Top Restaurants in Jamaica
“Mon” cannot live by roadside jerk chicken alone, so here’s a list of favorites that includes other Jamaican treats like pepper shrimp, bammy, Ital vegetarian food, and, of course, the fine-dining, white-tablecloth iterations of those addictive dishes.
Salt Spring Junction, Jamaica
Bypass the roadside watering holes and take a boat ride to Floyd’s Pelican Bar, instead. This thatched hut stands on stilts out in the water, making it a dreamy spot for an afternoon of swimming and shooting the breeze, solo or with friends. It’s 30 minutes from Treasure Beach (arrange a boat ride through your guesthouse or resort), and you can arrive for lunch and stay until after sundown for the just-caught fish, rum, and chilled Red Stripe on the menu. Inside the tiny shack, the flags of various countries hang and previous customers have left messages scrawled on planks and benches. Sit outside and watch the pelicans flying in formation across the horizon.
Fairy Hill, Jamaica
Located along a stretch of coastline that’s sometimes called the birthplace of jerk cuisine, the Boston Bay Jerk Center is hard to miss. Various meats are cook on open pits using a technique that may explain why jerk never tastes so good at home: Uncured pimento logs are placed over a bed of hot coals, and the meat is laid directly on the green logs. The whole operation is then covered up by a sheet of corrugated zinc and cooked until it’s black on the outside and tender underneath. You can place your order by the quarter, half, or full pound. Don’t forget to add jerk sauce, which you can also buy by the bottle as a souvenir.
Going to dinner at Little Ochie is as fun as it is delicious. Pick your dinner—from a cooler of freshly caught fish—by species and by weight, then pick the style in which you’d like it cooked: jerk, grilled, escoveitch, and more. Pick a side of bammy, a thick round of cassava bread, to go with it. Your next decision is where to eat—head outside and choose a picnic table under one of the thatched huts carved in the shape of a fisherman’s canoe. The combination of beachy atmosphere and great fish makes this relaxed yet lively slice of Jamaica well worth the hour-long drive from Treasure Beach.
Norman Manley Blvd, Negril, Jamaica
Despite the industrialized patty chain stores across Jamaica, the love for handmade patties continues in some parts of the island. Miss Sonia’s entrée-size, crusty patties are served at a small roadside restaurant across from the beach in Negril. She offers traditional fillings like beef or callaloo, as well as others like lobster and conch that she introduced at the suggestion of her numerous return visitors to Jamaica. When you get your order, be sure to shake on some of the secret spicy sauce—Miss Sonia won’t tell you what’s in it—and then dig in.
Jamaican food is not all jerk and meat patties! You can sample one of the island’s most popular snacks, pepper shrimp, along the south coast. In the town of Middle Quarters, roadside vendors cook the shrimp in big steaming pots on outdoor grills. The shrimp, caught in the Black River, are boiled in salty water and then spiced with chopped scotch bonnet peppers, sea salt, vinegar, and black pepper. Plastic bags of the fiery little shellfish are peddled to drivers passing on their way home from work and to lucky tourists for a messy and addictive snack.
West End Road, Negril
Rick’s is probably the most touristy spot in all of Jamaica, but there’s a reason it’s listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, so don’t miss experiencing it at least once. Get there around 4 p.m. to avoid the crush of tour bus traffic that happens closer to sunset, then order a couple of cocktails—Rick’s serves up a myriad of options—and stake your claim on a prime viewing spot for the sunset and cliff-diving. Local divers swing from trees and drop into the surf or plummet from the surrounding cliffs, some of which rise more than 30 feet above the sea. Even the occasional tourist will brave the jump into the water below. A reggae band adds to the animated vibe. Lest you feel like just another tourist sheep at the sunset very-happy hour, console yourself in knowing that locals enjoy it almost as much as visitors do.
Pier 1’s greatest appeal is its setting: The open-air restaurant and nightclub occupies a pier that extends out into the Caribbean in Montego Bay. By day and into the early evening, the restaurant draws visitors and locals interested in a good meal with a stellar water view. At night, regular parties start late and run into the wee hours of the morning. Skip the noisy chain restaurant-bars down the street and try something more Jamaican, instead.
St Ann's Bay, Jamaica
In recent years, Scotchies has become a small franchise made up of the best jerk chicken joints on the north coast. Scotchies Too, right off the main highway outside Ocho Rios, is a pleasant spot where you can sit in a garden and dig into some chicken or pork fresh off the pimento-wood grill.
If you’re looking for a unique fine-dining experience under the stars, away from tourists and with gorgeous night skyline views, look no further than Robbie Joseph’s Seahorse Grill. Tucked on the grounds of the Montego Bay Yacht Club, this restaurant is popular among expats and residents and remains a best-kept secret. Classy yet unpretentious, it offers outdoor, waterfront dock, and terrace seating and “global cuisine with a twist of West Indian flair.” From a juicy steak night—hard to find in Jamaica—to pastas and Jamaican seafood specialties, you’ll be talking about that dinner under the stars for a while to come. The cocktails are pretty fabulous, too. This restaurant is a west coast gem.
Morgans Pass, Jamaica
This 12-cottage luxury hotel, 3,100 feet up in the Blue Mountains, is Jamaica without the beaches. It is the Jamaica of misty mornings, cool, cuddle-worthy evenings, and a musical heritage recognized worldwide. First as a private estate belonging to music producer Chris Blackwell and then as part of his Island Outpost collection of hotels, Strawberry Hill has been a creative refuge for performers including Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones, and Willy Nelson. After Hurricane Gilbert destroyed the estate’s great house in 1988, Blackwell commissioned Jamaican architect Ann Hodges, who specializes in historic reconstructions, to build the cottages, a restaurant, and a pool, which were opened in 1994. Yet despite the rock and roll history, and the hanging with like-minded souls up in the mountain mists, what guests seem to remember most is the far-below views of Kingston, especially at night, when the lights glow and sparkle from what must certainly be another world.
Located across the way from Half Moon Resort, Sugar Mill Restaurant is set on the grounds of an old plantation. Couples and small groups dine at candlelit tables either on a covered terrace or out on the lawn, and the splashing of the mill’s waterwheel and the chirping of crickets are an accompanying sound track to the top-notch service and Caribbean fusion menu. Order a bottle from the well-stocked wine cellar, visible as you enter the restaurant. For special occasions, a private table beside the waterwheel can be reserved. (In the mood for a lighter, slightly more casual meal? A tapas menu is available in the restaurant lounge.)
Tower Isle, Jamaica
You won’t be the first to fall in love with the candlelit brick setting of this Italian restaurant, located on the ground floor of a renovated plantation great house and downstairs from an art gallery; the attentive service can make you feel like landed gentry. Be prepared to dig into your pockets to pay the bill, but the inventive and delicious cuisine—strictly Italian and written out on two large chalkboards every day—is worth every penny. Don’t skip the desserts, especially the tiramisu and the chocolate profiteroles.
Alice Eldemire Dr, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Hop on a small barge-ferry to be whisked out to a larger boat for an unusual dinner on the water. Dine on the covered top deck, if you can snag a table, for an alfresco meal with a glittering night view of Montego Bay’s coast and the Caribbean. The menu is for seafood lovers but has options for everyone. The cozy, warmly lit nautical interior lends a relaxed and intimate vibe. Your fellow diners will most likely be locals, so you can feel like a Jamaica insider—previous passengers on the House Boat have included Steve McQueen, the Duchess of York, and the Beach Boys.
West End Road
Dining at one of Negril’s excellent cliffside restaurants is highly recommended, and the gorgeous setting of Ivan’s Bar & Restaurant at Catcha Falling Star makes it a very nice option. The longtime favorite has one of the best views along the coast and serves lobster dinners and classic Jamaican cuisine with a bit of a modern twist. Guests are seated under an open-sided thatched roof or out under the stars at private tables on a patio near the cliff’s edge. Another favorite choice for romantic cliffside dining is the restaurant at Rockhouse Hotel. (If you want more cocktails post-dinner, walk down to LTU Pub and mingle with the locals. Casual eateries and cliff bars along West End Road include 3 Dives and Sips & Bites.)
Norman Manley Blvd, Negril, Jamaica
Remember the oldie “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters? The owner of Drifters Bar, Luddy Samms, tells stories of his career with The Drifters, as well as tales of singing with Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood and Bruce Willis. Samms opened this hot-spot bar and performance venue on Seven Mile Beach in 2011, and expats, locals, and tourists flock here for cold Red Stripe, good food, and lots of live music in a variety of genres. Because this is an authentic Jamaican beach bar, though, reggae is king.
1 Argyle Rd, Kingston, Jamaica
Start your night out in the trendy New Kingston neighborhood with dinner at Redbones. The warm wood interior is hung with photos of jazz and blues artists who have performed here. Several seating areas inside and out can suit a variety of moods. Tables are set on a breezy porch and out on a fairy-lit patio. The kitchen serves a Caribbean fusion menu of sandwiches, seafood, pasta, and steaks. In addition to a regular schedule of musical performers, both local and international, Redbones hosts poetry nights, film screenings, and art exhibitions.
W End Rd, Negril, Jamaica
Set directly above rocky low cliffs of Negril and lit at night by torches and candles, Rockhouse Restaurant provides the setting for an elegant and romantic evening. (The setting’s pretty great during the day, too—breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in this open-sided palapa and patio.) The New Jamaican cuisine means a refined and more health-conscious preparation of classic island recipes, with as many ingredients as possible from the hotel’s small organic garden across the road. Among the notable dinner offerings are the blackened mahimahi with mango chutney, snapper steamed in a banana leaf, and coconut shrimp.
29, Barbican Rd, Kingston, Jamaica
In the heart of Barbican, Kingston’s favorite “uptown” neighborhood, Uncorked started as a small wine and cheese shop but evolved into a sit-down wine bar with a menu that’s popular with the city’s professional crowd. Pick one of the tapas-style starters like the bacon-stuffed dates, or go all in and order one of the famous-for-good-reason gourmet burgers—including the Scotchie and Skellie, which is spiced Jamaican-style. The salads, seafood, and meat entrées don’t disappoint, either. All meals can be paired with the huge selection of imported wines, including vintages from Europe, Australia, and South Africa. It gets crowded at lunchtime, and tables are few, so come early to avoid a wait or stop in for evening cocktails and cheese and olive platters.
Cooked in an open pit over pimento wood, the jerk preparations here are all authentic and—according to most locals—the best on the island. Traditionally spiced chicken and pork, as well as a less fiery fish version, served in a tin container along with rice and peas and festival bread (akin to hush puppies). Getting your order to stay means eating while perched on wooden barrels, which certainly adds local flavor. While enjoying the delicious meal, you’ll get to observe the seemingly endless line of customers, and perhaps get a ringside view of a lively and noisy game of dominoes.