The Best and Worst of Aruban Cuisine

After spending three consecutive Christmases in Aruba I’ve had the privilege of surveying a great deal of Aruba’s restaurants with offerings varying from fanciful Italian delicacies to authentic Aruban prepared fruits of the sea. And I’ve found that despite the decor (elaborate or simple), the cuisine (Asian Fusion, Italian, or Aruban – or casual), or the service (which is mostly quite poor), all of these restaurants left me feeling equally disappointed, unsatisfied, and slightly cheated.

Living in New York has made me incredibly spoiled. If I want the freshest organic milk Manhattan has to offer its either across the street at the Food Emporium or a short subway ride away. If I get a sudden craving for delicious Indian food it is four blocks away. Good Italian food, one block – ten blocks for REALLY good Italian. And so on.

In Aruba if I want good anything I go to one of the now four Dunkin’ Donuts or a cute local shop called Dushi Bagels. I know, great name. A lot of things are coincidentally named Dushi in Aruba- boats, restaurants, drinks- you name it. And why? Maybe because in the native Arubian language of Papiamento, Dushi means precious. And let me tell you, on an island full of awfully plain restaurants, Dushi Bagels is a precious gem. This quaint, incredibly friendly “coffee shop”, located right outside of the Playa Linda, serves great salads (especially their crab salad), turkey burgers, egg sandwiches, and draft beer! Most importanly they have a lovely staff which is tough to come by in Aruba.

Aruba claims to be “One Happy Island” but their restaurants state otherwise. Despite the many duds I came across this past Christmas there were a few shining stars to be found.

Iguana Cantina

This causal Mexican eatery really hit the spot. With all you can eat fajita Wednesdays, the Levine family took advantage of this fabulous find which is centrally located across from the Holiday Inn.

Yemanja Grill

With Christmas vacation always comes my dad’s birthday and Yemanja Grill was a great place to celebrate! Aruban Decor and a sophisticated menu delighted our party of eight. And if you arrive early and stick to the appetizers and the grilled Salmon, you’re guaranteed to have a great meal. Just be sure to pay in cash as the service here is no better than the rest of the island.

Chef’s Table

Our favorite restaurant of three years. Ahi tuna appetizer and entree are excellent as are their salads and fish soup. The rest of the food is as plain and simple as is expected. But their desserts are a dime a dozen! Chef’s table uniquely serves all of their desserts in tall shot glasses!

Other restaurants I’d like to try….

Pago Pago

Screaming Eagle

Morandi

Places to stay away from…

Blossom’s (inside the Hyatt)

Cuba’s Cookin’

Scala

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Verdict on Holiday Inn’s Grilled Cheese

So, I had every intention to taste the aformentioned Holiday Inn grilled cheese that night. But after placing my first bet at the roulette table, I became an instant winner, and my desire to try the grilled cheese flew right out the window just like that. I’ve never been much of a gambler, but when you achieve that first win, it’s like a high you’ve never had. And at that moment, I wanted more.

After winning a whopping $60, which to most is a measly sum, I knew I needed to try my luck again. I also needed a reason to go back to see if this infamous grilled cheese rumor was in fact true. After a full day’s work of sun bathing, I headed back to the Holiday Inn casino. And again, I was a winner! I couldn’t believe my luck, especially at a game as unpredictable as roulette. Though after I cashed out I remembered about the grilled cheese and asked on of the waiters. To my delight, the rumor was true! The Holiday Inn does serve grilled cheese but only to their gambling folk. I knew I’d need to return…

A few hours later, I was ready to head back to my new home away from home, The Holiday Inn Casino. I told my family I was going downstairs to read, and book in hand I was off. Determined to take back another $50 or so to add to my winnings. As I approached the table I looked at the roulette board, as I usually do and noticed that a few of my numbers had come up. 90% of the time I will not play unless my numbers are posted. Feeling confident from the 3-day winning streak I decided to test the waters. My gambling is quite habitual. I come with $20, play only if my numbers show, and leave after my luck that $20 has failed me. And this time, I had failed myself.* I not only lost the $20 in two plays but was too bummed to even think about the grilled cheese.

In the end, I never had the privilege of trying out Aruba’s Holiday Inn grilled cheese. I guess there’s always next year?

*I only failed myself once this trip. My last night in Aruba proved I was a winner, just not at the Holiday Inn and without a grilled cheese.

A Taste of Aruban Cuisine

Greetings from Aruba! You didn’t think I’d go an entire week without posting did you? Well, while all you New Yorkers are freezing in today’s 25 degree brisk weather, I’m here sunning myself in a nice warm 96 degrees. Jealous are you? Well you should be because Aruba in December is just glorious. But my family vacation would not be complete without the delicious local cuisine of sunny Aruba.

Being the ultimate vacation planner, my dad made advance dinner reservations for our entire seven night stay. If you’ve ever been to Aruba over Christmas time you know that it’s the scene to be seen, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, in my opinion. But it also means that every restaurant in the city from the most elaborate to the dilapidated shack on the corner is booked solid. Luckily my dad took the lead and looked into some of the best restaurants on the island. Now being a seasoned Aruban vacationer (2nd year in), our family is determined to try out restaurants we never have before. Though I have a feeling we’ll cover them all after this year (wink, wink). Throughout the week I’ll be posting the tastiest and most repulsive food Aruba has to offer.
Our first stop on the trip, after hitting the beach, was an decorated Carribean seafood restaurant called Driftwood. Favored by the locals, Driftwood attracts a diverse crowd and caters to seafood lovers. Though Driftwood has a limited menu, it offers a few key seafood options prepared in either a garlic or creole sauce, blackened, grilled, or deep fried. Rumor has it that the catch of the day is the fish caught by the owner of the restaurant. We can’t know this for sure, but whatever they happened to catch yesterday was good in our book!

Though Driftwoods interior is best described as kitchy, its food is both authentic and satisfying after a long day of traveling. And after waiting many months for this vacation, I was ready to eat and I think the rest of our group was too. Being known for their locally caught seafood, that is just what most of us ordered. Our group of seven ordered the following:


Garlic Bread Green Salad with Creamy Garlic Dressing

Seafood Chowder Crabcake

Grilled Shrimp with Garlic Sauce The Driftwood Special

Land & Sea Kebab Wahu with Creole Sauce
Overall the steak was probably the best Driftwood had to offer. I ordered the Driftwood Special which included a 4 oz filet with mushroom sauce and a lobster tail. The filet was perfectly cooked and suprisingly delicious, considering I don’t usually order steak. The lobster, though nicely flavored, was a bit overcooked which was disappointing. The shrimp was also cooked and seasoned very well and was accompanied by a tasty garlic sauce which complimented the shrimp and mixed vegetables. Apparently the Catch of the Day (Wahu) cooked in Creole sauce was mouthwatering.