Tag Archives: Eat & Drink

Oahu Chinatown

Hawaii’s Best Street Parties

 

 

Forget hotel floorshows and tourist-centric luaus. For an authentic take on Hawaii, do what the locals do and take to the streets. Street parties are a thing on each of the major Hawaiian Islands, and they happen on Friday nights. Stores and galleries put on special showings, food trucks and craft stands show up and live music is often in the mix. Here are the places to be if you want to party like a local.

Oahu

Honolulu’s Chinatown district comes alive on First Fridays, as thousands converge on the 12-block area around the Hawaii Theatre. This district is home to an eclectic mix of galleries, clothing boutiques and wine shops, many of which stay open late to host exhibitions, tastings and live entertainment. Some sweeten the offering with special deals. The mixing and mingling goes on from 6 p.m.to 9 p.m., then the parties continue at nearby restaurants and clubs.

Two weeks later, the action switches to Third Saturday and the Honolulu Night Market. This monthly happening is an indoor-outdoor event that takes place at the Cooke Street Warehouse in the Kaka’ako district. The program varies, but usually includes showings by local clothing designers and a mix of arts and crafts booths. To ramp up the vibe, there’s a skate ramp, live music, food trucks, drink service and a kid’s zone. The action starts around 6 p.m.

The final Friday of the month is the time to Eat the Street. Starting at 4 p.m., more than 40 of the island’s most popular food trucks gather on South Street. It’s best to come early if you don’t want to wait in line, because crowds of up to 7,000 show up to chow down. After sampling some of the unique culinary choices, diners linger for live performances and check out the offerings of street vendors.

Oahu Chinatown

Galleries in Honolulu’s Chinatown district often stage special events, showings and wine for First Fridays, which bring thousands downtown to mix and mingle. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Maui

Pau hana is the Hawaiian expression for the end of the workday spent relaxing with family and friends. The island of Maui enjoys some pau hana time each week with Friday Town Parties. Held in one of four different historic downtowns each week, these gatherings combine live musical performances with featured artists, food and drink, children’s activities and a bit of strolling, shopping and conversation. The party rotates around the island, with Wailuku First Friday, Lahaina Second Friday, Makawao Third Friday and Kihei Fourth Friday. Months that have a fifth Friday provide an excuse to carry the festivities to the ferry for a trip to the nearby island of Lanai. The evening gathering centers around Dole Park, and spreads to the streets of downtown Lanai City to include live performers, food vendors and special discounts and prizes at local merchants.

Lahaina Maui

The historic seaside village of Lahaina is one of four towns on the island of Maui that hosts a revolving series of Friday evening festivals throughout the year. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Kauai

The normally quiet town of Hanapepe turns lively for Art Night, which takes place every Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. along Maui Street. A dozen of the town’s galleries stay open late for showings, and local artists and artisans set up in curbside kiosks. Food trucks provide refreshment, while street musicians perform both contemporary and traditional Hawaii tunes. It’s a family friendly affair with the sort of small town vibe not found on other islands.

Kauai Hanapepe

Galleries and shops in the town of Hanapepe stay open late for the town’s Friday Night Festival and Art Walk, which is one of the favorite gatherings on the island of Kauai. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Hawaii Island

The Big Island’s take on Friday parties happens on the east coast town of Hilo. Aloha First Friday delivers the requisite combination of arts and crafts displays, live music, food and family activities. This gathering often has a local vibe, as townsfolk come to mix and mingle. But visitors are always welcome, and vacationers staying at west coast resorts will sometimes make the cross-island drive to join in the festivities.

For west coast residents and visitors wanting to stay closer to home base, the seaside town of Kailua stages the Kokua Kailua Village Stroll one Sunday each month. From 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., a portion of Ali’i Drive is blocked off for the gathering, and more than 100 vendors set up shop on the street and sidewalks, offering everything from tie-dyed t-shirts and handmade jewelry to fine works of art. There’s plenty of food and a concert that often features native Hawaiian music.

Hilo Old Town Big Island Hawaii

Hilo’s historic downtown district is the setting for the monthly First Friday gathering, which brings locals and visitors into the streets for food, music and fun. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Florida Key Largo Skippers Dockside Food

Florida Key’s Best Tiki Bars

 

A waterfront table under a thatched roof; a chilled drink and island music carried by a soft sea breeze. This is what many seek when they head to the Florida Keys, and they soon find it in the open-air tiki bars scattered across this drive-to chain of islands. There are many to choose from, but for purists, the best feature direct water views, a unique atmosphere and a colorful cast of patrons. Here are ten that shouldn’t be missed, so designate a driver and follow along as we count down the mileposts on U.S. Highway One on our way to Key West.

Skipper’s Dockside, Mile Marker 100, Key Largo

Before setting out on the final hundred miles of America’s southernmost highway, pull in for a refresher under the thatched roof of this revitalized Key Largo landmark formerly known as Coconuts. The elevated canal side deck provides a front row seat for the comings and goings of fishing charters and dive boats in the adjacent marina. But there’s more to the story than a new name and new ownership, as the kitchen now turns out meals that are as memorable as the views.

Skippers Dockside Key Largo

Skipper’s Dockside is perched on the wharf above Key Largo’s busiest marina. When fishermen and divers return from a day on the water, this is often their first stop. Photo: Skipper’s Dockside

Tiki Bar at the Postcard Inn, Mile Marker 84, Islamorada

This open air bar overlooking Whale Harbor has sated thirsty patrons since the 1950s, and is known as the home of the Rum Runner cocktail. Many locals still refer to the hotel and marina complex where the bar is located as “Holiday Isle,” but new ownership in 2014 resulted in a name change and some major upgrades to the vintage hotel rooms. But the resort’s Tiki Bar was spared gentrification, and continues to serve up its signature cocktails in an unabashed atmosphere of island-style revelry.

Tiki Bar Postcard Inn Islamorada

The longstanding landmark property now known as the Postcard Inn is still home to Islamorada’s famous Tiki Bar, which has hosted generations of revelers. Photo: Craig Denis/Postcard Inn

Lorelei Cabana Bar, Mile Marker 82, Islamorada

Look to the right as you cruise through the fishing village of Islamorada and you’ll know you’ve arrived when the giant mermaid signboard comes into view. If you’ve timed it right, you’ll score a table on the water a bit before sunset. It’s a daily ritual for fishing guides, happy hour locals and in-the- know travelers, who gather for the evening light show set against the backdrop of Florida Bay. Sit back; order some fish dip and a key lime piña colada, and then watch for the fabled green flash as the last rays of the sun sink below the horizon.

Lorelei Cabana Bar

Spectacular sunsets, drink specials and live entertainment provide a trifecta of enticements for patrons at Islamorada’s Lorelei Cabana Bar. Photo: Tom Lynch/Lorelei

Island Fish Company Tiki Bar, Mile Marker 54, Marathon

As you move south through the middle Keys, the town of Marathon provides a trifecta of tiki bars that kicks off with a stop at Mile Marker 54, where the longest open air bar in the keys perches on a sand spit that juts into turquoise waters. It’s a popular stop, and bar stools are often filled by midday. But libations aren’t the only attraction, as the kitchen turns out some excellent seafood fare, and the atmosphere is lively yet still family friendly.

Island Fish Company

Marathon’s Island Fish Company boasts the longest tiki bar in the Florida Keys, but it is more than just a waterfront watering hole, as it is also known for good food and entertainment. Photo: Island Fish Company

Chiki Tiki Bar & Grille at Burdines Waterfront, Mile Marker 49.5, Marathon

For a taste of Marathon’s local maritime vibe, get off U.S. 1 at 15th Street and make your way to the boatyard at Burdines Waterfront. Set in a working waterfront of lobster traps and dry-docked workboats is a second-story tavern that enjoys big views across the anchorage of Boot Key Harbor. A steady stream of dinghies come and go from moored boats, and crews climb the stairs of the Chiki Tiki to enjoy reasonably priced food and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere that is missed by tourists who remain on the highway.

Chiki Tiki Bar Fish

Tucked into Marathon’s working waterfront, the Chiki Tiki Bar & Grille is a favorite with local boat crews, who come ashore for signature items such as fried key lime pie. Photo: Chiki Tiki Bar

Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, Mile Marker 47, Marathon

Since opening in 2010, this final stop before the Key’s famous Seven Mile Bridge has quickly become a favorite hangout for the bare feet and bathing suit crowd, thanks to the oceanfront pool and palm shaded sands that flank the thatch-roofed bar. Patrons are welcome to settle in for an afternoon of swimming and sunning in a beach party atmosphere. The sunset is always a big draw, and those who come to dine can choose from a broad array of offerings that includes sushi, fresh fish, every manner of shellfish and even a Caribbean paella entree.

Sunset Grille Raw Bar Marathon

Patrons at Marathon’s Sunset Grille & Raw Bar can watch the sun sink low over the famous Seven Mile Bridge, and can also enjoy a quick dip in the on- site pool. Photo: Sunset Grille

Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar, Mile Marker 17, Sugarloaf Key

Travelers on the Overseas Highway often breeze right past the Sugarloaf Lodge in their eagerness to reach Key West. Those who do pull in to this old school fishing lodge will discover a thatch-roofed waterfront bar, where happy hour stretches into an all-day affair, and nightly entertainment draws a laid-back local crowd. The drinks are stout and reasonably priced, as are the burgers and pizza. Though most of the business is local folk and lodge guests, the atmosphere is welcoming to all.

Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar

Though just a stone’s throw from the Overseas Highway, the Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar is missed by most travelers. Those who do stop discover an inviting local atmosphere. Photo: Sugarloaf Lodge

The Fish Camp at Geiger Key Marina, Mile Marker 10.5, Big Coppitt Key

A GPS or a stop for directions may be needed to find this hidden gem, formerly known as the Geiger Key Smokehouse and Tiki Bar, which is tucked away in a small marina and RV park, well off the main drag. The entrance sign proclaims “on the backside of paradise,” and the quiet setting is certainly reminiscent of an earlier era. The kitchen opens early to accommodate a fishing crowd who come for hearty breakfast favorites such as fish and grits. Many will return after a day on the water to enjoy fresh seafood favorites, tall drinks and live entertainment. The Sunday afternoon barbecue is always a big draw.

Geiger Key Marina

Anglers often begin their day with breakfast at the Fish Camp, and tie up at the tiki bar’s dock after a day on the water to celebrate their catch. Photo: Geiger Key Marina

Hogfish Bar and Grill, Mile Marker 5, Stock Island

Another out-of-the-way find on the outskirts of Key West delivers an authentic serving of local flavors, both on the menu and with the views. A tasty local species is the signature ingredient in the bar’s most famous offering, the Killer Hogfish Sandwich. Picnic tables set under the palm-thatch roof of a large chickee hut look out over a working waterfront where shrimp boats unload fresh catches. Opt for a table by the water and you can keep the kids amused by tossing scraps and shrimp tails to resident schools of fish that swarm in anticipation of a handout.

Hogfish Bar and Grill

Seafood served at Stock Island’s Hogfish Bar and Grill often come fresh from the boat, as this local landmark sits in the heart of the town’s commercial fishing district. Photo: Hogfish Bar

Sunset Tiki Bar, Mile Marker almost 0, Key West

True to its catch phrase, “where the boardwalk ends and the sunset begins,” the waterfront bar at the Galleon Resort delivers unobstructed westward sight lines from a prime overwater location. Purists might suggest that the bar’s tin roof precludes tiki status, as there is no palm thatching in sight. But any such quibbles are soon overshadowed by expansive water views and a tempting collection of signature libations. In recognition of Key West’s party town atmosphere, the Sunset Tiki offers not only an evening happy hour, but also two-for-one specials on Bloody Marys from ten till noon.

Sunset Tiki Bar Key West

The Sunset Tiki Bar perches on the western tip of Key West. As the name promises, the over-water sunsets are spectacular, but patrons also come for morning-after libations. Photo: Sunset Tiki Bar

 

Grand Cayman Ortanique

Where to Eat on Grand Cayman

 

From an outpost of the empire to a center for international finance, Grand Cayman Island has certainly grown up. And the worldly travelers who come to these sunny shores for both business and pleasure have a taste for upscale dining and unique flavors. They won’t be disappointed, as a new wave of celebrity chefs have joined talented locals restaurateurs to create a dining scene that is both diverse and delicious. Here are some of our favorites.

Ortanique

Think South Beach cool spiced with a healthy dose of Caribbean chic. Overlooking the marina at Camana Bay, Ortanique is the creation of South Florida culinary power duo Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley, and a sister of Ortanique on the Mile in Coral Gables. Before she started seriously cooking, Cindy spent some time in the commercial fishing business, so she knows her fish.

Favorite Bites: There are some standards and favorites, but bet on whatever is on special. The best of what comes in on the dock that day can end up as tender spiced lobster stuffed inside of pillowy homemade ravioli or as tuna steak served with mango sauce. The restaurant throws pig roasts periodically — and the ribs are a perennial hit with diners. The Norma Salad, named for Delius’ mother, renowned Caribbean chef Norma Shirley, is a great starter or can be a meal for vegetarians. www.ortaniquerestaurants.com

Ortanique taco Grand Cayman

Mojitos and Breadfruit Fish Tacos are a favorite at Ortanique. The fresh catch of the day is dusted with coriander and cumin and served with black bean corn salsa, pico de gallo and cilantro crema. Photo: Ortanique

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink

How’s this as a two-fer: Michael’s is right next door to Ortanique. Same great view, same great attitude, completely different food. This is the second outing by James Beard Award-winner Michael Schwartz, whose Miami restaurant is a showplace for the slow-food farm-to-table movement. Schwartz and his team have successfully transplanted the organic vibe to Cayman. Michael’s team here includes the talented young head chef, Thomas Tennant, who cooked at the original Design District location before overseeing the kitchen in Cayman. The menu is all about local, organic and sustainable, and that ethic permeates everything they do.

Favorite Bites: If it’s on the menu, try the lionfish. Tennant usually pan fries it with a light crumb coating; its firm-fleshed and fresh tasting, not unlike snapper. Michael’s divides its menu into plates that are small, medium and large. The wood-fired pizza is always wonderful or for something a bit more exotic the homemade fettuccine with poached tuna. michaelsgenuine.com/grand-cayman/

Grand Cayman Michaels Genuine Food

The menu at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink reflects the owner’s commitment to the sustainable farm-to-table food moment, and incorporates a range of locally sourced ingredients. Photo: Rhian Campbell/Michael’s Genuine Food

Blue by Eric Ripert

It’s not immediately obvious that you’re in the Caribbean when you walk into Blue. The interior is edgy, elegant and very New York. That’s not surprising since Eric Ripert’s “other” restaurant is Le Bernardin, right around the corner from the Museum of Modern Art and widely thought to be the best in Manhattan. Successfully transplanting a restaurant, especially one as famous as Le Bernardin, is a tricky business and a lot of excellent chefs have failed. Not Ripert. Blue is a home run. You won’t see shorts and flip-flops in the dining room but you will get a wine list with more than 800 bottles. Service is slick and professional and the food fully lives up to expectations. If you’re a fan of Le Bernardin, the prices won’t be a surprise. But even if you’re used to pricey resort meals, Blue may shock the wallet a bit: figure $250-350 — per person. Having said that, Blue delivers the kind of meal you’d expect at that level.

Favorite Bites: Blue offers several prix fixe meals, a four-course tasting menu and a seven-course tasting menu plus special menus, so the chef is going to have a lot to say about what you eat. Don’t worry; whatever shows up is going to be delicious: Tuna foie gras, octopus a la plancha, yellowtail tartare with wasabi and grape vierge, chocolate tart. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/GrandCayman/Dining/Blue- byEricRipert/Default.htm

Blue Grand Cayman Ritz

The understated elegance of the dining room at Blue is a perfect complement to the upscale menu, which is the product of award- winning chef Eric Ripert, the man behind New York’s famous Le Bernardin. Photo: Ritz-Carlton

Lone Star Bar & Grill

You will not confuse the Lone Star with any of the haute culinary palaces on the island. The place isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an institution. Generations of dive masters have plumbed the reef wall all day, and then brought their guests here to pound back beers all night — only to get up early and do it all over again. But there is food to accompany the alcohol, with reasonably priced burgers and real barbecue to go along with buckets of Coors longnecks and the rock’n’roll blasting from the stage. There are theme nights — trivia on Tuesdays, rock ’n’ roll bingo on Thursdays, jam session Wednesdays and the occasional Coyote Ugly dance contest — to liven up the proceedings. Don’t come here expecting a nice quiet dinner, but if you want a break from delicately flavored organic kale, have a thirst for a bucket of beer or just feel like partying, the Lone Star is the place.

Favorite Bites: Save the steak for one of the chichi places; the pulled barbecue pork platter is a winner for most folks or try the fajitas. lonestarcayman.com

Lone Star Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman’s Lone Star Bar & Grill is a little slice of Texas roadhouse in the Caribbean. A long-time favorite with the scuba diving crowd, it’s the place to go for burgers, BBQ and cold beer. Photo: Lone Star

Mizu

As chic as the Lone Star is kitschy, Mizu has a modern pan-Asian vibe. Entering the sleek, dimly lit dining room, the walls are accented with angled wooden slats while the sushi bar lights up the back of the room with a come-hither glow. This is an unhurried cocktails to finish kind of place, with a gentle hubbub rising as the tables fill. The menu is varied and you can go dim sum to get a taste of it all, order sushi, sashimi or rolls, or go with appetizers and mains.

Favorite Bites: First, try the cucumber lime sake mojito. Sounds like a culturally confused bartender gone bad, but it’s very, very good. The sushi is fresh, flavorful and well prepared, so if that’s your thing, do it. Okinawan style pork belly is both trendy and tasty. mizucayman.com

Mizu Grand Cayman

The savory Mongolian beef at Mizu combines braised beef with broccoli, scallion, red pepper and sesame seeds. The kitchen turns out an eclectic and innovative menu that follows a pan-Asian theme. Photo: Mizu

Guy Harvey’s Island Grill

Sure Guy Harvey can paint, but can he run a restaurant? Marine artist/biologist Guy Harvey has his fingers in a lot of pies — art, retail, clothing, even hotels and travel — but the pies here are the literal kind. The restaurant is right around the corner from Harvey’s gallery/studio where, day in and day out, you’ll find him on the second floor, painting while shoppers peruse his original canvasses. Maybe it’s that proximity that keeps the restaurant crew on their toes; whatever the reason, the Island Grill consistently turns out excellent island-style fare. The upstairs dining room is lined with Harvey’s originals — you can just dash in for a coffee and a canvas to go if you’re coming off a cruise ship — and there’s a porch with a view over Hog Sty Bay. This is well- prepared Caribbean cuisine: healthy portions of ultra-fresh fish done on the grill or delivered in a curry or bouillabaisse. There are well-priced dinner specials every night and the Grill serves lunch and breakfast as well.

Favorite Bites: It’s hard to go wrong with smoked wahoo pate and Harvey’s Surf & Turf — beef tenderloin steak, lobster and tiger shrimp. www.guyharveysgrill.com

Grand Cayman Guy Harvey

Harbor views and original marine artworks set the tone at Guy Harvey’s Island Grill, where the menu focuses on fresh seafood dishes, and the restaurant’s namesake artists is often in attendance. Photo: Guy Harvey’s Island Grill

Kaibo

Getting here is the hard part; Kaibo is on Rum Point which means either a long drive or a short hop by water taxi. There are two sides to Kaibo: a bar-and-grill on the beach with wood-fired pizza oven and an elegant gourmet restaurant upstairs. Unless you’re specifically looking for beachfront pizza by tiki torch, walk right past the ground level facilities and head for the “real” Kaibo above. The dining room is iconic West Indian: wood floors, high ceilings, gleaming white trim, white-skirted chairs, French doors that open onto a balcony overlooking the marina. Take a table outside if the weather’s right. Better yet, book a Luna Del Mar evening, the once-a-month fete held beachside under the full moon. After dinner a visit to the Rare Rum Bar is mandatory. Even if you don’t like rum.

Favorite Bites: The beer battered mahi comes with a side of green pea mint risotto and applewood bacon vinaigrette or, if you’re all fished out, get the hand rolled ricotta gnocchi with adobo chicken. www.kaibo.ky

Kaibo Grand Cayman

Kaibo’s upstairs melds continental fare with Caribbean flair, and includes locally sourced seafood entries. The setting is West Indian elegant, and the beverage list includes a selection of rare rums. Photo: Kaibo

The Waterfront Urban Diner

If you’re from Jersey and are addicted to diner food. you can get a pretty good fix at Waterfront Urban Diner. It’s on the crescent at Camana Bay and it has everything you’re craving after a week of eating fresh seafood: Italian subs, bacon, eggs over easy, schnitzel, even a “Mac attack” burger. The vibe is somewhere between a real diner and a lower Manhattan bistro, with brick walls painted white, industrial accents and that cozy clanking and murmuring. It also has large windows overlooking the marina which flood the interior with light — so it’s a diner where you can actually see your food. There’s just a touch of kitsch, like the syrup pitchers (ceramic Yorkies). The diner is a breakfast and lunch staple for the hedge fund guys who work in the office buildings on the Camana Bay property, so it’s pretty lively during the day.

Favorite Bites: The standards — pancakes, waffles, and wraps — are good, but give the Huevos Benedicto (poached eggs, refried beans and avocado on crisp tortillas) a try. waterfrontcayman.com

Grand Cayman Waterfront Dining

Comfort foods are the focus at the Waterfront Urban Diner. From breakfast to burgers, the vibe blends Jersey roadside diner fare with Manhattan Bistro style, and tosses in a hint of the tropics. Photo: Waterfront Urban Diner

 

Turks & Caicos Caicos Cafe

Where To Eat In Providenciales

 

The Turks & Caicos are appended to the very bottom of the Bahamas archipelago, almost an afterthought. But the little country that could has come front and center for celebrities looking for a quick getaway — just six hours from New York — with a down island vibe. Those flights touch down in Providenciales, the most developed island in the chain, and the influx of sophisticated palates has helped nourish a cadre of excellent restaurants.

While seafood is the undisputed king, with fresh fish landed daily from the profoundly productive water just offshore, you don’t have to look far to find Italian, Indian and other fare, either. Most of the restaurants are strung out along Grace Bay Road, with some notable exceptions.

There are both splurge worthy fine dining establishments with deep wine lists and beach shacks that specialize in cold beer and rum punch — you should try both while you’re here. Wherever your tastes lie, this is one tropical island where you can pack your big city discriminating palate along with your Valentino bow thong flip-flops.

Opus

This elegant white tablecloth restaurant has a deep wine list and a deep menu to go with it. Walking into the arched entry, the wine cellar is to your left and, judging from the offerings crowding the shelves, you could spend a week here touring Napa, Europe and South America without ever leaving your bar stool.

The bar itself is done up in sleek black and gray tones with bright red lighting accents. It’s more Rat Pack cool than down-island casual. There’s a small stage area for solo and duo musicians, which is something else the island has in fulsome measure. If you’re in the mood for serenading, an inside table near the big glass windows allows you both the comfort of air conditioning and a clear view of the patio. However, if the weather’s right ask for a table outside on the patio. While it’s not on the beach, the stone floor and profusion of plants transports you to a magical tropical garden. There are modern loungers and small tables scattered around the space plus some larger tables on a lanai.

Favorite Bites: The appetizers are so good you may never make it to the entrees. Skip the conch ceviche — it’s excellent, but you can get that elsewhere — and go for some Opus specials. Chili steak wraps, yellow fin spring rolls and the smoked salmon Napoleon layered with dill caper cream cheese. For dinner, the mahi en papillote with shitake mushrooms and the jerk pork tenderloin are hard to resist.

Provo Opus Tuna

Among the signature offerings at Opus is the seared yellow fin tuna with leek-fried Jasmine rice, crispy garlic & ginger, grilled bok choy and rum-soy dipping sauce. Photo: Ocean Club Resorts

Da Conch Shack

If you were looking for a movie location that called for a beach bar, this would be it. This is the Mark 1/Mod 1 beach shack and entertainment palace. The Shack is run by the gregarious Karel Rodney while Jamaican chef Mark Clayton mans the kitchen. A wooden archway separates the open-air restaurant from a small parking lot, and once through the gate, the sidewalk opens up onto a beachside paradise shaded by towering palms. There are three small pavilions if it’s raining, but most of the seating is at turquoise-, pink- and white-topped picnic tables on the sand.

When I say the conch is fresh, it couldn’t be any more fresh. At intervals, a free diver trails a little kayak out toward the reef and fills it with big queen conch. Then he brings it in and removes the conch from their shells right on the beach. From there, it goes into the kitchen. What happens in the kitchen is some kind of mystical transformation, the conch meat — which can be tough and chewy if not handled right — is turned into the best conch fritters I have ever had, bar none. And I’ve had fritters throughout the Caribbean, Florida and the Keys. Clayton’s fritters are light, fluffy puffs of bread studded with moist, tender morsels of conch served with a spicy dipping sauce — you’ll dream about these fritters.

Favorite Bites: The fritters, of course, but also the lightly fried fish and the blackened grouper. If you’re blowing your diet anyway, go ahead and get the Johnny fries — drizzled with black bean sauce and local pepper gravy.

Da Conch Shack Provo

The atmosphere is kick-back casual at Da Conch Shack. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than the local conch, which is pulled right from the waters of Grace Bay. Photo: Mermaid Pictures/ Da Conch Shack

Caicos Café

Located almost in the center of Grace Bay in a small plaza, Caicos Café is a Mediterranean-themed bistro with the insouciant charm of a casual island eatery. Up three steps from the courtyard, the tables are laid out on a tree-shaded deck with strands of lights twinkling overhead. It’s hard to picture a “cozy and romantic” restaurant that overlooks its own parking lot, but the Caicos Café pulls it off. Especially at night, the soft lighting on the deck obscures everything beyond the railing and you feel like you’re floating on an island — an island with really good food.

While the menu is certainly seafood-centric with the Mediterranean style seafood casserole is popular with seafood lovers, there’s much more to choose from: house-made pasta, dishes with artichokes, escargot, duck foie gras. It’s all delivered with efficiency and charm. The owners, Chef Max (Olivari) and partner Marco (Zanuccoli), circulate around the deck to make sure everyone’s enjoying their experience.

Favorite Bites: The roasted pumpkin tortellini has quickly become a favorite on the island, but for something more local, try the ravioli stuffed with grouper; to get the ravioli just right without overcooking the grouper — al dente outside, flaky inside — is impressive. For starters the grilled calamari with beans is a favorite. The house-made tagliolini pasta with Pernod flambéed fish is also special.

Caicos Cafe Provo Scallops

Caicos Café serves up original creations such as their broiled sea scallops with an almond-herb and pancetta crust, served over roasted beets and fennel-Pernod sauce. Photo: Caicos Café

Coco Bistro

From the outside, Coco Bistro is not all that promising — a squarish Tuscan red concrete building with a single door. But push through the small bar and dining room out to the courtyard and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at the central palazzo of a villa in southern Italy. Towering palm trees strung with ropes of lights shade the courtyard, turning it into its own universe once the sun goes down.

Chef/owner Stuart Gray has created a very romantic setting for his food. Successfully, it seems, since the Bistro has acquired a certain reputation around the island. As my cab driver, Velma, put it, “You go to the Coco Bistro and you’re going to want to get busy, you know.” It seemed to me that must limit dessert sales, but Velma corrected me: “You got to stretch it a bit and enjoy the atmosphere; you don’t have to go on duty straight away!”

The setting is charming and the Gray’s food is terrific and inventive: How about martini-scented conch ceviche or grilled shrimp satay on sugarcane skewers with banana chutney? And those are just the appetizers. The house mascot is Coco the cat, who’ll likely stroll to your table to check on your dinner; she’ll likely be followed by Gray himself. There’s a modest but well- chosen wine list that covers all of the bases and provides a few splurge bottles as well.

Favorite Bites: The Peking Duck egg rolls are served with mango hoisin dipping sauce and a swagger — because the waiters know how good they are. For a main, try the tandoori rubbed mahi or house made conch ravioli with grilled sweet peppers.

Coco Bistro Turks and Caicos

The outdoor courtyard at Coco Bistro provides one of the most romantic dinner settings on the island of Providenciales. Patrons are drawn not only by the ambiance, but also by an innovative menu. Photo: Coco Bistro

Amanyara

If you want to dine with the jet set, this is the place, but you’ll need to plan ahead and make reservations at least two days in advance. There’s zero walk-in traffic as it’s a long way from Grace Bay and there’s a guarded gate at the resort’s border. Amanyara is one of the places celebrities frequent on the island (others being Parrot Cay and Grace Bay Club). Amanyara is ultra under the radar, and many of the local residents don’t know much about it. What they do know is that it’s very exclusive and mega yachts have been seen hooked up on the wall in front of the resort.

The restaurant doesn’t even have an official name but it does have outstanding food and atmosphere. The Asian-inspired surroundings are echoed in the Asian fusion food, which varies daily but normally includes seafood, beef, chicken and lamb choices. Set against a backdrop of Asian pavilions and an infinity pool, it’s dramatic. It’s also pricey, even by Provo standards: With $75 steaks and $30 Margherita pizza as a baseline, you can see that a nice piece of fresh fish and a bottle of wine can add up pretty quickly.

Favorite Bites: You can get the vibe — if not the full Amanyara experience — with drinks and appetizers at sundown. The beach faces the sunset and if conditions are perfect, you may see the green flash. The mojitos are crisp and refreshing when paired with coconut ahi tuna ceviche.

Amanyara Turks and Caicos

Understated elegance is the order of the day at Amanyara. Cloistered within one of the island’s most excursive resorts, the restaurant specializes in Asian fusion cuisines. Photo: Amanyara Resort

Coyaba

Coyaba has a “secret garden” style location — not on the beach but, with the foliage, comfortable wicker furnishings and twinkling lights, the only thing missing is the sound of the surf. What’s definitively not missing is food: carefully crafted dishes presented with more than the usual amount of flourish.

Chef/owner Paul Newman (not that Paul Newman) keeps his very capable hands very much on the product and it shows: deconstructed beef Wellington presented vertically, stacked foie gras terrine topped with chunky fig jam, ribs served with a hillock of Haitian fire slaw. There’s a modest but well-rounded selection of wines with some nice Italian and California bottles and plenty of expertise to help you find the perfect pairing.

Favorite Bites: The Jerk Wellington chicken with sautéed callaloo and ackee is Jamaican on steroids, and the ossabucco stuffed tortelloni with Stilton foam and almonds superb. If you haven’t yet gotten enough conch, the 12- hour merlot braised conch bolognese is unique.

Turks and Caicos Coyaba

The chefs at Coyoba delight in innovative presentations, such as this bay scallop cerviche with hijike seaweed salad, spiced marie rose, tobiko caviars and crisp ginger. Photo: Nick Brown/Coyaba

Salt

This is one of the restaurants that’s not on Grace Bay. Instead, Salt is a few minutes farther east, at the Blue Haven Marina near Leeward-Going- Through. The Marina is a full-service cruising destination designed to attract big yachts — the entrance channel has over eight feet at low tide and the slips stretch to 220 feet — and there were several there on the day I visited. There’s a condotel development on the property with its own bar, and, right next door at the marina, Salt. For boaters, you don’t need to get a car and drive anywhere, you can belly up to the South Beach-style bar inside and then roll back down the dock and fall down the companionway. Easy.

But if you’re staying elsewhere on the island, it’s still worth the drive. Inside is nice — very nice — with two big screen TVs going day and night, but outside is a big covered deck that provides enough shade for a comfortable lunch even in the sizzling summer months. It’s also big enough for a little dancing if you’re so inclined.

Favorite Bites: How about favorite sips first? The Blue Haven (triple sec, blue curacao, tequila) is good, but the Dark and Cloudy (Blue Haven’s answer to Bermuda’s Dark and Stormy) is a delicious mix of pineapple juice, light and dark local rum with lime. From there, proceed to the Salt appetizer sampler and, before anyone else chooses, grab all of the grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. You’ll make it up to them later. Follow that with cracked (fried) conch and truffle fries.

Salt Turks & Caicos

Salt is a favorite gathering spot for boaters who tie up at nearby Blue Haven Marina. Land-based visitors can catch a taxi from resorts along Grace Bay to enjoy the bar’s signature libations. Photo: Blue Haven Resort

 

 

Playa Del Carmen Wah Wah Bar Mexico

Caribbean Beach Bars: Wah Wah Beach Bar, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

By day, Playa del Carmen’s Wah Wah Beach Bar is one of the Riviera Maya’s most popular beachside destinations for food and drink, as well as a prime staging point for a relaxing day of holding down a beach chair.

Overlooking the Caribbean Sea at the end of Calle 2, the club’s landmark thatch-roofed palapa is a short stroll down the beach from the Cozumel ferry dock, and just steps away from the downtown bustle of Fifth Avenue. The club’s kitchen turns out a tempting array of both bar food and big plates, including the area’s best slow-smoked BBQ, and there’s always a drink special in the works.

As darkness falls, the action heats up, with live music and a lively scene on the dance floor. The sound system rocks, the tequila flows, and the crowds keep the party going till late. Whether staying in town or stopping by on the way to Cozumel, this is one beachside watering hole that’s not to be missed.

Jamaica Pelican Bar

Caribbean Beach Bars: Floyd’s Pelican Bar, South Coast, Jamaica

 

Forget market research and business plans. Delroy Forbes didn’t have a grand design when he created the Pelican Bar- he just wanted a place where he could pull up his fishing boat, relax and enjoy a cool drink. Since no such place existed near Jamaica’s Parottee Bay, he set out to build one.

In 2001, he started gathering driftwood and cutting acacia and red mangrove branches, which he ferried out to a sandbar in the bay. Over the course of two months, he pieced together a ramshackle over-water structure that earned its name from the sea birds that soon arrived to roost on the roof.

His first customers were local fishermen, who stopped by to enjoy a cool Red Stripe beer in the shade after a long day on the water. Word got around, and tourists soon joined the mix. Delroy, who is better known by his nickname Floyd, added rum drinks and other spirits to the drink menu, including his signature Pelican Special (ginger beer, sugar, lime, ice and rum). From time to time, he’d also grill up some fresh fish.

In 2004 Hurricane Ivan took the place down to nothing. But soon after the weather cleared, Floyd and his friends gathered more wood and put the bar back together. Today, it remains as one of the Caribbean’s most iconic and original bars, attracting everyone from island fishermen to celebrities on holiday. Stop in and you’ll find Floyd hosting the party, which begins mid morning and can last until midnight.

 

Tulum, Papaya Club De Playa

Caribbean Beach Bars: Papaya Club de Playa, Tulum, Mexico

 

Trade winds, blue water and a hammock strung in the shade. This would be reason enough to make Papaya Club de Playa your beach HQ when in Tulum. But, there’s more. This waterfront vacation complex includes a double-decker bar that overhangs the beach, a pair of dining palapas, a waterfront dance floor, view tower and amphitheater-style seating enclaves that overlook the ocean and a performance stage. The midday scene is mellow, with swimmers and sunbathers mingling with diners and work- from-anywhere gypsies who sync their laptops and tables to Wi-Fi and redefine the office experience.

Things heat up after dark, when DJs and live bands own the night, rum drinks fuel the dance floor and an impromptu skinny dip is always a possibility. Not to be missed are the monthly full moon parties, which run until the early hours of the morning. The kitchen and bar turn out a tempting range of food and libations, and for those who never want to leave, the Papaya also offers accommodations ranging from rustic to eco- chic. The club is located near the northern end of the Tulum Beach if you somehow miss the sign, most anyone in town can provide directions to this local landmark.

Grand Cayman Food and Wine Festival Food

The Best Caribbean Food and Wine Festivals

 

Sun and fun aren’t the only reasons to come to the Caribbean. With more and more celebrity chefs opening signature restaurants throughout the region, foodies have much to celebrate. And for the ultimate taste of the islands, you can time your visit to coincide with one of the growing number of culinary festivals that have made their way south. Visiting during a food and wine event is a high point of any Caribbean vacation—you get to mingle with other foodies, drink rum-infused tropical cocktails, taste worldly treats while overlooking the blue Caribbean Sea. Here’s the line-up of events.

January

Cayman Cookout, Grand Cayman

This weekend-long celebration of food, wine and “barefoot elegance,” on Grand Cayman culminates with the Barefoot BBQ where guests dine under the stars while big name celebrity chefs like Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés and Marcus Samuelsson work the grills. During the day the Beach Bash takes place aboard a catamaran sailboat cruise. There’s plenty of time to snorkel, swim and swing in a hammock while sampling beach bites. Current dates and more info: www.caymancookout.com

March

The Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival, Cancun, Mexico

Each year, this four-day event pairs world-renowned chefs and top sommeliers in one of the most beautiful destinations on earth. The 2015 festival celebrates Mexico’s leading female chefs, with emphasis on Mexican and Spanish cuisines, ingredients and talent. The most popular event is the Gourmet Tasting Village where guests get to meet and mingle with local and international top chefs. While world wines are featured throughout the event, an additional 35 Mexican wineries supply wine at the tasting village. Current dates and more info: www.crmfest.com

April

Saborea Puerto Rico, San Juan

Puerto Rico San Juan’s neighborhood stretch of sand at Escambrón Beach transforms into a tasting village during this flavorful weekend. Local restaurants offer up their best dishes as rum, wine, spirits and beer flow. Each day the village features different restaurants, guest chefs and cooking demos. New in 2015 is the Bubbles & Bites Event, the Saborea kick-off party where local renowned chefs whip up Puerto Rican bites to be paired with champagne. Current dates, tickets and more info: saboreapuertorico.com

St Croix Food & Wine Experience, St. Croix, USVI

The start of this popular event began in 2001 as the brainchild of two local restaurateurs, Kelly Odom and Katherine Pugliese. From a one-night event, it grew to the weeklong extravaganza that it is today, drawing top-named talent to one of the biggest culinary celebrations in the Caribbean. The festivities include a golf tournament with tastings via a golf-cart tour, a “Food Fight” with celebrity chefs and a selection of wine dinners showcasing visiting chefs. The original event, The Taste of St. Croix continues to draw big crowds, selling out every year, and the night’s “after party” takes the festivities on into the morning hours. Current dates and more info: stxfoodandwine.com

St. Croix Food & Wine Festival

The St. Croix Food & Wine Experience is an island-wide celebration that has grown from a one-day event into a weeklong party. The Taste of St. Croix is still the most popular evening of tasting. Photo: Debbie Snow

November

The Caribbean Food & Wine Festival, Provo, Turks & Caicos

2015 marks the fifth year for this well-received event. The Turks & Caicos, and Provo in particular, is known for a high level cuisine. Mix that up with local and visiting celebrity chefs, gorgeous stretches of beach at Grace Bay and you’ve got a winner. Saturday afternoon brings on the Island Street Food Fair where local restaurants showcase their specialties and attendees cast their votes for their favorites. The finale is a luscious and elegant dinner with featured chefs and wine makers. Current dates and more info:caribbeanfoodandwinefestivaltci.com

Barbados Food Wine & Rum Festival, Barbados

The Barbados Food Wine & Rum Festival is in its fifth year and growing into a full on-island spectacular. It’s the only festival that includes rum tastings and demonstrations during the weekend of festivities. Local food is highlighted on Saturday at Sizzle Street held in a park setting during the afternoon and evening. Favored celebrity chefs include Marcus Samuelsson and Anne Burrell. Current dates and more info:www.foodwinerum.comwww.visitbarbados.org

Barbados Food & Wine Festival

In addition to providing distinctive vintages and memorable meals, the Barbados Food Wine & Rum Festival features cooking demos by celebrity chefs. Here, Marcus Samuelsson whips up a selection of appetizers. Photo: Debbie Snow

St. Maartin Blue Bitch Bar

Caribbean Beach Bars: Blue Bitch Bar, Philipsburg, St. Maarten

 

A favorite watering hole in downtown Philipsburg, St. Maarten, the Blue Bitch Bar is a lot more welcoming than its name might imply. The moniker actually has nothing to do with a depressed and unpleasant woman, or even a strangely hued female dog. In local parlance, a blue bitch refers to a type of shiny rock that can be found along the island’s coastline. In days past, island beachcombers would gather these rocks for sale as building materials. The namesake bar is adorned with an array of these stones, hence the name.

Located on the boardwalk at Great Bay, the bar draws an eclectic mix that ranges from locals to cruise ship crowds on shore leave. There’s plenty of rum-based concoctions, live music in the evenings, and a kitchen that cooks up Creole-inspired offerings, along with ribs and the expected burgers and such. And yes, you can buy the T-shirt, which usually includes some caricature of a blue-colored female dog, along with the signature catch phrase “a fun place to chill when you are in heat.”

St Vincent Union Island Happy Island Bar

Caribbean Beach Bars: Happy Island, Union Island, St. Vincent

 

You won’t find Happy Island on the Admiralty charts, but it’s well known to sailors who ply the southern Caribbean. This tiny bit of dry land, which lies just to the west of St. Vincent’s Union Island, wasn’t always there. In 2002, a local visionary named Janti Ramage came up with a unique way to deal with the piles of discarded conch shells that littered island beaches. He began to collect and pile the shells on the shoal known as Newlands Reef, and after several months of manual labor, had enough recovered real estate to build on. Thus was born Happy Island.

This unique restaurant and watering hole has since become a must-do destination for charter boat crews and locals alike, though you can only approach through the surrounding shallows by small boat, or aboard a water taxi that whisks passengers over from Clifton Harbour. Island tunes, trade winds, grilled lobster and cold libations are the order of the day, and of course, a signature rum punch that has sapped the ambitions of many. Janti has since sold Happy Island, but the whimsical spirit of its creator lives on, and the Caribbean’s newest island remains one of the high points of any sailor’s voyage through St. Vincent and the Grenadines.