This Dutch-Caribbean country’s culinary offerings range from European favorites to African-Creole creations and everything in between. Seafood reigns supreme, and popular American restaurants (McDonald’s and Burger King) dot the island.
The island’s Dutch, Spanish, English and Portuguese roots give it a diverse local food scene. So consider bypassing the familiar burger in favor of a savory down-home Aruban beef stew, freshly made crepe-style pancakes topped with strawberries and chocolate, or even a crispy pork tenderloin schnitzel.
For one of the island’s most-loved establishments, take a 20-minute taxi ride to the town of Noord, home of Papiamento Restaurant. The 126-year-old countryside mansion is filled with European antiques, and the restaurant dishes out a white-tablecloth experience, whether dining inside or on the outside patio area. Choose a wine from the cellar, then linger over gooey, Gouda-topped onion soup and savory grilled shrimp with a side of funchi — Aruba’s answer to polenta. The restaurant is only open for dinner so plan accordingly.
Visitors looking for adventure should grab a taxi for the 25-minute ride south to the town of San Nicolas. Once considered the island’s red-light district, it’s home to the touristy, but must-see, Charlie’s Bar. The bustling watering hole has been a boisterous scene since 1941. The walls and ceiling being filled with mementos (including vintage license plates) from past patrons is a clue you’re somewhere special. Order the local Amstel Bright beer (a brew you can’t find outside of the ABC islands), grab a stool and join in on the fun.
Pancakes aren’t just for breakfast at the Dutch Pancakehouse in downtown Oranjestad, a 15-minute walk from the pier. More than 75 varieties of delicate crepe-style pancakes grace the menu. Have one topped with fruit, chocolate and other sweet treats, or go the savory route, adding ham, onions, cheese and more.
A mere 20-minute taxi ride from your ship is an island favorite, the Flying Fishbone restaurant in Savaneta. The feet-in-sand atmosphere goes well with grilled snapper and shrimp that have recently been plucked from the sea. Romance is in the air as well, so allow time to enjoy this experience … it’s not meant to be rushed.
Aruba’s history includes Spanish influence (locals learn the language in school), so a tapas restaurant with more than 25 small-plate options fits in nicely. Salt & Pepper in Palm Beach is a cozy spot with both indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy ceviche, grilled chorizo, great vino and live music from salsa to merengue. The best and cheapest way to get to Palm Beach is a 15-minute bus ride that will cost you $2.30. The bus terminal is right next to the port, and you’ll need to look for the buses that say “Hotel Zone.”
Take a five-minute taxi ride from popular Palm Beach to an old Aruban cunucu (country) home transformed into a modest restaurant. The menu embraces the island’s local Papiamento culture with dishes like keshi yena, a hollowed-out Gouda cheese round with only the rind left, stuffed with chicken, beef or fish, veggies, and topped with cheese then baked in a ceramic bowl. Another traditional specialty is calco stoba — stewed conch prepared Creole style with a nice bite to it or with garlic sauce. Either way, this savory homemade stew will leave you satisfied.
Many cruise lines are in port long enough for dinner out on the town, so the 25-minute taxi ride to locally loved Madame Janette Restaurant is well worth it. The restaurant is named after the island-grown hot pepper, the spice that adds kick to the aioli served with crab cakes. The crispy pork tenderloin schnitzel is also a winner, especially when topped with ham and Gouda cheese like it is at Madame Janette.
A day at the beach can be quiet or lively, and you’ll get the latter at MooMba, a rollicking beach club with weekly barbecues, jamming bands and plenty of dance space. The bar menu has typical wings and other “bar food,” but the grouper sandwich and watermelon mojito are the more interesting choices.
A typical Aruban breakfast is quite different from the American bacon and eggs. Kerrie-kerrie, a mix of boiled shark meat flavored with cream, peppery annatto and served on a baguette, is a specialty (and a local favorite) at The Old Fisherman restaurant. You’ll find the restaurant just a 10-minute walk from the pier just off of Main Street, behind the Oranjestad bus terminal.
Whether a breakfast of fluffy, mini-pancake poffertjes topped with butter and powdered sugar or Dutch smoked sausage and pea soup for lunch, an authentic Aruban meal is a quick walk from the ship to De Suikertuin, a quaint old townhouse-slash-restaurant in downtown Oranjestad. Either enjoy the experience inside or while people-watching on the outdoor patio. Locals love it for its authentic Aruban food and proximity to the downtown area.