When you go to Aruba, don’t miss its rum shacks and fusion dishes. Aruba’s inventive cuisine is a flavor-packed fusion of popular recipes from South America, Holland, Spain, India, and Africa. Chefs use local produce and fresh-from-the-sea fish to create meals enhanced with just the right amount of spice.
Expect the daily catch to include mahi-mahi, grouper, or red snapper. Be sure to try the classic Keshi Yena, served in pasta shells or the scooped-out rind of a mini Edam cheese. Desserts regularly feature coconut, bananas, and Caribbean rum. Bolo di Banana, a plantain pudding with brown sugar, cinnamon, and sharp cheese is a local favorite.
Rum shacks are traditional open-air meeting spots on Aruba; join the locals for gossip, jokes, and a perpetual happy hour. Palmera is the most popular locally produced rum, available at most bars. (Or buy a bottle at The Arubian Taste in Oranjestad.)
Also try coecoei, a local liqueur that’s deep red and looks like grenadine but tastes more like tequila. Perhaps because it is a mix of sap from the agave plant, rum, and cane sugar. It’s the key ingredient in cocktails like the Aruba Sunset and Aruba Ariba, and you can pick up a bottle at most grocery stores. On a hot afternoon, try Aruba’s locally produced Balashi beer, a refreshing pale lager.
Aruba does water differently. It’s delicious straight from the tap because of the desalination process that runs salty sea water through coral rock. Look for it in blue-labeled bottles distributed by the Tropical Bottling Company. Balashi Brewery uses the same desalinated water to make beer. Both beverages have a distinctively clean taste that defies description.
In Oranjestad, look for West Deck at Linear Park at Governor’s Bay, near Queen Wilhelmina Park. The waterfront restaurant serves delicious Keshi Yena as well as West Indian Samosas (curried veggies in a fried dough pocket).
Barefoot is on Surfside Beach about .5m/1km down Smith Blvd. toward the airport from West Deck. Sit barefoot at your table, wedged into the sand. The menu features seafood dishes, Aruban specialties, and vegetarian choices. Make a meal of the creative appetizers or try the Shellfish Trio, a mix of lobster, shrimp, and scallops.
The Old Fisherman, behind Royal Plaza Mall near the center of town, is popular with locals because of its Aruban dishes and fresh fish cooked any way you like it. Don’t miss the fried cornbread served with cheese.
Gostoso is a small local favorite featuring Aruban and Portuguese dishes. The owner is usually on hand to be sure customers are happy. Try the fish chowder.
Cuba’s Cookin’ has been an island tradition for more than 20 years, now located within the Renaissance Marketplace. Stepping inside Cuba’s is like stepping into the heart of historic Havana with Cuban art, music, and food.
Need a caffeine (or gelato or pastry) fix? Head to Coffee Break, a gourmet place at Nicky Habibe Plaza on Caya Betico Croes, where coffee is roasted on site.
Palm Beach (the High-Rise area) and Eagle Beach (the Low-Rise area) have dozens of restaurant choices. For a casual breakfast or lunch on the beach, try Matthew’s at the Casa del Mar Resort. Ricardo’s at the Aruba Beach Club Resort is open all day and features an impressive shrimp dish with a coconut-pineapple-lime marinade.
As soon as you arrive on Aruba, make dinner reservations at a small place called Wacky Wahoo’s near the Hilton Resort. It’s a casual eatery serving delicious ceviche, imaginative main fish dishes, and nicely seasoned meats.
Atardi, on the beach at the Marriott Resorts, is known for great sunsets and a varied menu. Seafood is the star, but there’s a nice mix of meat dishes, salads, and appetizers.
Billed as a gourmet studio, 2 Fools and a Bull offers a matchless experience for adults only. Fool 1 is the superb sommelier who matches your wine to your five-course dinner prepared by Fool 2. Reservations are a must; book at least a few days ahead.
On Eagle Beach, Screaming Eagle gets high ratings for views and food, particularly the grilled swordfish.
For something different, search out Madame Janette, inland from Eagle Beach in the Cunucu Abao neighborhood. Sit outside and enjoy international specialties, such as Old Butcher Lamb Rack, Tournedos a la Ramon, and Asparagus Gratin.
You’ll find several outstanding seafood restaurants along the eastern coast south of Oranjestad. Zeerovers is more a seafood shack with a walk-up order window and outdoor seating. It’s in the fishing village of Savaneta, beyond the airport and just before The Flying Fishbone. Order the catch of the day (priced by weight and served in a basket) for lunch or dinner. Nearby, the more upscale Flying Fishbone is open for dinner and serves an abundance of delicious things pulled from the sea by local fishermen. The atmosphere is romantic: tables sit in the sand and tiki lights cast a glow onto sparkling glassware.
Tip: Aruba’s Dine Around Plan is a pre-pay program that allows you to dine at some of the island’s top 30 fine dining restaurants. If you’re a first-timer, sign up and try three to seven international restaurateurs on the plan.