Aruba has always been a dream vacation destination, and this year we finally made it a reality. Aruba is super easy to get to, either on a cruise or on one of the 100+ direct flights from the US. Working with the Aruba tourism agency, we spent a week on the island exploring the culinary delights it has to offer, along with some delicious cocktails. Aruba hasn’t always been known for its cocktail culture, but it is moving fast. Aruba is filled with sights, sounds, and culinary delights found on no other Caribbean island. While judging this year’s 5th annual Bartender’s Brawl we discovered some amazing cocktails from the top mixologists on the island, and we couldn’t have been more impressed. With more sunny days than any other Caribbean island and over 250 restaurants to choose from, it’s little wonder why Aruba has more repeat visitors than other top Caribbean islands.
One of our favorite culinary experiences in Aruba, for both the ambiance and the food, Flying Fishbone has to go to the top of our list. With the sun setting over the horizon and the weather amazing, as always, it was amazing to be able to sit and enjoy a meal dangling our legs in the saltwater surrounding us, where the catch of the day was no doubt pulled directly from. That’s right, book ahead and get yourself a table that is literally in the water at this amazing, seafood-focused restaurant. With a great selection of wines to accompany our meal, we started with a tropical cocktail but soon moved on to some sparkling Washington Wine, which paired deliciously with our meals.
The premiere restaurant at the Hilton Aruba, we just couldn’t spend a week on the island without visiting this restaurant and tasting their amazing dishes. Our evening began with some delicious cocktails at the Mira Solo bar in the lobby, then once we were ready, we headed to Sunset Grille for an amazing evening of culinary delights. Our server Carlos talked us through the delicious offerings, and although James couldn’t pass up on a big dry-aged porterhouse steak, Natalie was in heaven with the blackened grouper. Start to finish the food was incredible, and of course, we enjoyed a wonderful wine pairing, recommended by Carlos.
There are a lot of options if you’re looking for something a little more casual, and if you want to get out of the hotel in the downtown area, the West Deck Restaurant is the perfect location for a low-key meal. With the option to dine al fresco on the sandy beach, tucked away from the elements we just had to take a seat on the picnic bench and enjoy some local food. Keeping with the casual theme we didn’t try any cocktail here, though everyone around us was. We were contempt with the local Balashi beer and a few glasses of wine. It’s so casual, they even have a cornhole game set up for you to pass the time while waiting for your meal to arrive. Definitely try the fried funchi, a delicious local delicacy.
Elements is certainly one of the more romantic dining destinations on the island, with pristine white-sand beaches and romantic cabanas for two, that you can rent to take your evening to the next level. Sit back and watch the sunset, while enjoying 5-star service and wonderful seafood dishes at this restaurant. Located in the adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Eagle Beach, you are destined to have a great time with no distractions; except that of the beautiful sunset, but you won’t be complaining about that one. Save room for dessert here, as their famous chocolate cake is to die for.
We didn’t eat here, though it was a great location for pre-dinner drinks before heading to Flying Fishbone. Charlie’s is famed for their “character”, and it shows from their eclectic collection of, well, everything. The walls of this venue are decorated with trinkets left behind by visitors from all over the globe. The staff have the most character here, and if you’re looking for a nice place with white linen tables and fine dining service, there are plenty of places offering that on the island, but Charlie’s isn’t one of them. Although they claimed not to mix cocktails, our bartender caved and mixed up a Margarita for Natalie. He literally just mixed all the ingredients in a mason jar and handed it over, simplistic, yet it was one of the best Margaritas we have tried in a long time.
There are a number of piers in Aruba, and along the beautiful strip of Palm Beach, these seem to all actually operate as bars and restaurants. Sure, boats pull up occasionally, however they are the perfect place to relax and take in the Caribbean atmosphere. Pelican Pier is one of our favorites, offering wonderful fresh seafood and great tiki cocktails in a picture-perfect setting. Definitely get the tuna tartare and shrimp cocktail here, but don’t forget about a few cocktails. It’s warm out there, so a refreshing tiki drink is just what the doctor ordered.
Another pier bar and restaurant, Bugaloe Bar and Grill was our first stop when we hit the island. Their burgers and fish are simple but delicious, but here it’s all about the casual atmosphere that really lets you know you’re in the Caribbean. Especially when you add a dash of spice to your meal with the delicious local hot pepper sauce, known as pica di papaya. Sit back with a cocktail or local Balashi beer and just soak in the sun while looking back at the beautiful blue water and white sandy beaches.
One of the best cocktails we had during our entire visit was at MooMba Beach Bar. Although there are a full restaurant and bar on the beach to kick back and relax on, we decided to make our way to the tiki hut in the middle of it all and perch ourselves up with the bartender to talk cocktails. He was confident he could win us over with his Paradise Painkiller, and he was right. I’m not saying I was surprised, by this point we knew the cocktail culture on the island was delivering quality cocktails, but a Painkiller is a cocktail that can be particularly difficult.
We were fortunate to stay at the Renaissance Aruba during our visit. I say fortunate because although there are a lot of amazing hotels on the island, only one has a private beach. And the fact that this particular private beach is on a private island that has flamingos, is just the cherry on top. Beaches, islands, and flamingos aside, the hotel has a number of drinking and dining establishments to choose from and our favorite was the tiki hut on the adults-only section of the island. Enjoying delicious tropical cocktails on a white sandy beach, looking out at the Caribbean, with flamingos, flamingo-ing (I’m making this a word) in front of us was an absolute win.
Get completely off the map and enjoy a day down in San Nicolas at Rum Reef. While checking out one of the most popular beaches on the island, Baby Beach, we spotted a cool bar across the way and discovered Rum Reef. They have some amazing rum cocktails on the menu, and we ended up with a delicious blue Piña Colada, though we can’t remember what it was called on the menu. It was a little on the sweet side, but while sitting out by the infinity pool overlooking the beautiful beach we weren’t complaining.
For something super casual and possibly the only healthy option on the island, you can find Eduardo’s Beach Shack in front of the Plata Linda Beach Resort in Palm Beach. Get yourself a refreshing acai bowl, coco whip or whatever tickles your fancy and feel better about all the indulgence. While walking around the beachfront you can’t miss Eduardo’s, as you literally have to walk around it, stop in for a quick bite or even enjoy one of their healthy bowls or juices just to freshen up under the warm (understatement) Aruba sun.
Directly across from the Renaissance Aruba hotel, Lucy’s stood out to us immediately, not only because we could see it from our room, but because we recognized it from our time in New Orleans. A super casual establishment with delicious fish tacos and “American” sized burgers, we just had to enjoy one meal here during our visit. This is more for those who are spending some time away from home, and just want a comfortable meal, which is quite often for us, so this was a great option. The cocktails are fairly standard, so again we opted for some local Balashi beer and a glass of wine.
The two winners of the Bartender’s Brawl were representing two venues we actually didn’t have the opportunity to visit, but we wanted to make sure we added the venues to our list so you all know where to go. And of course, please let us know what you think.
One of the leading cocktail programs on the island is at AZIA Restaurant & Lounge, and they were represented by the marvelous Carlos Perez. Although we didn’t visit the venue during this visit, it will be among the first on our list next time, and if Carlos’s cocktail is anything to go buy, we really missed out.
Representing Apotheek Bar, and showing off his skills was Nathan Schwengle, who also won the 2018 Bartender’s Brawl. After their initial pop-up in late 2018, the response was so great from local and international imbibers, the team have been working for over 12 months on their brick and mortar location in downtown Aruba. Finally opening this month (November 2019), we can’t wait to see what they are bringing to the table at this speakeasy-style venue. This bar is on top of our list for our next visit to Aruba.