Like a culinary explorer armed with an insatiable curiosity, the late Anthony Bourdain charted a course for the vibrant island of Puerto Rico, diving headfirst into its rich flavors and diverse culinary traditions. With his trademark wit and warmth, Bourdain transcended the typical tourist experience, shedding light on Puerto Rico’s resilience amidst adversity, while indulging in the island’s unique food culture – from savory mofongo to the iconic piña colada.
Anthony Bourdain visited Puerto Rico twice, to film season 2 (episode 7) of No Reservations, and again to film season 10 (episode 6) of Parts Unknown. These were his only two visits, but gave more screentime to this American territory than many states in the remainder of the U.S.
If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Rico and want to eat well while there, here’s a list of places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Puerto Rico to guide you. Below you’ll find all the places Tony ate at in his two visits to the island; put it all together and you’ll have a great trip filled with uniquely Puerto Rican flavors and showing off the variety of experiences you can find on the “Island of Enchantment.”
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Taíno and Borikén Taíno people, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
No Reservations (2006)
Bourdain moves around a little bit to find the authentic side of Puerto Rico. While he doesn’t cover long distances, he does go to a few towns to find specific dishes no one can miss while on the Caribbean island.
Barrachina Café (San Juan)
His first stop is nothing less than the Barrachina Café, the alleged birthplace of the piña colada. Tony finds the experience disappointing, or in his own words, depressing – as the drink is highly artificial. So he has to make it up and that’s what he does by visiting the following places.
Raíces Restaurante (San Juan)
According to Tony, it doesn’t get more authentic than Raíces, a restaurant specializing in old-fashioned Puerto Rican cuisine.
He’s advised to try the Chuletas Kan Kan, pork chops arranged like a rainbow around beans and rice. Tony is immediately convinced, because, is there anything more beautiful than a rainbow of pork?
Chicharrones del País (San Juan)
Tony refuses to leave Puerto Rico without sampling one of his old-time favorite snacks, chicharrones (crunchy pig skins) served with warm and delicious pan de país, the bread of Puerto Rico.
So he heads to the San Juan suburb of Bayamón, a working-class neighborhood famous for its amazing street food. The town is known by locals as El pueblo del chicharrón, translated loosely as “fried-pork skin city”.
There he finds Chicharrones del País, a little red cart that has some of the best chicharrones con pan de país.
Lechonera Los Pinos (Cayey)
Tony is now joined by Andy, a fellow New Yorker and Puerto Rico native, whose one goal is to show Tony the authentic side of Puerto Rico.
For their culinary adventure, Andy takes Tony to the mountain village of Cayey, home of the lechoneras – roast pig stands.
They visit Lechonera Los Pinos. Owners Tomás and Carmen prepare the pigs by rubbing garlic and sofrito – the single most important ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisine – under the skin. Then, they slowly roast it. Tony orders a combinación, a dish with different parts of the pig. Of course, the pig comes with beans.
Sonia Rican (Isabela) (CLOSED)
Twenty-four hours after the pig orgy (as Tony calls the visit to the lechonera), he and Andy head to the nor-west town of Isabela, where Andy will take Tony to a little beach shack called Sonia Rican.
Sonia Rican specializes in mofongo a staple Puerto Rican dish. They order mofongo con camarones. This dish is a blending of African, Spanish, and native Taino Indian ingredients and techniques.
The mofongo is a concoction made of fresh plantains fried in pork fat mixed with generous portions of more pork fat, then crushed in a wooden mortero but what makes the mofongo of Sonia Rican so special? They stuff it with shrimp and top it off with the ever-present sofrito.
Parts Unknown (2017)
For his second trip, Anthony Bourdain returns to the “Island of Enchantment” to explore other parts of the island. He doesn’t make as many restaurant stops, but shows off the variety of cultural experiences and cuisines you can find on the island.
Casa Vieja (Ciales)
The first stop Tony makes in Puerto Rico is Casa Vieja, a 1950s and 60s typical grandma house as described by Lisa Fournier Cordova, a native teacher from Puerto Rico.
Tony has a meaningful conversation with Lisa about the crisis that hit Puerto Rico after Hurricane María over a meal in this restaurant. First, he tried the corn fritters with ham, which Lisa states is a preferred hangover food. Next, Tony eats plantain soup and ends with a pastel al caldero, the house specialty. Pastel al caldero is made with pork marinated in bitter orange, taro root, green plantain, squash, garbanzo beans slow-cooked, and morcilla (blood sausage).
El Trasmallo (Loiza)
Tony’s next stop in Puerto Rico is Loiza. Here, he meets with Pedro Alvarez Cortez, a Puerto Rican who’s finding success in the sausage-making businesses. They visit El Trasmallo, a popular crab shack.
While Pedro tells Tony about his family business and learning how to make the most of what you have, they indulge in coconut arepas, land crabs fed with corn, and a couple of cool beers.
Lechonera El Rancho de Apa (Guaynabo)
Once again, Tony stops by a lechonera. Apa Ramos is the owner and chef of the Lechonera El Rancho de Apa. He’s been perfecting for 15 years the art of the perfect slow-roasted suckling pig. He prepares Tony a delicious pig roasted for six hours on a turning spit over a low fire.
Tony then tries gandinga, a traditional stew made from a pig’s heart, liver, and kidneys. We know how he loved those Nasty Bits!
Puerto Rico Food Tours to Try
While you might not need any more suggestions for foods to try in Puerto Rico, food tours are a great way to sample a lot in a short time. Here are a few good food tours you might want to add to your itinerary:
Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Puerto Rico or what he ate? Let me know in the comments below!