Looking for the best places to eat in Aruba?
I’ve been visiting and writing about Aruba for a few decades now—for their on-island guides and online blogs, Island Gourmet, Fodor’s guides, and more. Truth be told, if you’d asked me five years ago if this was a great island for foodies, I’d have been hard-pressed to say yes. Not that it didn’t have more than 200 fine dining establishments, and the quality was very good at most. But there wasn’t a lot of creativity in culinary offerings across the board. Many places were serving a lot of the same things: steak, surf and turf, catch-of-the-day, seafood—and sometimes, a few notable local authentic Aruban dishes—but none with a lot of flair.
But today? It’s an entirely different culinary scene and a very exciting one! New and well-established island chefs have been very busy been dipping a big ladle into the incredible melting pot of cultural influences that come from the 90-plus resident nationalities living on this tiny rock, and the results are sublime.
And there are so many new fun foodie annual and regular events like the Food Truck Festival, fusion pop-up restos, intimate new chef’s tables, and now every October is Eat Local Month. There are new foodie walking tours and party bus tours that even have a sommelier on board for a progressive wine and tapas meal.
There’s also a slew of new cool cafes popping up like Taste My Aruba, offering casual authentic creative local eats in downtown Oranjestad, and Melt Away Café in Palm Beach, specializing in gourmet Dutch cheese delights paired with fine wines. You can even sample authentic Quebecois poutine at Alfie’s Aruba Pub. Lovers of fresh fish will also rejoice if they head over to Zeerovers in Savaneta to feast on the catches-of-the day bounty hauled right from the fishermen’s boats to the fryers and directly to your plate.
The foodie choices are legion on Aruba now, so it’s really difficult to limit this list to only the 10 best places to eat in Aruba. While I have many more to add, I’ve endeavored to come up with a good mix to appeal to different palates.
1. White Modern Cuisine
Young Aruban-born chef Urvin Croes is a prime example of the culinary revolution happening on one happy island. After working abroad, he almost single-handedly introduced Aruba to molecular gastronomy—though he prefers to call it ‘modern cuisine’. He loves to work with the science of food, deconstructing traditional classics to create brand new textures and flavors. Your best bets at his indoor/outdoor White Modern Cuisine, situated right on the Gold Coast pool club, is always his five-course surprise menu paired with wines. And his hoisin-glazed duck appetizer has become legendary. But if you really want to see the genius at work up close, you should attend his chef’s table experience at the Blue Residences on Eagle Beach. It’s called the Kitchen Table by White, an open kitchen that seats only 16 people in a horseshoe-shaped table. Chef Urvin explains his preparations as he goes, and presents his guests with a feast of seven or eight courses that change depending on the seasonal availability of local ingredients. They are booked far in advance, so reservations are a must.
2. Screaming Eagle
Just off Eagle Beach, Screaming Eagle Restaurant-Lounge has always been famous for being the only place on the island where you can dine right in a canopied bed! But the surprising thing: People first go for the unique bed experience, and then return simply for the food—and don’t care if they sit at tables in the main air-conditioned dining room or outside in the alfresco courtyard. Maybe that’s because Chef Erwin Husken was recently named the top chef in the Caribbean by Caribbean Journal. He has won countless awards and his signature dishes are divine, but he shines brightest when he gets to play with seasonal ingredients from his beloved Netherlands home and afar. Check the seasonal specials menu when you are there. You might luck out with some rare finds like Dutch white asparagus, forest game, or mussels. The wine list is also first-rate. In fact, it has received a Wine Spectator award for the past three years running. (Reservations a must for the beds.)
3. Amuse Sunset Restaurant
Chef Patrick van de Donk and his sommelier wife Yvette introduced the concept of small plates paired with wine to the island at their little Amuse Bistro on the Palm Beach strip. They soon found those digs too small for the large crowds that kept returning for more. Plus, they had always desired a spot right by the water. So, when the opportunity to move to a seaside hideaway near the airport cropped up, they jumped at it. Now renamed Amuse Sunset Restaurant, the multi-level pier escape is enchanting and aptly named: The sunsets are divine. It’s well worth seeking out for Chef Patrick’s incredible three- and five-course surprise menus paired with fine wines or to sample their signature Balashi (local beer) braised pork shank served with gravy, caramelized Pedro Ximenez Sherry and parsnip puree. Also cool, there are the night lights on the pier that allow you to view huge tropical fish swimming right beneath your table.
4. Cuba’s Cookin’
This landmark spot for two decades moved from the downtown back streets to the Oranjestad marina a few years ago. The lively alfresco emporium in the Renaissance Marketplace attracts the crowds with its nightly live Latin music, and keeps them coming back for the fare and the best mojitos in town. True Creollo Chefs Antonia and Cristina, the food masters behind the scenes at Cuba’s Cookin’, ensure that the authentic, Latin American, Old Havana flavors grace every dish. For lunch, it’s the only place for real deal Cuban sandwiches, and for dinner, melt-in-your-mouth ropa vieja and specialties like habanero shrimp enchiladas are must-haves, and always with a side of black beans, rice, and plantains. It also has an excellent new menu of creative vegan options. And for dessert? Mojito cheesecake of course! It also serves Cuban breakfast.
5. Da Vinci Ristorante
This is such a delightful secret and surprising find tucked away in Holiday Inn Resort Aruba. In fact, it’s so well hidden, few non-hotel guests even know it’s there. But you must seek it out for its insanely creative and high-quality Italian food far beyond your basic pastas. And its huge wine room is also a revelation. Young up-and-coming local Aruban Chef Aldwin Donata has seriously exceeded expectations in this inviting new venture, with dishes like Linguine Nere Con Gamberoni (black squid ink pasta, jumbo shrimps, garlic, sun-dried tomato, fresh basil, white wine and brandy sauce). Whenever possible, Da Vinci Ristorante sources locally, for example it uses Aruban made burrata cheese from a local artisan. The wine room doubles as a romantic dining enclave, but there is also plenty of space for big family-style groups to dine out communal-style. Best bet for foodies is to opt for the chef’s tasting menu, a five-course meal with cool twists on authentic Mediterranean cooking, like passionfruit risotto.
This indoor-outdoor dining enclave is the gem of adult-only luxury boutique Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort. Located on gorgeous Eagle Beach and inarguably the most eco-friendly hotel in the Caribbean and quite possibly the world. It also pioneered the farm-to-fork, sustainable and organic fare concept on the island, and is continually on the hunt to make its menu as healthy as it is delicious. You can’t go wrong with any of the dishes at Elements, and the chances of catching a stunning sunset from that stellar strip of sand is always a given. I recommend the Monday-night-special Aruban dinners, with local music, arts and crafts, and fabulous offerings like tarragon-dusted, local, red snapper filet sautéed in the island’s rich red creole sauce, followed by cashew-nut layer cake for dessert, an island favorite. For couples, the private palapa dinner-for-two-on-the-beach offers a delightful multi-course menu of choices with wine that is also available in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free versions. (Note: No kids, no groups over six persons, plastic only (no cash), and mandatory reservations.)
7. Quinta del Carmen
Housed in a 100-year-old mansion that was once a family residence, Quinta del Carmen—with its impeccably manicured grounds, grand courtyard, and bespoke antiques and art— is stately, to say the least, but it’s far from stuffy. The owner prefer the enclave to be a homey and inviting affair rather than an intimidating upscale establishment. Reflected in that attitude is the choice of Grandma’s Favorites on every section of the menu. Expat-Dutch owner Luc Beerepoot harkens back to his Netherlands’ childhood for those with dishes like slow-simmered beef stew in red wine sauce and whimsical desserts like stroopwaffle parfait. But it also offers a great selection of international fusion favorites like shrimp pina colada, some surprises like herb-crusted Canadian salmon, and to-die-for seafood paella. It’s extremely popular with locals and visitors alike, so reservations are highly recommended.
An ideal seaside spot right outside of Oranjestad, the motto, “elegant dining in flip-flops,” is definitely apropos. In fact, it is so adamant that you feast barefoot, that the interior of the palapa is carpeted in soft, white sand. You can also dine with toes-in-the sand on the beachfront. Either way, you’re bound to enjoy the unique offerings, excellent wine list, and creative cocktails. Though I’m not a huge fish fan, when I am in the mood, I head to Barefoot for its Caribbean grouper slathered in mango cream cheese and mango sauce; the meat dishes also satisfy, like New Zealand lamb chops with red wine thyme sauce. Book a table on the beach for sunset, and watch the twinkling lights of the cruise ships come and go for an especially magical evening.
9. Windows on Aruba
The Grand Dame dining spot of the entire family of Aruba’s Divi Resorts (there are five on the island), this two-story glassed-in sphere overlooks the golf course and out to the sea at Divi Golf Village. Aptly named Windows on Aruba, it has recently changed the menu from classic international fare to highlight as many locally sourced fresh ingredients as possible to support local farmers and fishermen. But what I want to talk about here is the brunch. It is the best on the island by far. Forget your typical massive buffet, this menu is all a la carte and for a set price you can order as many dishes as you want. And it comes with endless mimosas! Surprising brunch finds here include dishes like coconut clam chowder, Polynesian chicken, pulled pork Benedict, roasted cod filet, and Argentinean tenderloin to name a few… and, of course, it also offers breakfast/brunch classics. Add soft, live jazz music and you have the most special Sunday afternoon you can have on this island.
You’d be hard pressed to find this place if you walk by the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino by day because it just isn’t there! Marriot’s trendy beach bar with lounges located right in the middle of its prime beachfront property morphs into a chic and intimate seaside spot with tables in the sand by night, called Atardi. Though seafood is their specialty (think macadamia nut-crusted grouper), I’m a huge fan of the slow-roasted short ribs with pumpkin puree—simmered for 12 hours so they literally melt in your mouth. Pure perfection. And the icing on the cake? Soothing live music seaside to set the mood.
IF YOU GO
More foodie info…
- The bottom line is that you’ll need far more than a week’s holiday to enjoy all the foodie delights Aruba has to offer. But a good place to start is via Aruba Gastronomic Association (AGA) dine-around program that not only offers great suggestions about the best places to eat in Aruba. but also helps guests save money at the island’s best restaurants.
- You should also pick up a free copy of Island Gourmet Magazine while on the island, or view it online.
As they say on Aruba “Bon Probecho!”
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