Try callaloo soup, a popular Caribbean dish, at St. Thomas restaurant Gladys’ Cafe. // © 2015 United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
Feature image (above): Delectable local fare and beautiful sea views draw guests to Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant. // © 2015 United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
A mixture of West African, Arawak, Indian and Danish influences, the fare in the U.S. Virgin Islands is distinct unto itself. Pot fish, delicious grilled or fried, is a local reef fish uniquely caught in fish pots. “Old wife” fish is served whole and named for its resemblance to, well, an old wife. The conch fritters are arguably some of the best in the world and will likely cause addiction. Callaloo soup (a leaf vegetable stew), fungi (a cornmeal ball, not a mushroom) and salt fish pates — think Hot Pockets, only stuffed with fish — are also favorites.
Explore the casual neighborhood hot spots or relish the Caribbean sea views at fine waterfront eateries. There are restaurants for every budget and style.
Here is a local's “best of" list guaranteed to please the palate.
40 Strand Eatery, St. Croix
This foodie destination is one of the few places that serves Danish cuisine, a nod to the former settlers. The restaurant has a wine-cellar-meets-European-cafe interior design and serves artistically plated gourmet dishes, including wahoo fish with risotto and vegan squash spaghetti.
The menu changes often, but the “smorrebrod,” a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich, is always available.
Cuzzin’s, St. Thomas
Located on a back street in the capital — next to the historic home of St. Thomas’ renowned impressionist painter Camille Pissarro — is Cuzzin’s, a Caribbean foodie’s paradise.
Brightly colored art and tablecloths enhance the bustling atmosphere. Locals belly up to the small bar or grab lunch to go, but usually savor the curried shrimp, chicken or mutton while relaxing at a table and enjoying the scene.
De Coal Pot, St. John
Excited regulars often physically escort tourists to this West Indian homestyle-cooking haven, set off the main drag. The food at De Coal Pot takes center stage in this simply designed interior, and every meal is a star.
“De Menu” has photos so it’s easy to order, but for something pulled right from St. John’s reefs, try a whelk (sea snail) saute with potato stuffing, peas and rice.
Gladys’ Cafe, St. Thomas
Gladys’ friendly and enthusiastic personality is reflected in her warm and welcoming staff. The cafe is nestled in a charming cobblestone alley way downtown and is an institution that sets the standard for Caribbean cooking.
Callaloo soup with succulent pieces of chicken, conch fritters and old wife fish are delightful, but the real treat is the chef’s homemade pepper sauce in mango, mustard and tomato. The spice-obsessed can purchase a bottle to take home.
Hook, Line and Sinker, St. Thomas
Right on the harbor waterfront in Frenchtown, Hook, Line & Sinker is a preferred meeting place for residents and tourists. The restaurant’s specialty is fresh local fish, so order the catch of the day or the Caribbean lobster. Sunday brunch is a lively time to be there, and the Frenchtown French toast dipped in Grand Marnier is a decadent treat.
The Ice Cream Shoppe, St. Thomas
The Ice Cream Shoppe — located near the promenade in the International Plaza — has some of the best salt fish and beef pates on the island. Locals will line up for their fill, so go early in the morning before The Ice Cream Shoppe runs out.
La Reine Chicken Shack, St. Croix
This large “shack” looks like something off Interstate 10 in Texas, but it’s far from the average barbecue joint. Inexpensive, large portions draw crowds, and the voluminous chickens on the rotating spit are the specialty of the house.
After indulging in rotisserie chicken and an order of Johnny cakes, wash it all down with a Caribbean beer.
Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant, St. Thomas
The view from Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant’s terrace is reason enough to go there for an elegant, romantic dinner, with twinkling lights extending over the harbor. It’s the food, however, that put this family-owned place on the map. Caribbean conch fritters are fried to perfection on the outside, soft and pastry-like on the inside. Coconut-crusted shrimp, followed by Danish baby back ribs or its famous pot fish, make a distinctive and photogenic meal.
Magens Bay Beach, St. Thomas
Magens Bay Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with glass-like water and pelicans diving around small, bobbing wooden boats. It is here at the beach bar where the undisputed best “Painkiller” rum cocktail can be sipped. One is not enough, but two might be too many.
Petite Pump Room, St. Thomas
Petite Pump Room has an idyllic seaside view of Hassel Island, and guests can watch seaplanes arrive and depart. Offering breakfast, lunch and a full bar, the Petite Pump Room is the spot to sample rum drinks and feast on fresh conch in butter sauce.