Vieques + Culebra Restaurants
Pilón , Vieques
Tel: 787 741 2175
Set on a tiny road linking Vieques' Atlantic and Caribbean coasts, Chez Shack is very much the rustic, low-key eatery its name suggests. But though the place built its popularity with local Caribbean dishes, Chef Guye Morris has higher ambitions. Nowadays, he serves up a menu of globally inspired fare, like stuffed quail with sweet potato puree, catch-of-the-day cioppino (hearty seafood stew), and cherry-glazed pork paired with rich garlic tostones (fried plantains). The Chambord-and-chocolate dessert beignets are worth saving room for. On Mondays, Chez Shack gets back to its roots with Caribbean grill night and live soca and steel-band music.
148 Calle Flamboyán
Esperanza , Vieques
Tel: 787 741 1215
Ask for a dinner recommendation in Vieques, and chances are you'll hear El Quenepo come up again and again. With good reason. This restaurant on the main drag of sleepy Esperanza has a formal atmosphere with an arcade of wooden doors thrown open to sunset views of the malecón. Inside, it's all candlelight and white tablecloth romance. The menu reflects what was caught offshore or picked up at the markets that day: spiny lobster garnished with basil from the backyard garden, perhaps, or a grilled Caesar salad with romaine lettuce from a co-op farm on mainland Puerto Rico. The restaurant partners with local fishers and farmers—it doesn't get much fresher than that.—Colleen Clark
Opens Tuesdays through Sundays at 5 pm.
Tel: 787 742 3855
The tiny island of Culebra is one of the last places you'd expect to come upon culinary excellence, but that's exactly what you get at Juanita Bananas. Executive Chef Jennifer Daubin focuses on local ingredients, most of which come from the restaurant's own greenhouses. Seafood is a specialty here—no surprise, as Daubin's parents ran a fish restaurant on the island for nearly 20 years. Look for dishes like buttery sweet lobster with garlic and lime or chunks of delicately fried grouper. The informal dining room rests in a hillside wooden bungalow overlooking trees heavy with papayas and passion fruit. One caveat: despite the restaurant's small size, the staff sometimes seems harried.
Open Fridays through Mondays 5:30 to 10 pm.
W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island
State Road 200, Km 3.2
Puerto Rico 00765
Tel: 787 741 4100
An Alain Ducasse restaurant opening anywhere is big news. An Alain Ducasse restaurant opening on an island whose food scene basically consists of roadside stands and uninspired bar food is almost revolutionary. Located in the high-design W Retreat & Spa, miX on the Beach manages to serve up Puerto Rican haute cuisine without feeling overly buttoned up: The open-air dining room's simple wooden tables are free of fussy white linen, and the primary design element is an uninterrupted ocean view. The food has a similar ease of elegance, with inventive takes on local classics like airy bacalaitos fritters and cuttlefish pinchos. Other dishes incorporate fresh produce from the restaurant's organic garden in island versions of classics like tuna tartare (here paired with chips made from garden-grown malanga) or almond-coconut gazpacho. Every meal should end with one of the delicate ice creams or sorbets, which, depending on the day, could be anything from guayaba to mango.
Open daily 7:30 to 11 am and 6 to 10 pm.
Route 997 at Garcia Gate
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge on the southeast coast is home to the best beaches on the island: Playa Chiva, Playa Caracas, and Playuela. But there is no development allowed within the park boundaries, which means that when it comes to food, you either have to pack a picnic or go in search of refreshments elsewhere. Thankfully, the Sol Food truck parks at the Garcia Gate turnoff to the wildlife refuge. The menu, which changes weekly, might include a salad of citrus chicken with mint-laced tabouli and feta cheese, and either traditional empanadas (ground beef and olives) or inventive new ones (Gouda and roasted vegetables). But the real standouts are the sandwiches, from carnitas with cactus and avocado cream to jerk chicken with pineapple chutney. Get your food to go, or kick back at one of the plastic tables out front and watch the wild horses gallop by.—Colleen Clark