La Ruta del Lechón’s Pork Perfection

Eat like a local in Puerto Rico, where nothing tops a roasted pig cooked slowly over an open fire


For an authentic taste of Puerto Rico, it doesn’t get any better than lechon asado. This savoy favorite begins with a whole pig that is fired-roasted to create a crispy outer skin that keeps the meat inside succulent and tender. It’s a favorite all over the island, but as local will tell you, there’s one particular area that draws lechón lovers in droves.

Guavate Rancho Puerto Rico

After hours of slow roasting lechón asado is carved into chunks and ready to be served at El Rancho Original. The results are a crispy outer skin and a juicy interior. Photo: Debbie Snow

If your pork pilgrimage begins in San Juan, you’ll want to escape the city on Highway 18, then continue on Route 52 into the mountains and through the town of Caguas. Keep going a couple more miles to hang a left on PR-184, 18, AKA “La Ruta del Lechón” (Pork Route). This winding secondary road carries you into the Sierra de Cayey Mountains, and the village of Cayey. Just when you think you’ve gone too far, a slightly ramshackle restaurant appears just off the road. If the car windows are down, the tantalizing aroma of slow-smoked meat will tempt you to apply the brakes. But you have options, as this is just the first in a line of lechóneras. Traffic slows as drivers jockey for parking spaces, and pedestrians mill about in a carnival-like atmosphere. It’s a gathering that takes place each weekend, with friends and family converging on their favorite dining stop, where they linger over heaping platters of roasted meat, washed down with a cold cerveza. And the feast isn’t just for the locals.


The savory flavors and unique textures of lechon asado are created by spit roasting a whole pig over an open fire. Junior Rivera of Angelito’s uses natural wood for coals. Photo: Debbie Snow

As word of Ruta del Lechón spread, a growing number of island visitors now join in the fun and feasting. Try to arrive midday, as most of the kitchens close by early evening, and you’ll want to have time to savor not only the food, but also the live music, dancing and camaraderie that are as much a part of this gathering as is the pig itself.

El Rancho Original

There’s no doubt that this is one of the favorite stops along the Ruta del Lechón, as it’s hard to find a parking spot out front and there’s always a line inside waiting to place an order. The restaurant has a park-like ambience where the building resembles a wooden tree house. The dining area is scattered about with large wooden picnic tables, some inside under cover, others out in the lawn and a few near the slow flowing brook. Painted signs with cartoon-like pigs dressed in aprons are posted throughout the grounds; some attached to trees others hanging over entrances. Patrons pass by the glass window and order cafeteria style. Most order the roasted pork with rice and pigeon peas, morcillas (blood sausage), yucca and a cold Medalla beer.

Guavate Rancho Pig, Puerto Rico

An order at El Rancho Original is usually accompanied by a side of arroz con gandules (pigeon peas and rice). A selection of hot sauces are available to spice it up according to tastes. Photo: Debbie Snow

Angelito’s Place

If you can’t make it to the mountains for the weekend pig roast, you can enjoy the same flavors closer to San Juan in the Trujillo district. At Angelito’s Place, owner Junior Rivera has been roasting pig for 25 years, and garnering accolades from lechón connoisseurs for almost as long. His secret to the smokey flavor is in the coals, which according to Junior Rivera must be natural wood. He insists the succulent taste of the pork comes from the pigs’ diet, which consists of rice and beans. While some may choose to dine inside, most patrons head to outdoor tables carrying plates filled with of mounds of glistening pork. After the pig is carved up, its weighed and served with a variety of sides. At Anglelito’s an assortment of starches served include the mainstay, arroz con gandules (pigeon peas and rice), along with white sweet potatoes, pasteles, plantains and cuerito—the brittle, seared pork skin. Angelito’s Place consistently wins top billing and deserves the moniker “El Rey de Lechón Asado”—the king of roasted pork.

Angelitos Puerto Rico Food

Plates of succulent pork along with cuerito, the brittle hard skin, and the basics of arroz con ganules mound a plate served at Angelito’s. Photo: Debbie Snow