Good restaurant choices abound on the island, many of which have open-air seating, ideal for a locale where temperatures average a comfortable 80-something degrees throughout 85% of the year. And because the majority of chefs take advantage of the island’s vast array of local produce, fish, seafood, poultry, and meats, it is common to see menus that change daily. Eating like a local in St. Croix means eating very well.
Here are three such places, all highly recommended.
La Reine Chicken Shack
There are times when an eating establishment will call itself a shack as a cute or clever way to convey informality. Not the Chicken Shack. It is really a shack. On the road. In a lot. Picnic tables. Styrofoam plates. Plastic utensils. And a perpetual plume of smoke arising from the shed in back where about 100 chickens at a time slowly rotate over hot embers. The scent is intoxicating.
Unless you arrive early, there will be a crowd, both gathering around the lively bar and waiting to place an order at the counter. That crowd has included Martha Stewart, The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, and St. Croix homeowner Joe Biden, the dignitary also known as Mr. Vice President. Whatever other daily specials are listed on the day’s menu, you’re always certain to find the scrumptious, juicy roasted chicken, one half of which arrives in a box with rice, rich red beans and salad with great garlicky dressing. That’ll run you $10.50. If it’s available, one can also chow down on the perfectly cooked conch, caught right nearby, served either warm, in butter sauce or cold, as a salad. The lobster stew special one day was decadent and delicious. If sucking tender meat off the bone is your thing, I can also recommend the stew oxtail. Sides include some of the usual suspects, from stuffing, baked macaroni, and sweet potato to the starchy tuber known as cassava, mightily enhanced by savory stewed onions. Whatever you do, make sure to get the johnnycakes! These magic puffs of fried dough are a cross between a pancake and a roll, and they rock. And if you like it hot, ask for their homemade hot sauce in the squeeze bottle, a mouthful of fire courtesy of the brightly colored habanero peppers contained within.
La Reine Chicken Shack241 Estate Slob, 340-778-5717, Open 7 Days a Week for breakfast, lunch and dinner
This is another shack of sorts, albeit of the beach variety. It’s exactly the type of roadside joint you want to end up in after a full day of sunning and swimming just across the street. Stiff drinks, live music, happy people, good grub. Try the wonderful Duck Poppers, one evening’s “food shot”, four of which are served on Japanese soup spoons. They’re Cajun cream cheese, onions, and jalapeño rolled in duck and wrapped in bacon. Holla! You can build your own burger, whether meat, chicken, fish, or the very tasty veggie type. There’s some inventive cooking going on here for the ambitious — or the inebriated. For example, the Manders Peanut Butter Burger is an 8-ounce Angus patty with sweet Thai chile sauce, peanut butter, sautéed onion, fried egg and bacon on a sriracha-seasoned bun. The more conscientious might opt instead for the veggie Alfredo with whole wheat rotini or grilled mahi with teriyaki glaze over rice and arugula with lemon zest. The zucchini fries are superb, and that spongy rum cake won’t hurt you either.
Eat@CaneBay, 100 c Cane Bay, 340-718-0360
Cafe Christine is no shack. It is an enchanting little spot hidden away in the heart of Christiansted that features classic bistro fare expertly prepared by Christine herself. Grab a table on the patio and consider a cool glass of rosé as you peruse the day’s chalkboard menu. There will be a cold soup — swiss chard when we were there — and a salad. Mine was a toothsome mélange of shrimp, avocado, goat cheese, and mango over mixed greens and red onion, perfectly dressed with vinaigrette. Reliable sources also suggest the steak salad when it’s available. Among other mouthwatering options, we enjoyed the quiche made with chicken, asparagus, feta, and tomato, as well as a tomato farçi stuffed with pulled pork. I’d go back just to try her croque monsieur, France’s famed open-faced melted ham and cheese sandwich. And Do Not Leave without having Christine’s pies. We devoured every one of them. Her perfect crusts support some glorious insides; the coconut was terrific, the chocolate chip pear was incroyable. This woman can flat-out cook, but Café Christine is open for lunch only Monday through Friday and you should call to reserve a table.
Café Christine, 6 Company St., Christiansted, 340-713-1500