their inner surfer, then a visit to Boardriders on the opposite side of the island is a must. This authentic surf shack is located in prime position on the beach, only 10 minutes east of El Yunque National Rainforest. With rolling Atlantic waves, classic beach menus and live entertainment at weekends, guests will never want to leave.

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