Next time you are in Aruba, pick up a random rock, then throw it. There is a good chance that you’ll hit a restaurant. After all, Aruba has over 300 of them. That’s a whole lot of places to dine, especially when you consider the entire island is only about 70 square miles. Then why is it, we hear the same ones recommended over and over again (Passions on the Beach, Smokey Joes, Madame Jeanette, etc.) How about this? The next time you are in (or is it on?) Aruba, try one of these often underrated unsung heroes of the Aruba culinary scene instead.
It’s not unusual to hear visitors describe the Gostoso dining experience as the best they’ve ever had. Then why is it that you have never heard of it? Perhaps it’s because you haven’t done much exploration outside of the Palm Beach area, Gostoso is located downtown. Maybe the many twists and turns of Oranjestad make it not the easiest place to find. Perhaps, its because you have never sought out a fusion of Arubian and Portuguese cuisine. Whatever the reason with its number 11 ranking on TripAdvisor, one thing is for certain. To experience Gostoso is to love Gostoso.
Open for both lunch and dinner, Gostoso Restaurante is a favorite of locals and experienced vacationers alike. Gostoso has an extensive menu that is definitely not the norm on the island. The Cabrito Stoba, which is a stew of goat meat simmered in a Guinness and red wine sauce that is flavored with garlic, onions, red pepper leek, scallions rosemary and cilantro has been described as “to die for”. This menu is loaded with unique items like the Portuguese style strip loin kebab, Espetada a la Marinera and the Venezuelan mixed grill. For those less adventurous eaters, there are also more common restaurant staples like chicken parmigiana, grouper filet, and beef tenderloin.
Anytime you ask for a recommendation for fine dining in Aruba you get a list of the usual suspects. However, there is one restaurant that is oftentimes left out that serves up food every bit as fine as what you’ll find at Madame Jeanette or Chalet Suisse. Yemanja Woodfired Grill is located in downtown Oranjestad behind the Renaissance.
Serving food that could probably best be described as euro-Caribbean, Yemanja offers dishes like Grouper Italiano and Herb crusted New Zealand rack of lamb. Something else that sets this restaurant apart from many others is the emphasis on healthy offerings. For example, the Yemanja Power Bowl is a salad mixture of Kale, Arugula, Spinach, Quinoa and all sorts of other superfoods. This can be customized with seafood, beef or chicken additions that make it both healthy and filling.
It seems that most restaurants that get recommend are either clustered in Palm Beach or connected to a hotel or timeshare. I get it, those places are easy to get to and therefore well trafficked, which naturally leads to becoming well known. But if you want to try something a bit different, getting off the beaten path can often lead to you finding something truly different and wonderful. Zuzuroh, the Italian-Greek restaurant located in the Eagle Beach area is one such restaurant.
This small family operated restaurant prides itself on using homemade and homegrown ingredients, which yield exceptional results. At times the service can be slow, but this is a small operation and the food is worth the wait. Zuzuroh serves up European food at its best, with dishes like Souvlaki & gyros and Risotto langoustines that are sure to please.
Alfie’s in Aruba
Let’s face it, no matter where you go in this world, sometimes you want simple pub food, Aruba is no different. There are many places on the island that can satisfy your hunger for that particular type of food. Many of them are great and the ones that can be listed as exceptional do make a name for themselves. That’s when they get recommended over and over again. However, there is one name that fits the description for everything you could possibly want in pub style food, that most have yet to experience, Alfie’s in Aruba.
A relatively new restaurant, located in downtown Oranjestad, Alfie’s is probably best known as the place that brought poutine to the island. For those who don’t know, poutine is a French Canadian dish that consists of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Alfie’s also has variations that include BBQ pulled pork or even bacon and sauteed onions… delish! However, they are also home to one of the best burgers one can get. Add in the fact that they also have very reasonably priced beers and strong air conditioning and you have the makings of a restaurant that won’t be underrated for long.
Listen to an interview with the owners of Alfie’s on One Happy Podcast EP79
Anna-Maria’s Autentico Ristorante Italiano
Italian restaurants. Aruba is littered with them. Some of them are very good, while others are just meh. The problem is, due to location and name recognition the so-so places often get recommended just because so many are familiar with them. That’s not to say all of the usual suspects are suspect, just that there are places that equal or best them, that no one talks about. Anna-Maria’s is one such Italian restaurant on Aruba.
Anna-Maria’s isn’t your typical Italian restaurant, it offers something a bit different. Instead of being located on the Palm Beach strip or connected to a hotel, Anna-Maria’s is located in a house, in a neighborhood in Noord which provides a very different, more intimate dining experience. It all started with Anna Maria and her husband Chris cooking in their home for friends. After some prodding, they were convinced to open the home up to patrons as a restaurant. This was back in 2009, and ever since then, they have been serving up some of the best Italian food on Aruba. Just reading some of the names on the menu is enough to have you salivating, “Filetto Di Pesce Bianco Al Limone E Vino” anyone?
Twist of Flavors
It’s not unusual for someone to offer recommendations for a place for you to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. However, what is outside the norm is being able to have all three of those needs met at the same restaurant. Most places either excel at only one of the three standard meals or just flat out omit serving one or more. Twist of Flavors does not shy away from the challenge of providing equally tasty options three meals a day. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and do a bang-up job at each.
You can probably count on one hand how many places you can go to have Dutch pancakes in the morning, a wrap for lunch and then surf and turf for dinner. This restaurant has only been around a few years, so it still flies under the radar. But when it comes to quality and value, Twist of Flavors should be at the top of anyone’s list. They even have specials that really put them over the top. The daily 3-course early bird special is a good value.
Seaport Marketplace, Oranjestad
Who would have thought you could get good Chinese food in the Caribbean? I guess it makes sense, being that nearly every grocery store on the island seems to be Chinese owned. Well, if Asian cuisine is what you are looking for, then head into Oranjestad to the Renaissance Marketplace to Hung Paradise for the best Chinese food on the island.
While the menu there isn’t as extensive as what you would typically find here in the states, the food is excellent. Also, if you are trying to get your budget back in line Hung Paradise is an excellent choice. The portions on things like the egg roll that is large enough for two and the platters which allow you to sample an assortment of what the restaurant has to offer are large and very reasonably priced.
When asking for recommendations for authentic, your mileage may vary. Somehow we have gotten to a place where authentic means different things to different people. Well, when asking for authentic Aruban food, Gasparito delivers in the truest sense of the word. Check out this excerpt taken from their website. “Gasparito Restaurant is a throwback to when dining was intimate, the food was authentic, and the owners actually spent the time to talk to you about what it’s like living on Aruba”. It doesn’t get any more authentic than that.
The dining experience at Gasparito is like being invited to dinner at someone’s house. The owner is your host and his son is the chef. The atmosphere is awesome and the food is everything you would expect. Gasparito is the place you want to go to sample Criyoyo dishes like Stoba di Bestia and Keshi Yena Chicken. The place is small so do make reservations.
Ask anyone the best place to get seafood in Aruba and everyone has their favorites. Some will recommend the really famous formerly local restaurant down in Saveneta, others may tell you about a seafood dish served at their favorite restaurant. Not many will think to direct you Redfish which is an unassuming little restaurant located in the Orange Plaza strip mall.
If you are looking for the best seafood on the island, there are many contenders and Redfish could possibly be at the top of the list. Many who visit the island would never think to look away from the water for great fish, but those who do, will not be disappointed. Founded by the same person who started Driftwood, Redfish delivers in a similar way. Fresh seafood, expertly prepared but this time served in a casual setting.
Bucuti and Tara Resort
Dining on the beach at sunset is the stuff dreams are made of. In Aruba, there seem to be two restaurants that get all the publicity when it comes to providing that ultimate romantic dining experience. Elements, located at the Bucuti and Tara resort is not one of them… although it should be.
Anything connected to the Bucuti and Tara is bound to be top notch and Elements is no exception. While they do serve lunch during the day, at night is when the magic truly happens. In the late afternoon, tables are brought out onto quite possibly, the most gorgeous stretch of beach on the island and set up in a way that mimics a private cabana. The aesthetics of the scene are truly amazing and the taste and presentation of the food match in both ambition and execution. In terms of popularity, Elements does lag behind, but in terms of product, they are right there at the front of the pack.