(Last Updated March 30, 2017) Warm turquoise water, gleaming white sand, umbrella drinks and the tropical beats of a steel drum band. This is the typical scene that springs to mind when people think of the Caribbean; lazy days of sun and surf, straight out of central casting for the next Corona commercial. However, those willing to venture outside the grounds of their resort or vacation rental will be rewarded with warm people and the delightful, unmistakable flavors of Caribbean cuisine. Each of the inhabited islands in the chain that stretches from Miami to South America has its own vibe, and its own specialty when it comes to food and drink. The Caribbean is blessed with unique spices, produce, spirits and, of course, fresh seafood. In addition to Taste of Adventure’s recommendations below, food tours like Tru Bahamian Food Tours in the Bahamas are a great way to discover and support local eateries, specialty food stores and authentic, family-owned restaurants. Discover the magic and soul of Caribbean food.
1. Boots Cuisine (St. George’s, Grenada). Nestled in the hills above the hustle and bustle of St. George’s is the five-table gem run by the affable Boots and his wife, Ruby. A nightly five-course prix fixe menu of Grenadian specialties like pumpkin soup, chicken curry, grilled mahi mahi with guava sauce, goat stew, and nutmeg ice cream are offered, along with some of the best homemade rum punch in the Caribbean. Complimentary transportation to and from the restaurant make a visit a no-brainer, just be sure to book ahead. Vibe: Home away from home.
2. Bugaloo’s (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos). Far away from the tourist center of Grace Bay is a pastel-hued beachside restaurant named after Berlie “Bugaloo” Williams, credited as the originator of the first “conch shack” establishment on Providenciales. And the fare that his namesake restaurant is turning out does not disappoint. Stop by for conch salad ‒ a perfect balance of salt, spice and zesty lime juice ‒ and the puffy conch fritters, chock full of meat and served with a spicy aioli. Vibe: Local hangout.
3. Da Conch Shack & Rum Bar (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos). One of Patricia Schultz’ “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” Da Conch Shack specializes in preparing the tropical marine mollusk (extracted from the large pink shells found in tourist shops) in a variety of tasty ways ‒ cracked, curried, fried and ceviche-style with peppers, onions and lime. But the fresh grilled lobster might just be the dark horse of the menu. Stop by early and enjoy sweeping ocean views and live music on Wednesday evenings. Vibe: Laid back.
4. The Hideaway, Chez Andy (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy). Although the parking lot location isn’t the most spectacular on the tiny French island, this local joint run by English ex-pat Andy, and his business partner Hafida, turns out seriously awesome wood-fired pizzas. Everything from classic Margherita to more exotic creations like the “Indienne” with curried chicken, mushrooms and onions. And even the most cynical diner won’t mind the “Sweet Caroline” sing-along after a shot, or three, of the complimentary (and dangerously drinkable) housemade vanilla rum. Vibe: Lively dinner party.
5. Just Grillin’ (St. James, St. Thomas and Christ Church, Barbados). Don’t be fooled by the casual look of this trio of eateries on Barbados (two brick and mortar and one food trailer); the grilled seafood, beef and chicken rivals that of many of the posh (and uber expensive) restaurants on the island. All the spice blends, sauces and dressings are made in-house. The char-grilled swordfish, a Bajan specialty, is out of this world. Vibe: Packed.
6. Maya’s To Go (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy). Top quality local ingredients are combined in unexpected and creative ways at this little shop in the nondescript Les Galeries du Commerce near the airport in St. Jean. The menu changes daily, but expect expertly prepared French dishes with an island flair like wahoo ceviche, peppered shrimp, mango salad, and fluffy pastries rivaling the best boulangeries in Paris. MTG is a great place to pick up extras to round out your beach barbeque, or to stop for a quick (and relatively affordable) lunch on St. Barth. Vibe: Seaside deli.
7. Papa Zouk Fish ‘n Rum (St. John’s, Antigua). Tucked away on an unremarkable street, this tiny little shack is the kind of place foodies dream of: a quirky, local joint with superb homemade food and the personable, passionate staff to match. Impeccably fresh fish ‒ grilled, fried or sautéed ‒ is their forte. The whole fried snapped is transcendental. Don’t forget to sample the spicy, garlicky house sauce in the glass bottle on every table. The bar is stocked with enough varieties of rare rum to make a pirate envious. Although destroyed by a fire in mid-December 2014, the owners re-built and re-opened in February 2015. Papa Zouk will undoubtedly return better than ever. Vibe: Roadside shack.
8. Scotchies (Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Jamaica). Popular with visitors and locals alike, Scotchies turns out what many believe is the best jerk in Jamaica. Pork, chicken and fish is slathered in a secret recipe of chiles, cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg and more, and roasted in open-air barbecue pits over flaming pimento wood. Traditional side dishes include breadfruit, roasted yams, rice and peas, and festival (fried corn fritters). Your order is bundled up in foil for takeaway or eating in under the thatched roof. Grab a seat at the bar, order a crisp Red Stripe, and make friends with the unique cast of characters that filter through every day. Vibe: Heart and soul.
9. Smiling Harry’s Thirst Quencher (Freetown, Antigua). The trek to Smiling Harry’s is half the adventure. Set inside a national park, just steps away from breathtaking Half Moon Bay ‒ which feels deserted (in a good way) much of the time ‒ Smiling Harry’s is a welcome respite from the Antiguan sun. Although the beloved Harry passed away in August 2014 and will be sorely missed by those who spent countless hours listening to his amazing stories, drinking bottomless rum and cokes, and enjoying his infectious smile, his family re-opened the place in December 2014. Harry’s char-grilled hamburgers and house made ginger beer were second-to-none. Vibe: Beach shack.
10. Soggy Dollar Bar (Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands). Set on one of the most idyllic beaches in the Caribbean on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar Bar is the “originator and perfector” of the iconic Painkiller cocktail. A blend of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and orange juice, topped with fresh grated Grenadian nutmeg, this Caribbean cocktail has had boaters from around the world jumping overboard and swimming ashore to White Bay since the 1970s. Those who overindulge can grab one of the palm-shaded hammocks that dot the property. Nearby Foxy’s, and Bomba’s Surfside Shack’s infamous “Full Moon Party” on neighboring Tortola, are also worth checking out. Vibe: Bohemian.
– Taste of Adventure