There are so many reasons to visit beautiful Puerto Rico and coming from a travel writer with 58 countries under my belt, I have to say the culinary treasures are a big part of its allure. On a recent trip to this Caribbean paradise in collaboration with Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, my colleague Meg Ten Eyck and I had the pleasure of staying at the iconic Dorado Beach a secluded tropical eco-resort (formerly a pineapple and sugar cane plantation) set on a pristine three-mile stretch of beach on Puerto Rico’s north shore. Here we met with Executive Chef Suttiphan Ngamtipakon, who introduced us to the delectable gastronomy journey that awaits at the resort’s five signature restaurants and the culinary traditions behind Puerto Rico’s best dishes.
“Food is an essential part of the guest experience. The culinary journey is authentic and memorable as I cook from the heart. I want every dish that our guests taste to bring them fond memories of their time at Dorado Beach.” That sentiment along with chef’s desire to fuse the best of Puerto Rican flavors, ingredients, culinary traditions, and culture into every dish is what makes everything from your early morning cup of locally sourced coffee (Puerto Rican coffee is out of this world) to candlelight sunset dinners of freshly caught seafood on the beach ensure your stay at this breathtaking resort always worth traveling for.
Private Immersive Dining Experiences
One of the best ways to truly experience the best traditional Puerto Rican dishes at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is through their immersive dining experience. In honor of its pre-colonial past, the signature beachfront restaurant is COA, named after the wooden tool the indigenous Taino people used to harvest their crops. Past culinary traditions live on at COA; the ingredients are sourced seasonally and from local farms, and their signature dishes are created in the Mi Brasa, a traditional, Spanish wood-burning oven.
In addition to COA, the resort’s exceptional dining line-up features Posi+Ivo Sand Bar, Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill, and La Cocina Gourmet and among the many delicious highlights dishes are Churrasco, Blackened Tuna Tiradito, Wagyu Rib Eye and Hamachi Tiradito. And while dining in any of them is truly unforgettable (all offer waterfront views of the surrounding turquoise ocean), guests can also experience the best of Puerto Rican gastronomy at any of Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve immersive experience locations. Choose from dining under the foot of a 100-year-old ficus tree by candlelight, on the sandy shores of Dorado Beach at sunset, while listening to the coquis serenading you in the Spa Botanico Tree House, enjoying wine pairings in the 390 label wine room or a private chef lead meal on the balcony of your suite. Between the food and the unique way to experience it, dining here promises to take your breath away.
I’m a passionate believer that food offers a unique window into the history and culture of a destination and our first meal at the property’s signature oceanside restaurant, COA, featuring one of the largest wine rooms in the Caribbean confirmed that. My eyes were instantly drawn to the section of the menu titled “local favorites “and choosing between pastelillos de guayaba (a puff pastry filled with guava and topped with confectioners sugar), house-smoked salmon, and banana foster waffles was a tough ask. In the end I went for Sanocho des la Abuela. Sancho is a traditional Puerto Rican slow-cooked stew infused with flavorsome spices, meat, root vegetables like yucca, plantain, yam, and calabaza (winter squash). It’s served with rice and fresh sliced avocado. The dish is popular throughout much of Latin America but I personally think the Puerto Rican version that includes homemade sofrito (peppers, onions, garlic, and herbs) is the most flavorful. Pair the Sancho with a passion fruit mimosa and for the perfect kick start to your vacation.
Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill
For lunch, Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill is simply magical. The modern, poolside, open-air restaurant features sweeping ocean views and the signature dishes here are Grilled Churrasco, Whole Branzino, and Arroz Negro (black rice). It was hard to resist the Grilled Churrasco, a skirt steak, prepared on a barbecue grill, seasoned with rock salt, paired with Arroz Mamposteao, a beloved Puerto Rican family staple of rice and stewed red beans made with plantains, chopped garlic, soy sauce, bacon, peppers, onions, cilantro, and scallions. Flavorsome sauces are a big part of Puerto Rican food, so I topped my churrasco with chimichurri, a spicy sauce made with macerated parsley, garlic, peppers, and olive oil. Though you also won’t go wrong with Ajilimójili, a sweet and spicy chili sauce, or the guava rum sauce.
Posi+Ivo Sand Bar
The elegant open-air restaurant Posi+Ivo Sand Bar is right on the beach and offers some of the resort’s most magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean. The space is filled with large antique fans and artistic hanging lights, and the floor is sand, evoking that dining in a tropical paradise vibe. The Asian-inspired menu includes Latin fusion dishes with a focus on highlighting pure high-quality ingredients. Book yourself a seat at the Omakase Bar to enjoy sushi, ceviche, and tapas-style plates of fresh seafood. Deciding between Grilled Octopus Ceviche, Soft Shell Crab Bao and the extensive selection of hand-rolled sushi was another tough one but Chef Ngamtipakon told us that Hamachi Tiradito hamachi sashimi with garlic and chili was his favorite thing on the menu to prepare so I had to go with that.
Traditional Puerto Rican Breakfast
The typical Puerto Rican Breakfast also served at COA is a feast featuring oatmeal, sorullo, and pastelillos. Also on the menu is Puerto Rican Oatmeal, which is nothing like your typical oatmeal. Ground-down oats are paired with full-fat coconut milk which makes for an incredibly rich and creamy texture that is bursting with flavor. The addition of cane sugar and heaping amounts of cinnamon take this dish to a whole other level. No Puerto Rican breakfast is complete without a side of sorullos, heavenly fried cornmeal sticks. This local Puerto Rican favorite can be found everywhere from high-end dining establishments like COA to beachside street food vendors. The best ones have a crispy exterior, soft dense middle with bits of sweet corn, and are always served piping hot. The sorullos are served with the popular mayo ketchup for a savory snack or with a dusting of confectioners sugar if you’re craving something sweet.
Puerto Rican Coffee
In Puerto Rico, coffee is a way of life. Coffee beans were first brought to the island from the island of Martinique in the 1700s by the Spanish colonists. Today coffee beans, grown in the island’s rich volcanic soil are known to be sweet with low acidity and often include notes of chocolate or caramel. If you really want to immerse yourself in Puerto Rican coffee culture, try the six-hour guided coffee discovery experience offered at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve which will take you on a tour of an authentic working coffee plantation where you’ll delve into the cultivation and production process. For a quicker fix, head to La Cocina Gourmet, Dorado’s chic market, coffee, and homemade gelato shop, to indulge alfresco by the ocean in their delicious coffee blends and sample traditional tarts, cakes, chocolate infused with local flavors, fresh-made sandwiches, and pastries, like the popular Puerto Rican favorite, pastelillos. A small turn-over style pastry made with dough crimped at the edges and fried, these beauty’s come in sweet and savory varieties. Our fave was the guava and cheese-filled pastelillos, but also worth a mention are the carne with potato options and the delicious banana rum muffins.
Master the Art of Puerto Rican Cooking
Foodies will also be delighted to learn that Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve offers hands-on cooking classes and themed wine dinners at their onsite Culinary Center located inside La Cocina Gourmet. The spacious chef’s kitchen has counter height seating for up to ten people and a beautiful private outdoor dining space with string lights draped above the tables. During this experience, internationally renowned chefs share their professional techniques, top tips and walk you through the preparation of favorite traditional Puerto Rican dishes, like Monfongok which is such a big part of Puerto Rican Culinary culture, it’s worth its own entry.
Mofongo is one of the island’s most popular and delicious dishes and the best way to experience it is during COA’s private immersive tasting menu which is designed to connect you to the land and culture of Puerto Rico. Mofongo is made with fried green plantains that are seasoned with salt, garlic, broth, and olive oil then mashed with a traditional wooden pilón, a Puerto Rican take on the pestle and mortar. The dish which is the perfect accompaniment to meat, chicken, or fish is served in a delicious broth of garlic butter and topped with crunchy chicharrón pieces.
The Reserve Butler Experience
If the stunning resort and its culinary offering isn’t the ultimate in luxury, all guests at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve have access to a personalized Butler Service. Your Reserve Butler is on hand to attend to your every whim, from making restaurant reservations, to helping you decide which dish to choose (trust me you need this), to booking curated experiences like private yacht charters (yes please) and scheduling spa services (make time to visit the incredible Spa Botanico for a The Treehouse Massage or the Manos Santos Massage ).