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

Aruban Cuban Cookin’

For our second night in Aruba we decided to try the most ethnic restaurant on the island, Cuba’s Cookin’. Although the restaurant was appropriately decorated and even provided lively Spanish singers, the food proved to be anything BUT authentic.

Highly recommended by multiple friends, our family had been very eager to try out this so-called delicious and entertaining local spot which has now been in existence for 9 years. We figured they must have done something right!

Upon our arrival we were served a complimentary round of mojitos and two bowls of fried plantain chips accompanied by a trio of salsas. I’d never seen or tasted salas quite like Cuba’s Cookin’. Since I love to mix my foods, my favorite of the three was the combination of the homemade honey mustard and spicy salsas. None of the three were traditional salsas, but a nice change from what I had become accustomed to.

We then quickly devoured another trio, though this time of empanadas. We were served three small fried dumplings of fish, chicken, and savory beef. The beef was by far the best of the trio, and probably Cuba’s Cookin’s best dish, or part of a dish.

Our group’s order of main courses spanned the gamut from pork ribs to shrimp enchiladas. Though in my heart I wanted to try the Ropa Vieja I just couldn’t envision myself eating MORE steak. I know, I know, for most people this wouldn’t be a problem but I wanted to experience a variety of Aruban Cuisine this week. And lucky for me I didn’t order the Ropa Vieja. To our disappointment it was extremely dry, though quite flavorful. Luckily it was served with sweet fried plantains, rice, and black beans which were all terrific with the exception of the dry white rice. The sweet fried plantains were served with all of our meals and were also the highlight of each and every dish. Below you will find some photos of our satisfactory meals.

Filet with Mushrooms Shrimp Enchiladas

BBQ Pork Ribs Ropa Vieja

Pollo Pastor Pollo

But despite Cuba’s literal Cookin’, the restaurant really caters to their crowd. Sensing our inner party animal, they cleared the tables of the near empty restaurant and encouraged us to sing and dance along with the singers. Musical instruments in hand we sang danced the night away with no cares in the world.






CUBA’S COOKIN’

Wilhelminastraat 27, Oranjestad