Aruba’s dynamic history is responsible for the Dutch island’s curious cultural mashup, with elements from Holland, South America, the Amerindians, African slaves, Spanish colonial powers and Asian settlers. As you might imagine, these influences combine in some seriously good food. Sampling local eats is one of the best ways to get a feel for your destination, and here’s where to eat like a local in Aruba.
European dishes with a Caribbean influence pair perfectly with Madame Janette‘s beautiful outdoor garden setting, complete with twinkling lights. The menu has upscale leanings while the restaurant maintains a relaxed Caribbean vibe. Working his magic in the kitchen is Karsten Gesing, a European chef who’s supported by his business partner, Ramon Helgers, who sources the enticing fruits, vegetables and herbs that lend an original flavor to each dish on the menu. Portions are big, and it’s hard to put down the fork when your plate presents Madame’s famous burgerloin, a prime tenderloin filled with onions, mushrooms and cheese topped with a rich Bearnaise sauce.
The Old Cunucu House
For nearly three decades, The Old Cunucu House has been serving up authentic Aruban cuisine from its historic venue, a farmhouse built close to two centuries ago. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, dining here feels like being welcomed into a charming Aruban home. Their cabrito stoba—that’s stewed goat meat—is tender and flavorful, while the keshi yena, a dish of of gouda and chicken baked with green olives, raisins and cashew nuts, is the best preparation you’ll find of this Aruban favorite.
Island vacations call for dining on fresh fish by the water. When the mood strikes, head to Zeerovers on the island’s south coast. At this casual eatery, fish and shrimp make the journey from the ocean to the kitchen to your plate, all in one location. Choose which fish you’d like by the pound and wait while it’s prepared—preferably with a Balashi beer in hand—as you take in the beautiful oceanfront setting. Red snapper, barracuda, wahoo and kingfish are the most frequently offered menu items, and they’re deep fried to perfection. Served alongside local mainstays like plantains, onions in vinegar or pan bati (Aruban corn bread), Zeerovers’ hearty portions and ultra-fresh ingredients are sure to sate your appetite.
Named for Aruba’s creole language, Papiamento offers a feast for more than the singular sense of taste. As you sit among the open-air tropical garden or in one of the elegant indoor dining rooms, your eyes can’t help but drink in the classic furnishings and European antiques dating back to the 1800s. Beautifully vibrant floral arrangements and shimmering lights that reflect off the courtyard’s pool further add to the ambiance. Your taste buds will be equally enchanted by tender lamb chops brought to your table on a hot stone that finishes the cooking process before your eyes.