Tel: 876 561 8600
Though the main culinary event in Port Antonio will always be its famed jerk joints, the Bushbar at Geejam hotel is perfect when you need a change of pace. There's nothing "island" about the minimalist decor—low-slung rattan couches, sleek deck furniture, and a mellow chocolate-and-red color scheme. Besides a small sushi menu, Bushbar serves a rather arbitrary assortment of Continental and Jamaican dishes like ackee and saltfish with plantains, grilled snapper, and Greek salads. But the setting is unparalleled: High on a densely forested hill, underneath 400-year-old fig trees, the restaurant looks out onto the ocean and beyond. There's usually a wait for dinner (reservations are required if you are not staying at the hotel), but at least you can pass the time shooting pool at a billiards table with the best view in the Caribbean.
Open daily 10 am to 10 pm.
Norman Manley Boulevard
Tel: 876 957 4330
Cosmo's is what you wish for when you're planning a lazy, barefoot, practically naked day on the beach—a place where you can sit beneath the palms to eat conch chowder and fresh snapper, without having to cover up or even dry yourself off. The beer is icy, but order your drinks long before your throat is parched; the service operates on "island time."
Open daily 11 am to 10 pm.
Tel: 876 809 6276
Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to this driftwood shack teetering on a seaside bluff one mile west of Port Antonio. The owner, Alvin "Dickie" Butler, who trained at Frenchman's Cove Resort, has been rustling up home-style Jamaican meals and presenting them with Continental aplomb since the early 1970s. Because of limited space, day-in-advance reservations are essential for Butler's five-course, cooked-to-order prix-fixe feasts, which typically include dishes such as an omelet with carrots, cabbage, and callaloo, shrimp stewed in a spicy Creole sauce, and steamed Caribbean lobster with garlic butter and lime. Credit cards are not accepted.—Chris Cox
Tel: 876 979 8845
It may look like a misplaced paddleboat from the Mississippi—or a tourist trap—but this floating double-decker eatery serves terrific food, and to a mostly local crowd. Owner/chef Richard Nurse serves up an international menu that can range from mussels in Thai coconut curry sauce to tiger prawns in vodka and tomato sauce; diners can also pick a lobster from a tank and have it steamed and served with salad. It's only open in the evenings; in fine weather, go for an upper-deck table and dine beneath the stars.
Open daily 6 to 11 pm.
Tel: No phone
An authentic Jamaican "cookshop," or roadside eatery, Howie's is well worth the detour if you're en route to nearby south-side attractions such as the Black River, YS Falls, or the Appleton rum distillery. Just look for the cinder-block building with crazy, colorful murals and a train of bubbling, wood-fired cauldrons. Order down-home delicacies like nutmeg-scented peanut porridge; goat stewed with curry, cloves, and allspice; and on weekends, "mannish water"—a peppery soup prized for its aphrodisiacal properties, with green bananas, dumplings, and, gulp, a goat's head. Wash it all down with a Red Stripe beer or fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Credit cards are not accepted.—Chris Cox
Jamaica's unique gift to the culinary world is jerk, a spicy seasoning and cooking technique that's used for chicken, pork, and fish. The cooking process is simple (over a fire of pimento wood in a pit or an oil drum) and very slow (up to four hours), and the secret is the marinade. Every pit master has his or her own secret blend of spices, but the basis of all jerk cooking is the Scotch bonnet chile, which is among the hottest of peppers. Jerk dishes are usually served with cornmeal fritters known as "festival," along with roasted breadfruit.
Jerk stands first cropped up on the eastern coast at Boston Bay Beach, where Mickey's Jerk Centre, the very first, still remains—just take the coastal highway eight miles east from Port Antonio and stop when you smell spicy clouds of smoke billowing from the roadside grill. Now you'll find jerk stands all over the island. A few of the most popular are the Pork Pit on Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay, Scotchies (which many consider the best on the island) just east of Montego Bay near the Half Moon resort, and the Village Jerk Centre on DaCosta Drive in Ocho Rios. Whatever the location, the sign of an authentic jerk stand is thick wood smoke filtering into the air, a thatched roof, and locals loafing around playing dominoes and drinking Red Stripe beer.
29 Gloucester Avenue
Tel: 876 979 2769
This outdoor spot shaded by an immense poinciana tree on the hip strip of Gloucester Avenue is a refreshing alternative to Montego Bay's pricey tourist traps. Dishes such as smoked marlin and curried goat are authentically prepared, as is the boonoonoonoos platter, a smorgasbord of plantains, pineapple, jerk chicken, and fish. Tables in a rotunda that juts out from the main patio are closest to the busy road but have the best ocean views.
Open daily 7:30 am to 11 pm.
Sea Splash Resort
Norman Manley Boulevard
Tel: 876 957 4041
Norma Shirley is probably the most famous chef in the West Indies, having come up with her own version of fusion. Whatever you call it—Nuevo Caribbean, Carib-Asian, Latino-Indian—it's always fresh and inventive. The menu at her namesake restaurant, co-designed by her and chef David Tingling (who does the actual cooking), includes appetizers like coconut shrimp and smoked marlin, and entrées like spicy grilled salmon with tamarind preserves. The restaurant, part of a boutique hotel, is gorgeously sited on a shaded beachside terrace; it's especially romantic at sunset.
Open daily 7:30 am to 10 pm.
Mocking Bird Hill Hotel
Tel: 876 993 7267
Part of the charming Mocking Bird Hill Hotel, Mille Fleurs lives up to its name; the restaurant overlooks masses of colorful blossoms as well as soursop, neem, and ackee trees. It's the perfect setting for sampling Jamaican specialties like plantain stuffed with callaloo, and pawpaw stuffed with minced beef. It's most popular as a lunch stop, but guests staying around Port Antonio also drop in for dinner.
Open daily 8 to 10 am, noon to 2 pm, and 7 to 9 pm.
West End Road
Tel: 876 957 4373
Suspended on a stone terrace over Pristine Cove, this thatch-roofed restaurant inside the the Rockhouse Hotel plays a reggae soundtrack that seems synchronized with the waves slapping the shore. Here, chef Kevin Broderick serves up a terrific menu of what he calls New Jamaican cuisine—updated versions of local dishes like coconut toast, salt fish with ackee (Jamaica's national dish; ackee is a local fruit something like a lychee), and jerk chicken in Scotch bonnet sauce. Other choices include lobster enchiladas, crab turnovers, and blackened mahimahi with mango chutney. To accompany, there are the requisite Negril sunset tropical cocktails and a pretty good wine list.
Open daily 7 to 11 pm.
Half Moon Resort
Tel: 876 953 2314
The driveway to this elegant, dinner-only restaurant at the Half Moon resort takes you past a grand clubhouse to a dramatically lighted, 200-year-old waterwheel. Here, on a terrace where wicker lamps are strung among the almond trees, diners tuck into sophisticated takes on typical Jamaican dishes: lobster and coconut bisque; sugarcane-skewered and roasted Cornish hens; tamarind-steamed bass fillet. Reservations are required.
Open Thursdays through Mondays 6:30 to 10 pm.
Route A3, just east of Ocho Rios
Tel: 876 975 4785
It's run by a family from Parma, so the cooking—and the warm welcome—are authentically Italian. The menu changes frequently, but this is the place to go when you're in the mood for homemade ziti, pasta alla aragosta (with lobster), gnocchi, or carpaccio. The setting is charming: It's in Harmony Hall, a landmark great house with so much gingerbread trim it's like something out of a fairy tale.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm.