It’s that time of year again, when many of us here in the States are planning those warm-weather escapes to the Caribbean or to Latin America, so we at The Daily Meal thought this would be a good time to consider again the finest eating establishments in these regions with our second-annual list of the 101 Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean.
As with our previous lists– such as our 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World; 101 Best Restaurants in Europe; and 101 Best Pizzas in America, just to name a few –we went through an extensive research process to scout out restaurants all over Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, compiling a list of finalists from which our 101 best were selected, with the help of an esteemed group of panelists. As we believe that a beachside seafood shack can be just as good, in its own way, as a sleek Michelin-quality establishment, we included restaurants of all types and size, excluding, sometimes reluctantly, food stalls and street stands (for instance, we did not consider one of our favorite dispensers of fresh Mexican seafood, Mariscos La Guerrerense in Ensenada).
To conduct our research we consulted industry experts, local food guides, reviews, and listings, and compiled our own knowledge from experiences at restaurants in the different regions. What we ended up with was a short list of 261 restaurants from 28 different countries and regions. This list was then shared with our panel of judges (comprised primarily of restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and assorted bloggers from across the globe), who undertook the tough task of selecting their favorites across a broad geographical area. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, panelists were asked only to vote for restaurants where they had eaten within the past 12 months. The voting — based on region, cuisine, and the style of the restaurant (budget, casual/neighborhood, and serious dining/special occasion) — narrowed the list to an honored group of 101.
The final list includes a versatile mix of restaurants from different countries whose establishments were nominated. Since we first started identifying the best restaurants across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013, there has truly been a boom in the culinary worlds across the region. Hotel restaurants in the Caribbean are fast becoming some of the best, and a number have been named to The Daily Meal’s list of the 101 Best Hotel Restaurants in the World in 2014 as well as years past. Some our best restaurants in the Caribbean are led by familiar culinary stars such as Eric Ripert (Blue). Non-resort restaurants are also continuing to introduce travelers to the rich flavors and fresh ingredients found across the islands that make this such a unique and surprising cuisine. Newcomers like Havana Blue in St. Thomas and Bolero Brasserie in Bermuda are have made their way to this all-star list, and for good reason. Bolero Brasserie, for example, has become a landmark in Hamilton, offering brasserie fare with twist from chef and owner Johnny Roberts.
Exciting things are happening Latin America, too, where countries like Colombia are emerging from a troubled past with all kinds of top restaurants, including Criterión and Marea by Rausch, both run by the Rausch brothers, who have helped turn Colombia into a culinary hotbed. All eyes are on Cuba as well, a place that had long been forbidden to American tourists but will certainly become one of the top travel destinations in coming years. Cuba offers an interesting dining scene of paladares, or family-run restaurants, like Paladar Los Mercaderes, which came in at #72 on our list.
Also a goldmine for creativity is Panama, where restaurants are springing up around the country and marrying local ingredients with global trends and modernist techniques. Humo, which comes in at #56 on our list, beautifully tackles American-style barbecue using locally sourced ingredients and produce.
As you click through our list, reflect on your own opinions and thoughts on our selections — how did your favorite restaurant rank, and which do you think should have been numero uno? In the end, we all have our own opinions on what is "best," and as we can attest from past experience, any list like this one is bound to stir up disagreements among discerning diners; even our own staff was divided on which restaurants should make the final cut. After checking out The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean, please share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter @TheDailyMeal using the hashtag #bestrestaurants — and let us know what places you think should have been included, or should have been left out.
#101 Parador La Huella (José Ignacio, Uruguay)
Looks can be deceiving at this shabby-chic beachfront thatched-roof retreat set amid the dunes of Playa Brava in southeastern Uruguay. Simple though it may appear, Parador La Huella (The Footprint Hostel) has been named to the Best Restaurants in Latin America, and chef Alejandro Morales has left an indelible mark (footprint?) on Uruguay’s culinary scene, putting this once-sleepy fishing town on the map in the process. There’s no pretentiousness here. “We’re a parador, a simple beach restaurant with simple food,” Morales says. The food may be simply prepared, but its pure, fresh flavors make La Huella a culinary treasure; the restaurant features such dishes as thinly sliced salmon with slivers of chilled local leaves; flame-grilled whole corvina with butter, olive oil, and garlic; and straightforward grilled shrimp. You must top off your meal with the molten dulce de leche cake. The freshly baked bread is made with a recipe from San Francisco's Tartine Bakery and the restaurant sources its produce from a nearby organic farm. No matter what you order, it all goes well with clericó (a fruit punch drink similar to sangria).
#100 Osaka (Lima)
Since opening its doors in 2002 in central Lima, Osaka has expanded to five more locations, another one in Lima, two in Buenos Aires, one in São Paulo, and one in Santiago, Chile. We prefer the original, though apart from slight variations can be found in the décor and menu at each location, but the basic theme at each remains the same: modern Nikkei cuisine, the century-old fusion of Japanese and Peruvian food which began in Lima decades ago. The restaurant features a massive sushi bar in one corner and two tatami rooms. Tuck into ceviches, tiraditos (carpaccio-like raw fish with spicy sauce), and sushi rolls, and fall in love with Osaka.
Alexandra E. Petri is the Travel editor at The Daily Meal. Special contributor Lauren Mack (@lmack) and editorial director Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews) contributed to 101 Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean.