I'd never expected Aruba to be a foodie destination. I knew the country organizes an Eat Local restaurant event every year, but that was about all I'd ever heard about its foodie scene. Until I traveled there and got to try out some of the best places to eat in Aruba.
Whether it was for breakfast, lunch or dinner, our guide Jasmine from the Aruban tourism board always knew to find a place that completely left me in awe. I'm not even exaggerating here. Chocolate knows I love to eat and I love to eat well, something I could do in abundance on the island. Hence the extra 2+ kilos I took home with me after having spent a mere week there.
It would be a crime not to share the places I stuffed my face at, so here you go:
14 Aruba restaurants that serve some of the best food in Aruba
1. MooMba Beach Aruba
MooMba Beach Bar & Restaurant is an open-air beach bar and a fun spot for a casual lunch. On the Moomba Aruba menu, you'll find several lighter dishes as well as a large choice of drinks. Breakfast is offered too, as is dinner, a good option if you want to attend one of MooMba's Tuesday night parties.
We kept it calm with a simple main course and some refreshing drinks after having cruised around the island an entire morning. I chose the fish chowder which was nice and creamy and came with some bread. Sorry, no picture this time. I think I was so hungry I just dug right in!
2. Papiamento Restaurant Aruba
When Eduardo and Lenie Ellis family needed a bigger place for their restaurant, they moved it to a 126-years old cunucu house. Their four sons helped dug a pool in the garden, which was planted following the instructions of mother Lenie. Today, son Edward is head chef of the restaurant which welcomes its guests around the pool, underneath the artfully painted lanterns hanging from the trees.
Dining happens outside unless the weather is really bad. In that case, guests can move inside the house, which also acts as a small museum with antique furniture and utensils from Europe.
As for the food, that was amazing. We – Jasmine, author Elise De Rijck and her partner Jens – ordered three appetizers to share, followed by individual main courses.
I'm sorry to say I didn't write down the names of all dishes, but we had some sort of tomato-mozzarella salad, a typical Aruban dish with fish, pork and melted cheese and a lovely tuna tartare to start with.
For the main course, I had grouper – a fish typical for Aruba – covered in almonds. The portion was more than double what I'd have at home, so I skipped dessert and just ordered a green tea.
Service was great all through the evening and because the tables were scattered across the large garden, we hardly noticed any of the other guests. The tone was set for a week of pure food joy.
3. Azia Restaurant and Lounge Aruba
Azia Restaurant and Lounge is a rather new place in Palm Beach and part of the Gianni Group which owns several good Aruba restaurants. For us, it was the first stop of our restaurant hopping evening where we indulged in some delicious sushi, other Asian-style tapas and cocktails (the others, I ordered sparkling water).
Among the four of us, we shared some shrimp and pork shumai, salmon rolls with cream cheese, avocado and spicy mayo and TNT rolls made from Crab roll topped with shrimp, avocado, asparagus, garlic and spicy mayo.
We devoured these sitting in the comfortable lounge chairs on the large terrace, which had a “ceiling” of little lightbulbs that added tons to the ambiance once the sun had set.
Piazza, J.E. Irausquin Blvd 348 (across from Hilton), Palm Beach
4. Gianni's Ristorante Italiano Aruba
Clear from the name, Gianni's is also part of the Gianni Group Aruba and it was the second stop on our restaurant hopping evening. This Italian restaurant has a huge outdoor seating area, but what impressed me even more was the size of the lobsters in the water tank by the entrance. They were the biggest I'd ever seen.
We didn't order lobster that night, though. Instead, we all had a different dish (I chose spaghetti vongole) and then shared the suggestion of the day: crab ravioli. The ravioli was so good I'm pretty sure we all regretted not ordering a full plate of it, but having it as an extra to share meant we could try out different things. It's a strategy we often used that week.
5. Gelatissimo Aruba
It was a Gianni night because our last stop was at the group's Gelatissimo ice cream bar. The menu full of coupes and other ice cream sweets was pretty impressive – there's even have an ice cream cocktail bar – but I was so full from the appetizers and dinner that I just ordered a scoop of lemon and a scoop of raspberry ice cream. It was good, but standard. I wasn't blown away like I had been at the other places we'd eaten at.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 345 (across from Hilton), Palm Beach
6. Barefoot Restaurant Aruba
Enjoying the best food while your toes fizzle in the sand and you're looking at the sunset over the ocean. Sounds like a dream? Well, it's exactly what Barefoot Restaurant offers: tables right on the beach at one of the best places to watch the sunset on Aruba. There tagline isn't “Elegant dining in flip flops” for nothing!
And then I haven't even mentioned the food. My chocolate, the food. It must be some of the best food in Aruba.
I had salmon rolls as an appetizer followed the “shellfish trio”, a combination of lobster, shrimp, and scallops in lobster sauce. I'm starting to drool just thinking about it again.
And then there was the chocolate mousse. Not just any kind of chocolate mousse. Oh no, a duo of light yet creamy white and dark chocolate mousse. Accompanied by a cup of tea, of course.
The service was exquisite. Not only was our waitress super friendly, she also informed us when her shift had ended and someone else was going to take over. Honestly, this might have been my favorite Aruba restaurant.
L.G. Smith Boulevard 1, Oranjestad (across the Talk of the Town hotel)
7. Taste of Belgium Aruba
We couldn't be three Belgians visiting Aruba without having breakfast at Taste of Belgium, right? This place offers various Belgian dishes and drinks (beer!) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there are plenty of international things on the menu as well.
I didn't have a Belgian pancake, but instead went for the “Healthy Taste” breakfast with scrambled egg white, fruit, yogurt, muesli, smoked salmon, whole wheat toast, butter and jelly. Nothing to complain about here.
I do need to warn you if you want to order a smoothie, though. If you don't ask to have it made all-natural, they'll add a ton of sugar and you'll get something that tastes more like a slurpee than like a healthy smoothie.
Another thing we noticed, was how Jasmine's Brussels waffle was made out of different dough than it would be in Belgium. She assured us it was good, but I found it a bit disappointing that it wasn't the real deal. Later I read on the website that the owners of Taste of Belgium are actually Dutch, which might have something to do with it.
8. Hollywood Smokehouse Aruba
The Hollywood Smokehouse is a must for meat lovers – all meats are smoked in a slow fashion – and cocktail fans. Cocktail fans? Yes, because you simply have to try their aloe vera cocktail. I usually don't drink alcohol and most cocktails taste too strong for me, but this one was divine and super refreshing. Make sure to ask for the “new recipe” with aloe vera caviar!
During the week, the Hollywood Smokehouse is only open for dinner, but we went there on a Sunday to have lunch. I ordered the Smokehouse Salad with pulled pork and wasn't disappointed.
Unfortunately, Hollywood Smokehouse has closed its doors and the owner now runs a food truck.
9. The West Deck Aruba
The West Deck probably comes second place on the “cozy ambiance” ranking, after Barefoot Restaurant. It's located along the Linear Park, on a large wooden deck that overlooks the water and great both for a casual lunch and dinner.
The menu consists of hot and cold Caribbean appetizers that are best ordered to share family-style like we did.
For dessert, I can highly recommend both the cheesecake and the dark and white chocolate mousse cake (it's more cake than mousse, though, just so you know). I got lucky: we were so full that we couldn't finish the cakes and I got to take these two with me for breakfast! Yes, breakfast. Stop looking at me like that.
We'd also ordered tres leches cake. I wasn't a huge fan of it, but more because it wasn't my thing than because it wasn't well made. The others absolutely loved it, so I recommend ordering it if tres leches is your thing.
L.G. Smith Blvd at the Governor's Bay on the Beach, Lloyd G. Smith Blvd
10. The Old Cunucu House Aruba
The Old Cunucu House is a great place if you want to try some typical Aruban dishes, rich with colonial influences. We had iguana soup (yes!) as an appetizer and it was truly delicious. The meat tastes a bit like chicken but has more flavor.
As the main course, I had lobster, fish, shrimps, scallops and squid with an “Aruban style” (red) sauce and accompanied by rice, vegetables, polenta and a slice of plantain. Yum! It might have been the best lunch in Aruba I had.
11. Aqua Grill Aruba
Aqua Grill was definitely the fanciest of all Aruba restaurants we visited. Unfortunately, I was completely exhausted that night, which made me enjoy the dining experience a little less than I would have normally. This had nothing to do with the restaurant, but I need to mention it because I chose a rather basic dish (shrimp linguine) because I was so tired, whereas I otherwise would have definitely chosen something a little more special. Aqua Grill is, after all, an Aruba fish restaurant where you can get huge lobsters and the like.
As a starter, I had spicy salmon tartar seasoned with panca peppers and presented with malanga chips, avocado puree, wakame salad and a sesame-ginger dressing.
What you really need to know about, though, were two of the main courses my travel companions ordered: a one and one-quarter pounds lobster stuffed with seasoned lump crab meat and croutons, and Alaskan king crab legs. They kept talking about their meals for days after, so if you go to Aqua Grill when you're in Aruba – which you should, you might want to give one of these a try!
Service was exquisite throughout the evening and I loved that they asked me if I wanted a tea refill when my cup was empty. Because, of course I did :-)
12. Huchada NV Aruba
From fancy seafood to casual breakfast at Huchada NV, a small local bakery where you can also get deep-fried things. We had a sandwich there after we'd hiked up the Hooiberg and while the sandwich was good but nothing special, I do think this is a fun place to come if you're looking for something really local and low-key.
Rte 4 328, Santa Cruz
13. Garden Fresh Café Aruba
The Garden Fresh Café – part of the Gianni Group – is another casual spot, but in the much more touristy Palm Beach area. It's a healthy “order at the counter” type of place where you can get wraps, salads, smoothies and paninis. I chose a chicken burrito which was exactly the right size, but I have to admit I was a bit jealous of the huge salads two of the others had ordered.
14. Zeerover Aruba
Last but definitely not least: Zeerover. If you want to have fresh seafood at low prices, this is the place. At the counter, you tell them how much you want of everything: shrimp, the fish of the day, plantain, fries, tartar sauce and onions. You then move on to the bar to order your drink, which you take with you to your table. When your food is ready, everything is brought to you in one big basket, fast food style, but so much better.
Right next to the deck with the basic tables, you can see fishermen prepare the freshly caught fish and if you take a seat on the terrace hovering over the beach, you'll get a great view over the water.
Zeerover is run by an Aruban family and attracts both locals, Dutch people living on Aruba and tourists. I had the feeling it's more local than anything else, though, as I almost only heard Papiamento.
Good to know: you can only pay cash here.
Savaneta 270, Savaneta
Practical information on eating out in Aruba
While some Aruba restaurants we visited were fancier than others, the dress code seemed overall casual. I like to look at least a bit “clean” for dinner, but saw plenty of people in flip flops and shorts.
Credit cards are widely accepted, as are American dollars, next to the local Florin.
Free tap water
We always got free tap water when we went to have a proper lunch or dinner and never even had to ask for refills. When we went somewhere casual, like Fresh Garden Café or Zeerover, we only got the drinks we ordered.
We had reservations for most of our lunches and dinners and I do think that was necessary for a lot of places, especially for Barefoot Restaurant, The West Deck and Papiamento. Aruba is a small island, so you can always try without a reservation and simply drive to another restaurant if there's no table available, but if you want to have dinner or lunch at the places I went to (which I highly recommend!) I'd reserve a spot.
Where to stay on Aruba
While I was on Aruba, I stayed at two completely different hotels.
The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino is a high-end hotel that has its own harbor, food plaza, private island and casino. The poolside is a great place to chill during the day and listen to DJ sets and live performances in the evenings.
The Boardwalk Hotel Aruba is a small, family-run hotel made up out of different casitas that have their own kitchen, living room and balcony with barbecue. It's perfect for those who like having a home-away-from-home in a more intimate setting.
How to get to Aruba
I flew from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Oranjestad in Aruba with KLM. Click here to find the best flights for your trip.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to Aruba, there's always something that can happen that's beyond your control. A pre-paid reservation can get canceled, you can get ill or your new camera might break. In all of these cases, good travel insurance has you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on but if you travel just a few times a year, you can get insured for each trip separately too.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
Stay connected while visiting Aruba
Want to stay connected so you can share photos, call loved ones over WiFi and easily use apps like Google Maps when visiting Aruba? Then check out Skyroam mobile WiFi.
They offer both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G throughout your trips. I've been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I'll go over my phone's data plan.
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I was invited by Aruba Tourism to travel to the island so that I could share my experiences with you. As always, I only write what I want.