It’s a good thing that airlines are so stingy with snacks these days. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been so bent on eating as soon as I landed at Princess Julianna International Airport on a recent visit to St. Maarten. But when my rumbling stomach shook the car—a slight exaggeration—my host smiled as she told me, “I have just the place for you, and it’s not that far.”
Turns out this was a running theme during my visit. Every Caribbean island has great food, but not all of them have so much good food that every meal has “just the place.” St. Maarten is packed with so many options that we’ll never eat at the same restaurant twice (if we don’t want to), but the problem then, of course, is that having too many options means not having enough time to try them all.
Oh, the perils of tropical travel.
Some people live under the misguided assumption that St. Maarten is simply the place they stop before traveling to one of the neighboring islands. But foodies need to know that this is the place to be. Even when it comes to snacks and treats, guests will love spots like the Amsterdam Cheese Store, the Coffee Lounge in the heart of Philipsburg, and basically any of the lolos (especially Cindy’s Roti, but there’s also a patty place on Longwall Rd. that is great despite not having a name on it). If you need a jumping off point, you will not go wrong with these 10 restaurants.
The Captain’s Rib Shack
Deboard the airplane, make your way through the baggage claim, flash a nice smile to the customs agent, and make your way to this BBQ joint right outside the airport. Where do you even start with the menu, though? I chose the ribs because it’s right there in the name of the restaurant, but also because these are no ordinary ribs… they’re Orgasmic Ribs.
I won’t say if they lived up to the name—this is a family site, after all—but I say with confidence that the tray was empty by the time we left. And if you’re not hungry after the long flight, it’s also a great place to grab lunch before heading out on a boat tour.
The crown jewel of my St. Maarten culinary experience. From the moment I arrived on this island, I was repeatedly told that I needed to eat at Sexy Beef. Is it a gentleman’s club with a kitchen? Is the food eaten while Barry White’s greatest hits are played? Is the meat wearing lingerie? These are just some of the terrible jokes I made, but it turns out the name has a special meaning: it’s the nickname given to the owner by her boyfriend.
Romance aside, the food at this incredibly popular lolo (this place goes off on weekends) is simple yet spectacular. In fact, I had no choice but to order the steak, chicken, and pork satay, just so I could give myself a crash course in meat soaked in peanut sauce. Not a single bite went to waste, and I washed it all down with what I believe to be the best classic margarita in the Caribbean.
Normally, it’d be mean to include a restaurant from an all-inclusive resort, because unless you’re staying there, you can’t go. Fortunately, Sonesta Ocean Point Resort knows that Azul is quite frankly one of the coolest restaurants in the Caribbean, so it is bringing back The Azul Experience, which invites non-guests to come enjoy this spectacular Mediterranean-inspired menu while also dropping their jaws over the views from both the rooftop and cliffside seating.
It’s hard to say what is more alluring: the food or the fact that Azul seems like it is dangling over the ocean. But believe me that every selection on the menu will have your dinner guests asking for a bite. That’s why I had to eat my roasted duck leg with my arms around the plate like a shield. Also, the menu changes daily so this is definitely a place to visit multiple times, especially if you’re the kind of person who gets really sad (points to self) when they don’t have the fettuccine with calamari.
The Original Fat Boy Jimmy’s
Avid Caribbean travelers know that there’s just something about a Johnny cake that makes a sandwich better. When I arrived on St. Maarten, I made a passing “joke” about how I would one day embark on a quest to find the best hamburger in the Caribbean, and my hosts immediately told me, “It’s here.” They were referring to the magnificent Jimmy Cake Burger from The Original Fat Boy Jimmy’s, which is a basically a landmark on this island. And if you’re feeling frisky, you get the Full House burger with mac and cheese and cole slaw piled on.
But there’s so much more than burgers and BBQ here. Namely, meals like the Fry Crab and the Curry Goat have the locals raving, so don’t be surprised when there’s a mighty long line at this Philipsburg spot.
Sale e Pepe Marina
I have a weird theory that has been percolating for some time: if a restaurant in the Caribbean has some form of “salt” in the name, it is guaranteed to be good. My hypothesis began when I dined at Salt in Turks and Caicos, and it grew stronger most recently at Sal the Kitchen in Curaçao. Sandwiched in between was a meal I will never forget at Sale e Pepe Marina, a stunningly fantastic spot right on the water.
While the food was amazing—I almost cried as I finished the last bite of my Tagliolini al Tartufo—what surprised me was the size of the menu. It was downright daunting choosing from the long list of pasta dishes, not to mention the separate pages for meat and fish main courses. Save a little room for dessert, too, because the tiramisu might look small, but mamma mia it packs quite the punch.
Dutch Blonde Beach Bar
You’ll come here for the award-winning beer, but you’ll stay for the excellent bar food. The namesake beer ascended to the throne as the best in the Caribbean when it won silver at the 2021 London Spirits Competition, but owner Sunil Vaswani’s establishment is about way more than the drinks.
At Dutch Blonde Beach Bar, guests can enjoy awesome views of the adjacent beach while enjoying another great island burger or the phenomenal fish and shrimp tacos. But when in the Dutch Caribbean, do as the Dutch do and order one of the most delicious pancakes in town. Wash it all down with one of the five outstanding beers and then try your hardest to beat my record for the on-site escape room.
Ocean Lounge Bar and Restaurant
If you’re not staying at the Holland House Beach Hotel, you’ll at least want to make time to stop in for dinner at the Ocean Lounge. Creativity and freshness collide in this stylish restaurant’s menu, and there isn’t an incorrect choice when it comes to the seafood. But as my friends raved about the Lobster Pasta and Black Sea Bass, I just had to dive into the ribeye with the delicious mushroom sauce. It always feels like a crime not ordering the fresh seafood, but even in a prison cell I’d have a smile from that cut.
Oenophiles will especially love the award-winning wine cellar and extensive list, while tequila enthusiasts will be in heaven as they start with the Mango Patrón Margarita and finish strong with the Tajín Margarita. And should you heed my advice and order that killer steak, it pairs oh so well with the Martell Old Fashion.
If you’re visiting St. Maarten, the observation decks and zip lines at Rainforest Adventure Park are mandatory. Even if you only take the chair lift to the top to appreciate the views of the neighboring islands, it needs to be done. But what’s on the ground here is equally important, as visitors can check out the Emilio Wilson Museum to learn about the incredible man and the property’s history.
Located in the plantation’s old boiler house, Emilio’s obviously also pays tribute to the estate’s late owner, but it’s also where travelers will enjoy some of the best meals on either side of the island and probably well beyond. The tapas dishes are vast and ideal for groups that love to share—don’t be surprised if people get greedy with the charred garlic octopus, though—while the main courses, like the rosemary rack of lamb and snapper en papilotte, serve as centerpieces for that final romantic evening or a family vacation no one will soon forget.
Pyratz Gourmet Sailing
I’m cheating here just a little, but I can’t ignore the exceptional food and drinks prepared and served by the immensely polite and charming crew that operates this catamaran excursion. Guests especially rave about Captain Max’s specialty: fresh grilled lobster. How fresh? I’m talking, look down in the water, snatch that lobster, and soon enough—voila! One of the best seafood dishes you’ll ever have on water or land.
And if you’re lucky enough to have Alisson as the first mate, she makes a phenomenal gin cocktail that will make everyone feel like royalty as they raise a toast to the other boats anchored in spots like Long Bay and Tintamarre.
Sunset Beach Bar
If your trip begins at the Rib Shack not far from the airport’s exit, then it should end at one of the most iconic places on the island. Sunset Beach Bar sits right next to Maho Beach, where visitors gather in droves to stand beneath the airplanes as they descend upon the runway. It’s inarguably one of the top spots in the world for selfies, but if you don’t want to get sand all over your feet before departure, a seat at the restaurant is just as good.
In fact, I think it’s better, because this joint advertises “the best burgers on the island,” and the Sunset Signature—bacon, avocado, onion crisps, pico de gallo, sriracha aioli, and American cheese—is absolutely fantastic. Just the thing any traveler needs before a three-hour flight home, but you’ll probably want to leave a little room for the pretzels, too.