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Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean

Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean

Posted by Shanelle Weir on January 21, 2015

Celebrating the world’s "101 Best" has become a tradition here at The Daily Meal. It started in 2011, with The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America. This was so successful that we decided to make our ranking of U.S. restaurants an annual event, and then to honor restaurants not only in America, but all around the world. And so it continued: 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World101 Best Restaurants in Europe, and 101 Best Restaurants in Asia. Now, we are continuing our journey of highlighting the culinary stars of the world with our first list of the 101 Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among our best restaurants in the Caribbean, many are located at big resorts, and some are led by familiar culinary stars such as Eric Ripert (Blue) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (On the Rocks). But not all resort restaurants are fine dining spots. Chef Mark Clayton's Da Conch Shack in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, is an example. This open-air eatery is adjacent to a parking lot, and serves simple, fresh seafood to beach-goers looking for a no-fuss meal.

Red Cabbage Café (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico)

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014, this small café might be hard to find, but it's definitely worth the search. The bohemian dining room of Red Cabbage Café is a colorful one, with brightly painted walls covered with photographs, paintings, posters, and magazine clippings about cultural icons of Mexico, including Frida Kahlo, who even has a special menu dedicated to her, replicating dishes she and husband Diego Rivera used to prepare for guests. That menu includes things like cream of peanut soup (which, according to Red Cabbage Café, was the opening course at Kahlo and Rivera’s Christmas dinners); mole poblano, made with 25 different ingredients and served over chicken breast with rice and beans; homemade flan; and of course a shot or two of tequila or a margarita. Other than the special Kahlo menu, Red Cabbage Café offers a versatile mix of dishes from different regions of Mexico, including tortilla soup, stuffed chile peppers, and tacos, all made from scratch and in authentic style. The restaurant also offers cooking classes.

Femmes du Chalet (Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago)

Located on the water and traditionally a place for dock workers to grab a bite to eat before a long day of work, Femmes du Chalet, better known as The Breakfast Shed, is now a place where anyone to stop in for something quick to eat. Serving local Trini food, the restaurant is said to be one of the best places to experience the cuisine. It offers everything from pawpaw fruit smoothies to slices of yams, plantains, and breadfruit to fish stewed in tomatoes and served with coo-coo (a cornmeal paste) and callaloo (a steamed leaf vegetable).

Scotchies (Montego Bay, Jamaica)

Every Jamaican has a favorite jerk shack, a preferred source of the allspice-and-chile-marinated grilled chicken or pork (sometimes fish) that has become Jamaica's most popular culinary export. Tradition has it that jerk was invented on the beach at Boston Bay, near Port Antonio on the island's northeastern coast, but arguably its most celebrated purveyor today is this roadside jerk emporium about 130 miles to the northwest, in Montego Bay (there are newer offshoots in Kingston and outside Ocho Rios). The place couldn't be simpler: Some open-sided structures with palm-frond roofs (one of which holds a small bar with plenty of rum to be had), rough-hewn wooden tables and chairs (including some barrel chairs), and windows in the side of a building where customers order and pick up their food — assertively but not aggressively spiced chicken, pork, or fish cooked on open-air grills over allspice (or pimento, as it's called in Jamaica) wood, served with such side dishes as rice and peas (meaning field peas), roast yams, roast breadfruit, and "festival" — sweet fried cornmeal dumplings, a bit like hush puppies turned into a confection. This isn't sophisticated food, but it's honest and filling and tastes really good, and the setting is pure Jamaica.

Restaurant at Ponta Dos Ganchos (Governador Celso Ramos, Brazil)

Some diners grow tired of a menu that never changes, so the restaurant at Brazil's Ponta Dos Ganchos makes sure that its guests are never bored, by "astonishing" them with a menu that changes daily. That menu incorporates local fish, prawns, oysters, and mussels freshly caught on the island, as well as ingredients grown in the restaurant’s organic kitchen garden. And no wine lover will ever be bored here, with more than 250 choices, including South African, French, Portuguese, Australian, New Zealand, Italian, German, Spanish, Argentinean, Chilean, Brazilian, and North American vintages. Because everything at Ponta Dos Ganchos is about that "wow" factor, guests are welcome to enjoy a meal from Ponta Dos Ganchos wherever they please: on the island, on the beach, or in the restaurant. 

Restaurante Zafferano at Mantra Resort, Spa, & Casino (Punta del Este, Uruguay)

Perched on a hill above La Barra’s Manantiales Beach, Restaurante Zafferano overlooks the 100-room resort’s serene pool and lush tropical gardens. Diners at Zafferano can choose to sit inside in the sleek dining room, or at a table outside on the pool deck, enjoying the fusion cuisine with contemporary Mediterranean and Asian flavors. Dishes include cold almond and garlic soup and sliced duck with caramelized apple and sweet potato.  

The Cliff (Barbados)

The waves crash against the rocks, the water stretches out into the distance to meet the night sky, and all around you on the outdoor dining patio candles flicker on the tables and warm light shines down from lanterns above them. Maybe you walked, or arrived by car. Maybe you arrived by yacht (it’s situated so that you can, and the restaurant even bears a resemblance to the bow of a ship). However you arrived, if you’re at The Cliff in Barbados, you’ve found yourself at one of the most beautiful and dramatic restaurants in the Caribbean, and you’re in for a treat. Liverpool-born chef Paul Owens’ menu changes frequently, but you can count on char-grilled meats and seafood including mahimahi and swordfish, and spellbinding dishes like Caribbean shrimp in Thai green curry coconut sauce with coriander rice, foie gras and chicken liver parfait, savory snails in puff pastry with chive cream sauce, and even a spicy Caesar salad with chorizo.

La Guarida (Havana, Cuba)

Its appearance in the Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate isn’t the only reason that discerning diners head to this hidden gem run by husband-and-wife duo Enrique and Odeisys Nuñez in central Havana. This paladar (a small, family-run restaurant typically located inside a home that gained legal status in Cuba in the early 1990s) is tucked up three flights of rickety stairs at the top of a dilapidated turn-of-the 20th-century residential edifice at 418 Concordia. La Guarida’s whimsical setting, which stretches through three small rooms, is adorned with autographed celebrity photos. Start off with the eggplant caviar before moving on to sea bass in coconut reduction, and chicken with honey and lemon sauce. Reservations for lunch and dinner (two seating times) are essential.

1919 Restaurant (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Named for the year its home (the recently renovated 305-room Spanish Revivalist Condado Vanderbilt Hotel) opened, 1919 Restaurant and its executive chef, Juan José Cuevas, have quickly garnered accolades for forward thinking, contemporary cuisine. The dishes are crafted with organic, artisanal, locally sourced ingredients. Cuevas has done stints in the world’s most renowned kitchens, including the three-Michelin-starred Akelare in San Sebastián, the now-shuttered three-Michelin-starred El Racó de can Fabes in Sant Celoni, and the now-closed Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York City. The four-course dinner menu includes selections like roasted octopus with organic grains, clams, beans, cucumber, preserved lemon, and herb oil; acquerello risotto with zucchini, Parmigiano, bacon, mozzarella, and coffee; wild king salmon with zucchini, ricotta, basil, olives, guindilla chiles, tomato confit, and pimentón sauce (made from smoky Spanish paprika); and Chocolate Decadence (chocolate tres leches, 65 percent chocolate mousse, brownie with granola, and chile-infused chocolate ice cream).

Café Matisse (Nassau, Bahamas)

In the Bahamas, it’s difficult to find a charming restaurant with exceptional fare where the clientele are not decked out in T-shirts and sandals, but Café Matisse comes to the rescue. The café is a welcome respite for island visitors looking for a sophisticated meal, as diners are required to wear "proper dress" to dine here. The quaint restaurant — set in a centuries-old colonial mansion where reprints of Matisse’s work deck the walls — is run by a husband-and-wife duo. The menu features simple Italian fare that is best enjoyed alfresco on the café’s courtyard veranda. The couple blends their Bahamian and Italian cultures brilliantly with seasonally changing appetizers like cured beef with Parmesan ice cream and warm shellfish salad with guacamole and citrus sauce, and mains like sliced duck breast marinated in orange and ginger with parsnip flan and T-bone steak with asparagus, arugula, Parmesan shavings, and grilled tomatoes. Save room for the desserts, which include avocado mousse with raspberry sauce and green apple crumble with Calvados sauce and cinnamon ice cream.

Trellis (St. Martin)

The intimate French bistro housed in the oceanfront La Samanna resort serves contemporary cuisine paired with one of the most extensive wine collections in the Caribbean. Executive chef Gil Dumoulin has curated a menu of modern French cuisine infused with Caribbean spice. Each meal can be expertly paired with one of 12,000 wines from the resort's wine cellar; each label is carefully chosen by sommelier Christian Mirande.

 

Tegui (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

One of Buenos Aires' more secretive restaurants, Tegui surprises guests as soon as they arrive: In order to enter the restaurant, you have to pass through a door surrounded by graffiti. Chef Germán Martitegui has created a signature style, and the kitchen could be considered more of a lab for new culinary inventions. The menu changes every two weeks, and a dish might make a one-time appearance, or become a reoccurring star. Guests can order one, two or three dishes, or a six- or eight-course tasting menu, with or without wine. The offerings might include anything from rabbit terrine served with pears, tartar sauce, and pistachios to roasted quail stuffed with brains and spinach, served with cauliflower purée and carrot mousse. In the end it all depends on when you visit, and the mood of the chef.

 Michael's Genuine (Grand Cayman)

The motto of Michael's Genuine, both the Miami original and this bright, bustling Cayman Islands offshoot, is "Fresh. Simple. Pure." Michael Schwartz's cooking lives up to the promise of that appealing trinity. The menu here is similar to that at the Florida original, but with local seafood, fruit, and other products worked in seamlessly. Schwartz's flavors are vivid, with Asian, Latin American, and Mediterranean accents: crispy snapper salad with pickled mango, red onion, and soy-lime vinaigrette; duck confit with whipped calabaza squash, wilted greens, and pumpkin seed pesto; grilled Niman Ranch pork loin with local guava chutney and grilled green onions — real food, the genuine article.

 

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