Dining experiences for every taste
Tobago offers an increasingly wide variety of good restaurants, specialising in everything from European (La Tartaruga offers fine Italian dining), American, Asian, to Caribbean and Tobagonian favourites (like MeShell’s). Fusion restaurants and dishes are also on the rise, and then there’s the range of dining experiences and menus on offer at the Magdalena Grand Resort. From local specialities like curry crab ’n’ dumpling to fine continental cuisine and tapas, Tobago’s got it all. Dining Tobago-style is one of the most memorable aspects of a Tobago vacation.
Over the years Tobago has evolved into a foodie’s haven. Fine restaurants and charming small eateries have cropped up throughout the island to serve the growing number of visitors, while the local cuisine has maintained its well-deserved popularity: you haven’t tasted Tobago until you’ve tasted curry crab ’n’ dumpling. There are quite a few Chinese and Italian restaurants, and you can still have a dinner of steak and fries if you insist. But Creole Pork Chop, Coconut Chicken, Breast of Duck in Tobago Honey, Rum Roasted Pork, Jerk Chicken and Peppered Fish Salad with banana salsa all sound a bit more adventurous.
Many of Tobago’s good restaurants take advantage of the island’s exquisite landscape, and provide incredible ambience. Many breathtaking locations – nestled in the shells of old waterwheels and sugar mills, in the remains of old colonial plantation houses, in landscaped gardens, or on hillsides with magnificent ocean views. In several cases, they are sensitively converted houses with tables set out on galleries and verandahs, with a bar and maybe some more tables inside.
Some restaurants, particularly high-end ones, are part of hotels and resorts clustered around the touristy southwestern tip, with a few around Scarborough and in the northeast. Crown Point is crowded with restaurants; so is Shirvan Road. Some provide entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, so you can pig out first and dance the calories off afterwards.
Casual Dining & Fast Food
And while you will find some international and local fast food outlets in Scarborough, many Tobagonians prefer the sports bars and roadside shops that serve the local version of global fast and fried delights. In the countryside, informal dining establishments serve mainly Tobagonian and creole dishes to local workers, while island-wide, roadside eateries and food stalls offer traditional foods and snacks for sale.
At Store Bay, a neat row of small buildings separates the car park from the sand. Curiously, almost all the vendors have near identical menus. Roti, pelau, stew — curry crab and dumplings, of course — burgers, hot dogs, perhaps a soup or two. Don’t be put off by the similarities in offerings. If you discover that a Tobago stewed fish is your new favourite thing, then why not try as many variations on the theme as possible?
Just before turning off for the Pigeon Pt. Heritage Park off the Milford Road, an exceptionally crowded corner offers all things take-out: barbecue, pizza, Arabic fare, fried chicken, and ice-cream. It’s one of the most conveniently contrived clusters you’ll find.
Sunday School, essentially a street party in Buccoo, is the place to go and hang out on a Sunday night for live music and other local entertainment. By all means enjoy that. Then stroll past the purveyors of grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, whole lobsters. Now ask where to find the Dragon. The Dragon’s barbecued pork – hand-reared, marinated and grilled over his own blend of local herbs – is for some reason enough to visit Tobago.
With the sea never far away, fresh seafood is a speciality – especially its freshly caught fish, shrimp, conch and lobster – cooked in good tasty creole style with distinctive sauces: lobster, crab, kingfish, grouper, dolphin (the local name for mahi-mahi, nothing to do with Flipper or his relations). Both creole and international cuisine are represented, not to mention some sinful home-made desserts.
The island’s traditional cuisine is based on fresh fish and foods grown in family gardens – peas, corn, ground provisions, coconuts – flavoured with plenty of wild herbs and seasonings. Crab and dumpling (usually curried) is a long-established signature dish and perhaps the island’s most famous, which you can find in a few restaurants and at informal outlets like the food stalls at Store Bay – they will serve you a good overflowing plate.
Apart from that, try the traditional fish broth, or corned fish with cassava or corn coocoo; there is oil down, cassava bread and cassava pone, paimee (like Trinidad’s pastelles, but filled with raisins, sugar and coconut), or light and crumbly starch cake. There are all sorts of local sweets to raise the blood sugar (vendors at ANR Robinson, formerly Crown Point, airport specialise in them). If you see soursop fudge, buy it! Make sure too to taste the island’s wondrous variety of freshly squeezed fruit juices and punches.
Tips & Tricks
Good breakfast options include House of Pancakes, Golden Girls (for bake-and-saltfish and other local specialities), and Le Petit Patisserie for excellent French pastries. For lunch and dinner you’ll be thoroughly spoilt for choice.
Meals are usually reasonably priced, and nobody expects you to show up in a jacket and tie, though they rather frown on shorts, slippers and shirtless backs. On top of taxes, restaurants usually add a 10–15% service charge. A word of advice: some restaurants are closed for dinner on certain days of the week, so it’s wise to call in advance.
Bar Code Sports Bar & Grill (Scarborough)
This stylish new sports bar is located right along the waterfront at the Scarborough port, giving you relaxing views of the ships and ferries coming and going. Enjoy a range of signature drinks and local and international dishes (including a local staple, fish broth); shoot some pool; watch big sports games on their big-screen TV; or rock to the beat of their live music acts. Here you can watch whatever is gripping locals at the moment – T20 cricket, the English Premier League, a boxing match in the US – and have a tasty meal. Live entertainment can take the form of karaoke, soca artistes or up-and-coming bands.
Sea Horse Inn Restaurant & Bar (Black Rock)
Featured on the UK’s Richard & Judy show (GMTV) and the Travel Channel, there’s a little something for any palette – from seafood to steaks, local creole to international and fusion. Enjoy beautiful oceanside breezes and views of Stonehaven beach, where giant leatherbacks come ashore March–August. Sip delicious cocktails at the bar, or dive in to a delicious 3-course meal under the stars. There’s nightly entertainment at peak times of year.
Shore Things Café & Craft (Lambeau)
Housed in a quaint wooden house, the casual yet elegant ambience is both relaxing and rejuvenating. Enjoy magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean from its hilltop perch while tasting delicious sandwiches, pizzas, crêpes, cappuccinos, and fresh fruit juices, or desserts and breads baked fresh on site. (Hint: You do not try the coconut cream pie or the lime cheesecake. You convert to them.)
Pavilion Restaurant (Black Rock)
Perfect for a quick and casual lunch after a morning at the beach. The Pavilion Restaurant also features a half moon infinity pool, ideal for a refreshing dip before or after lunch. In the evening experience a candle-lit dinner prepared with the finest ingredients while marvelling at panoramic vistas and sunsets. The internationally trained chefs create exquisite Caribbean and international dishes. Open for lunch and dinner (closed on Monday).
Mirko D’Alessio, owner of Ciao Pizza and the café next door in Scarborough, just up the road from the port, came to Tobago by mistake: he thought he had booked a trip to Tonga. But his travel agent got confused, and D’Alessio’s Pacific vacation turned into a Caribbean adventure. The former dental technician is now a restaurateur, bringing authentic Italian cuisine – many ingredients are specially flown in from Italy – to the narrow streets of Tobago’s capital. Why? “It’s what I know,” he says. Mirko’s food may not be of Tobagonian heritage, but his honesty and commitment to authentic, satisfying meals perfectly captures the island’s attitude to food. This is why he has been serving painstakingly genuine Italian meats, cheeses, wines, gelato, pasta and pizza to Tobago’s citizens and visitors for more than a decade. The gelato is to die for. If you eat nothing else in Tobago – for the entire stay – savour the gelato.
- Blue Waters Inn Restaurant (Speyside): 660-2583, www.bluewatersinn.com
- Chart House Restaurant (Crown Point): 639-8781, www.crownpointbeachhotel.com
- Cocoa House Restaurant & Bar (Golden Lane): 660-0416, www.footprints-resort.com
- Kariwak Village (Crown Point): www.kariwak.com
- La Tartaruga (Buccoo): 639-0940, www.latartarugatobago.com
- Melange (Mt. Pleasant): www.melangerestauranttobago.com
- MeShell’s International Cuisine Caribbean Style (Buccoo): 631-0353 [closed until further notice]
- Patino’s Restaurant & Bar (Buccoo): www.enchantedwaterstobago.com
For Cooking At Home:
The self-catering rental is a popular accommodation choice for large groups and visitors staying for a while. The grocery stores – smaller independent ones, as well as the Penny Savers chain – will supply you with cooking essentials and a few surprises. It’s a reminder that Tobago is more accustomed to tourists than Trinidad. Lots of local sweets (and sours) and great local yoghurt.
Scarborough Market and roadside stalls for fruit and vegetables. Get closer to the sea for fresh seafood. (Not that you can’t find those things in-store as well.)
RT Moreshead off the Shirvan Road is the most unpretentious of fancy foods stores. Just because you’re cooking for yourself doesn’t mean you have to slum it. Good deli section. Ask where they keep the paté.