Aruba + Bonaire + Curaçao Restaurants
17 Kaya C.E.B. Hellmund
Tel: 599 717 4166
Local gastronomes seek out this breezy bistro beside Bonaire's South Pier. Though the port-red colonial-era home is decorated with a mash-up of African and Asian artwork and urns, the food is French-Belgian. Don't miss the salad of bacon-wrapped Bonairean goat cheese with walnuts, tomatoes, and a mild honey dressing; micron-thin slices of tuna carpaccio with asparagus and vanilla sauce; or pan-fried grouper filet with a tomato-and-wine sauce Duglere. With just 60 al fresco seats, reservations are a must, even on weeknights.
Open Wednesday through Monday 5 to 10 pm.
Rif Fort Unit 1
Tel: 599 9 462 5666
There isn't another dining room on Curaçao that blends food, setting, and service as capably as this 30-year-old French/Swiss restaurant. Located in an early-19th-century Dutch fort at the entrance to St. Anna Bay, the restaurant has fabulous views of Punda, Queen Emma Bridge, and the Caribbean Sea from the outdoor terrace. Chef Ghislain Berends's classic Continental cuisinesavory onion soup with a slab of French bread and Gruyère cheese, thick Argentine filet mignondraws a local, professional crowd. Be sure to reserve a table on the seaside terrace. If the weather's foul, the bistro has sheltered seats inside Rif Fort's thick walls, including the bastion's vaultlike former cistern.
Open daily from noon to 2 pm and 6 to 10:45 pm.
2 Kaya Albert Engelhart
Tel: 599 717 4783
This popular, affordable joint resembles a neighborhood warung ("little restaurant" in Indonesian) for its hole-in the-wall ambience and East Indies cuisine. Rob de Haseth, a retired Dutch bureaucrat, grills up barbecued chicken, while his Jakarta-born wife, Maggie, makes the rich satays and gado gado (vegetables served with a peanut sauce). Seating is limited to a small bar and shaded courtyard, so locals often order take-outa delicious Sunday-picnic option.
Open Friday and Saturday 6 to 10 pm, Sunday 12 to 2 pm and 6 to 10 pm.
56 Zeppenfeldstraat (Main Street)
Tel: 297 584 5086
This Aruban landmark got its start in 1941 serving sailors, and it still welcomes blue-collar workers from the nearby Valero oil refinery who come to sip draught Balashi beer and watch sports on the flat-screen TV. But it also attracts a steady stream of visitors who've gone off the usual path to explore the island beyond Palm Beach. The decor is beyond quirky, with an old Wurlitzer jukebox, life preservers, license plates, stuffed puffer fish, Dutch wooden clogs, and framed pictures of ships and tugs covering the wall. Be sure to try the house specialsteamed shrimp slathered with spicy and piquant homemade sauce. A word of caution: Prostitution is legal in San Nicolas, which is very apparent when night falls on the neighborhood.
Open daily from 10:30 am to 10 pm.
Tel: 297 586 7044
This out-of-the-way spot in the cunucu, or countryside, offers a genuine taste of Aruba. Owner Reimundo Barros offers fresh seafood dishes like a peppery consommé with onion, celery, and chunks of the catch of the day, and shrimp in a coconut milk/brandy sauce topped with coconut flakes. But the heartiest star in this homey place is keshi yena, a classic casserole of shredded chicken with a criollo sauce of tomato, onion, garlic, and green pepper, smothered in melted Gouda cheese and served with a side of Caribbean rice and fungi (a polentalike cornbread).
Open daily 5:30 to 11 pm.
15 Westpunt Road
Tel: 599 9 864 0126
If your Curaçao ramblings take you anywhere near the west end, stop in at this family-style lunch spot. Open since 1936, it is now run by the third generation of the Christiaan family, brothers Jaan and Johan. The decor may be haphazarda mural of a Spanish galleon, a small tropical-fish aquarium, bird feeders piled with sugar to attract colorful bananaquits and troupialsbut the food is down-home solid. Fried-seafood dishes such as grouper, mahi mahi, wahoo, or conch are off-the-boat fresh. Or try the iguana souptender, slightly stringy chunks of lizard that taste, yes, like chicken. On weekends the place is packed with folks from Willemstad; a mariachi band performs on Sunday afternoons.
Open daily from 11:30 am to 8 pm.
Tel: 599 9 461 6767
Set in an old Dutch town house one mile east of Punda, this restaurant is done up in baroque kitsch, while the kitchen changes its world-cuisine menu every four months. The ground floor is devoted to a cozy lounge, backed by a mosaic-tile-encrusted bar with a 20-foot-tall liquor cabinet displaying, among other items, antique seltzer bottles, a pair of ship's figureheads, and a stuffed blue marlin. The second-floor dining room and outdoor terrace hold only 11 marble-topped tables, making reservations essential. The customers, generally 30-something Dutch expat couples, come to graze on fare such as soto ayam, a spicy Indonesian chicken soup with sprouts, peppers, and boiled egg; Filipino-style raw tuna in citrus marinade; and Moroccan lamb curry. Service is well-meaning but poky, something not helped by the upstairs/downstairs layout.
Open daily 10 am to midnight.
228 J.E. Irausquin Boulevard
Tel: 297 587 8021
This ultrachic room takes the lush life to its ultimate recline: bed. There are 12 for noshing and/or napping, as well as traditional sit-down tables for those who prefer sitting up straight. The menu is very nouvelle Caribbean, with standouts like ceviche with ginger syrup, artichoke carpaccio (actually a warm, tangy salad with goat cheese, boiled egg, and honey-walnut dressing), and grilled sea scallops with herb risotto, asparagus, and saffron mayonnaise. Then kick back to the Buddha Bar tunes and sip bartender Harold Solognier's prizewinning concoction, the Celebrity martiniraspberry-infused vodka, Cointreau, lime and pineapple juices, Champagne, and a star fruit garnish.
Open daily from 6 pm; kitchen closes at 11 pm and the bar closes between 1 and 2 am.