A Taste Tour Of Aruba

There are so many Caribbean islands, one starts to wonder how different one sunny paradise could possible be from another. But not all islands are created equal. Take the island of Aruba, for example. There's a lot more to the vivacious, little island than just surf and sand. This island is full of surprises, in fact, especially when it comes to food. I had the luck of being invited there to experience this year's Carnival the last weekend in February. It was an explosion of color and music and pure joy.

Locals prepare for the event all year round and the entire island was buzzing as the big weekend, the culmination of a serious of smaller events, grew closer and closer. Carnival music was playing everywhere we went, and people excitedly shared details about their costumes and floats and parties and music and meet-up spots.

When I wasn't busy taking in the Carnival parades and parties, swimming in Aruba's famed Natural Pool, sailing across the clearest, bluest waters on an afternoon catamaran cruise; or soaking in the heavenly quiet at the Aruba Marriott's adults only pool, I was eating my way across the island. I was blown away at the variety of dining this relatively small island has to offer. Here are some of my favorites.

For local fare:

Zeerover. Hands down. If you want local, you want Zeerover (which loosely translates to pirate). The menu is nothing more than a short list of what the fisherman have just reeled in. You walk up to the window, tell them which seafood you want and how you want it cooked, and then you pull up a seat and wait. The fishing boats were docked and the fish and shrimp were being unloaded just moments before they were being prepared and served. Nothing fancy about Zeerover. But I have to say, it doesn't get any fresher or more local than this.

For breakfast:

Whatever comes to mind when you think pancakes, forget about it. Linda's Dutch Pancakes and Pizzas is a whole new pancake paradigm. The pancakes are super-thin and enormous with deliciously crisp edges. They're offered with a plethora of toppings from sweet to savory – candy, cheese, fruit, bacon, you name it. You can't go wrong with a custom creation. But they have lots of tried and true combos too if you want to play it safe. I'm a big fan of the fresh strawberries and chocolate chips, myself.



For Cuban food:

Cuba's Cookin' is as much about dining as it is about dancing. If you want to dance, that is. There is live music and, the night I was there, there was a lovely, older gentleman, a friend of the musicians playing there (in his late 70s for sure) who showed me the ropes. The menu is full of Cuban favorites, including ropa vieja (shredded beef in a tomato based sauce) and empanadas, and a jam-packed bar menu with all classics and a few fresh surprises too.  

For Chinese food (Yes, Chinese food):

I wasn't expecting good Chinese food in Aruba. I wasn't really expecting any Chinese food in Aruba, really. But it was within walking distance of my hotel and it's my favorite genre. So, I took a chance on Hung's Paradise and I was so glad I did. I ordered simply — wonton soup, egg rolls, and their house fried rice — and I was impressed all around.

For pastechis:

Pastechis, little meat-filled pockets akin to empanadas, are an Aruban favorite. It has a delicious, crisp, flaky crust and flavorful filling. You can get them all over the island since they are a local snack and breakfast food of choice. But my favorites were at Old Man and the Sea. The venue is gorgeous, with a massive bed where you can cozy up and drink and dine, complete with billowing curtains at the water's edge just like in the movies; a lovely scattering of small, wooden tables with their legs buried in the sand; and a private over water cabana complete with a romantic table for two. The serenity and the view made the food all the more delicious, especially the pastechis.

For garden dining:

Papiamento Restaurant is set in lush garden with a glimmering pool at its center. There is also an historic home filled with curious antiques should you want to dine inside. But only bad weather — which Aruba rarely has — should make you do that. The menu is filled with local flavors and creative dishes that are inspired by the spice palette of the Caribbean. Be sure to wander the gorgeous grounds and peak inside the 126-year-old Aruban "cunucu" house and check out the incredible European antiques (the oldest of which dates back to the early 1800s).



For Italian food:

La Trattoria – El Faro Blanco Restaurant has the most sweeping and spectacular views that you might never want to leave. Of course, the fact that they serve delicious Italian fare, including pizza that had everyone at the table saying, "More please" didn't hurt either. The seafood they serve is preposterously fresh. Ah, the benefits of being on an island. And they do an excellent job of preparing it simply so as to not take away from the fresh flavors.

For toes in the sand dining:

There really is nothing like eating at a table just steps from the sea, watching the sunset, your toes playing in the sand. If you want to go super casual, check out MooMba Beach Bar and Restaurant, which has a really fun bar and beach tennis courts out back. If you want to go more romantic, as I mentioned above, The Old Man and the Sea is killer. I would also highly recommend Simply Fish. Their food is so inventive and tasty. Just be careful, with ambience like theirs, it's hard not to fall in love. And I don't just mean with the food. 

For a unique dining experience:

Your mom might have told you not to eat in bed. But at the Screaming Eagle, they'll invite you to do it. It was so much fun to climb atop the giant bed and dine and recline all evening long from cocktails to dessert. And they have eating in bed down to a science with perfect little trays designed just in-bed dining and impeccable service. So have no fear that you'll be uncomfortable. Comfort, in fact is the name of the game. All you have to do is relax and enjoy. The only problem is dragging yourself out of there when you're done.

For the best of everything dining:

If you want the best view, the freshest seafood, the most inviting atmosphere, the closest you can be to the water without getting wet, you know, the best of everything, you want to go to Pinchos Grill & Bar. The restaurant is on a dock so there is nothing but water all around you, including below you. The food is insanely fresh and divinely cooked. And the service will make you feel like family, and there's nothing better than feeling right at home.

For a taste of Carnival:

Carnival only happens once a year, of course. But if you can't get to Aruba for the big event, you can still experience a taste of Carnival by paying a visit to La Vista restaurant. Every Thursday night, La Vista hosts an outdoor, seafood buffet dinner complete with a Carnival show at 7:00 p.m. Rumor has it the music, costumes, and dancing make it very hard to sit still. The good news is that you don't have to! (Reservations are required.)