Food is a major part of vacation, and finding the right restaurant can not only seriously enhance a trip, but also provide a deeper dive into local culture. In the Caribbean, where it’s currently ideal travel season, food varies widely from island to island — meaning there’s that much more to try. Whether learning to cook your own Jamaican meal in a paradise setting or eating at an Italian restaurant that utilizes local ingredients in Grand Cayman, here are the must-try restaurants to hit up while on the islands.
Jamaica’s passion for food is widely known through its jerk meats, but the cuisine has a lot more to offer than just the spicy, flavorful chicken or pork — which isn’t even the country’s national dish. That honor goes to ackee and saltfish, a sauteed combination of the ackee fruit, salt cod, Scotch bonnet pepper, and various seasonings. A lot of the cuisine is the result of mixing indigenous styles with foods brought over by European occupants and African and Asian slaves. Another major cultural export from Jamaica is reggae music — now popular across the world.
Visiting the island is a mix of stunning beaches — Jamaica has its a seven-mile beach stretch — abundant vegetation with several waterfalls to visit alongside casual hiking, a growing golf scene, and water activities like cliff diving and bamboo rafting.
Zimbali’s Mountain Cooking Studio: Consider Zimbali’s a must for food lovers. The experience is closest to popular tourist destination Montego Bay and combines both activity and a meal. An afternoon or evening at Zimbali’s starts with a tour of the farm followed by a cooking demonstration and three-course meal that changes seasonally with what’s available from the farm.
Technically a territory of the United States, St. Thomas is an island known for its pristine beaches and high mountaintops. It’s a common cruise stop, where the port of Charlotte Amalie has all sorts of activities from a nearby botanical garden and a famed flower-lined staircase to shopping and historical stops like the second-oldest synagogue in the U.S.
Hook Line & Sinker: Charlotte Amalie daytrippers can find ultra-fresh fish at Hook Line & Sinker, open since 1987. The nautically themed casual restaurant sits right on the water, with entertainment like occasional live music and televisions playing sports. The lengthy menu focuses on fresh fish such as tuna, snapper, and conch, alongside pastas, salads, meats, and burgers.
Caribbean Fish Market: This side of the island is Ritz-Carlton territory, and Caribbean Fish Market is just a walk away from the luxury hotel. The elegant indoor-outdoor restaurant has an international menu that pairs seafood with flavors from the Caribbean (crab cake-stuffed lobster), Italy (seafood risotto), Morocco (seafood and couscous tagine), Asia (tamarind calamari), and beyond. A piano bar makes for a lively atmosphere.
“The land of the flying fish,” as Barbados is known, is a major British tourist destination. The small island is a territory of the Commonwealth — and Rihanna’s hometown — with draws such as a mile-long cave system, plenty of golf, shipwrecks for snorkeling, island safaris, and ideal surfing conditions. The food in Barbados mixes Caribbean, African, and British traditions, with fish and chips commonly appearing on menus. The national dish is flying fish and coucou, a cornmeal and okra mixture that’s similar to grits when cooked.
Fusion Rooftop: A seat at this indoor rooftop restaurant means sweeping views of both the ocean and island. The modern, lounge-like space is done up in blacks and whites, with retractable walls and fire pits that allow for eating “outside” in all weather. The global menu includes sushi, grilled piri piri shrimp, red Thai curry, smoked shrimp tagliatelle, and truffle mac and cheese.
Nishi Restaurant: Asia and the Caribbean combine at Nishi, where both jerk chicken and sushi share space on the menu. There are all sorts of maki, nigiri, and sushi rolls, as well as Thai prawn green curry, seafood pie, and a bacon cheeseburger. Globe lanterns, living walls, and trees decorate the elegant, multi-level Holetown space with live music.
The Northern part of St. Martin is full of world-class shopping and clothing-optional beaches — a result of being affiliated with France. Shopping is duty-free, and there are casinos to hit up, too. Beyond the white sand beaches with clear turquoise water, mountain hikes, nature reserves, and a butterfly farm are good outdoor activity options. Food in St. Martin shares many of the same ingredients and flavors as the rest of the Caribbean, though with a stronger focus on French techniques and dishes. Grand Case, in particular, is known for its high concentration of restaurants, ranging from fine-dining to “lolos,” or open-air barbecue stands.
Bistrot Caraibes: Classic French bistro fare is the focus of this Grand Case restaurant open for almost 30 years. Dishes run from onion soup and foie gras with mango sauce to bouillabaisse and crème brûlée. The chic space is done up in greys and white, with tablecloths and twinkling lights setting a slightly upscale tone.
Ocean 82: Sunset is the ideal time to visit Ocean 82, whose indoor-outdoor dining room overlooks the ocean and horizon beyond. Fittingly, seafood is the food focus here, with dishes from lobster thermidor and sesame-crusted tuna steak to mahi mahi tartare trilogy and tuna spring rolls. Daily specials highlight the best seasonal offerings, like a lobster fettuccine or seafood salad. Wine is predominantly from France.
Aruba’s capital city Oranjestad is a colorful delight, full of Dutch colonial architecture in pastel hues. Shops, restaurants, museums, and more fill the city, as well as Wilhelmina Park on the waterfront and a hike to the top of 165-meter-tall volcanic rock formation Hooiberg for excellent views. There’s a lot to do in Aruba for outdoor lovers, including white-sand beaches, a cacti-filled national park, picturesque dunes with lighthouses, colorful scuba diving and snorkeling, and horseback riding. Culture is also strong on the island, where dance-filled festivals frequently occur. Aruban food is marked by colonization by Spain and the Netherlands, with signature dishes such as keri keri (white fish or shark stew), cabrito stoba (goat stew), and keshi yena (spicy chicken stew with dried fruit and nuts wrapped in melted gouda cheese).
Asi es mi Peru: Asi es mi Peru — Spanish for “this is my Peru” — brings exactly that to Aruba. The three-part restaurant, from Peruvian-born Roxanna Salinas, is split between a ceviche bar, a market with Peruvian crafts, and a more formal dining room. Food includes made-to-order ceviches and tiraditos, lomo saltado (stir-fried beef with vegetables and fries), aji de gallina (chicken with pecan sauce), arroz chaufa de mariscos (fried rice with seafood), and more.
Passions on the Beach: Located directly on the sand at Amsterdam Manor on Eagle Beach, Passions on the Beach is as tropical as it gets. Live music accompanies dinner, which is packed with fresh seafood and plenty of vegetarian options. Watermelon salad, tuna poke, coconut-breaded grouper, and surf and turf are just some of the dishes available, as well as beachy cocktails like caipirinhas and piña coladas.
Turks & Caicos
This small grouping of islands is surrounded by the third-largest coral system in the world, making for especially turquoise water and clean beaches. Grace Bay is where many resorts are clustered, making restaurants and activities follow suit. Popular tourist experiences include snorkeling and scuba diving, whale watching, and bird watching. Food culture has increased in recent years thanks to a Caribbean Food & Wine festival that takes place on Turks & Caicos. Conch — the marine snail in coveted pink shells — is big here, both to sight in caves and to eat. Dishes that use the meat, similar in texture to calamari, include ceviche, stew, and fritters.
The Landing: Sand and open sky surround the tables at the Landing, a restored boat that serves up some of the best drinks on the island. It’s a picturesque setting with lounges, string lights, and a fire pit — ideal for a drink before or after a meal. Food consists of seafood and American dishes such as pulled pork sliders; burgers including beef, grouper, and chicken; and lobster tail with coconut pineapple rice. Cocktails are where the Landing really shines, with options such as daiquiris, fruit-infused Champagnes, a dark and stormy, and several martinis.
Provence: As the name indicates, food from the Provence region of France, which borders Italy, is on display here. Steak frites, snapper with grilled calamari and ratatouille, and a French take on the California roll with saffron rice, prosciutto, crab, aged balsamic, and herb aioli are all on the menu created by chef Eric Vernice. A seat at the counter of the open kitchen is an especially good move.
Grand Cayman is known for Seven Mile Beach, a stretch of coastline on the west end of the island that’s chock full of luxe resorts, idyllic views, and local restaurants. Snorkeling and scuba diving is especially common here, with several coral reefs and underwater shipwrecks. Food on the island skews toward dishes with coconut, Jamaican spices (the Cayman islands were long associated with Jamaica through British colonization), and seafood such as conch and mahi-mahi. Turtle meat is also popular here.
Ristorante Pappagallo: This Italian restaurant with a Caribbean bent is completely transporting, with a thatched roof and location right on a lagoon. Choose from dishes like conch chowder, crab lasagna, seafood risotto. There are also a ton of meat and vegan options to appeal to a wide set, plus a wine list with more than 400 bottles.
Blue Cilantro: Mediterranean fare gets an Indian infusion from acclaimed chef Vidyadhara Shetty, who grew up in India before moving to the Caribbean and becoming so embedded that he’s now president of the Cayman Culinary Society. His unique dishes combine flavors from both the East and West in options like ceviche with shiso leaves, crab cakes with tamarind sauce, and whole fish with mustard coconut sauce. The menu can be ordered from a la carte, as well as in four- and six-course prix fixe options.
VIVO: Ocean views offset the eco-friendly, all-day menu at Vivo that caters to vegans and vegetarians. Dishes include falafel or eggs with coconut “bacon” at breakfast, while lunch and dinner focus on coconut ceviche, beet hummus, and tofu curries. Local beer, organic wine, and various cocktails with fruit juices round it all out.