Chefs from California, France, Italy and Colombia are bringing new flavors to the Caribbean and Mexico, while local restaurateurs are fighting back by offering incredible values.
When the economy tanked, Bob and Melinda Blanchard's second venture, Zurra, had to close, and they knew it was time to make changes to their pricey namesake. Its new, $45 three-course prix fixe menu is a bargain, in part because it includes their signature, extra-meaty lobster-and-shrimp cakes. The couple also added value-priced wines to their stellar 2,300-bottle cellar, like Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
© William A. Boyd
Three-year-old Veya arguably surpasses Blanchards as Anguilla's hottest restaurant. The draw: African and Asian flavors expertly created with local ingredients. Run by husband and wife Jerry and Carrie Bogarhe's the wine guy, she's the chefVeya recently opened a palm-shaded café on the ground floor serving excellent breakfasts and lunches, with coffee that's roasted in-house. Everything on the menulike four-cheese paninis and a Friday-only fish burger that comes sandwiched between extra-large fried johnnycakescosts less than $15. "We've become a hangout for locals and expats," says Jerry. "Tourists are still discovering us."
Courtesy of Cap Juluca
After a $22-million renovation, Cap Juluca has beefed up the already formidable wine list at its restaurant with Burgundies like Beaune Clos des Mouchesa favorite of its new French chef, Johnny Clero. To match, Clero offers haute-island dishes like rum-cured foie gras with pineapple-smoked duck prosciutto.
Once, surfing was the only reason to drive to the wild eastern coast of Barbados. That changed last December, when Andrew Warden, owner of the luxe Little Good Harbour hotel, reopened the 10-room Atlantis property. Little Good Harbour's top-notch chef, Stephen Belgrave, created a menu for Atlantis with dishes like chile-and-tomato seafood stew. Sadly for surfers, no wet board shorts are allowed in the dining room. "We're a bit more fancy than that," says Warden.
© Sandy Lane
Everything at the iconic Sandy Lane hotel is ambitious, including its recently reimagined beachfront restaurant. Artisanal ingredients are flown in twice-weekly (New Zealand honeycomb, beef from Idaho's Snake River Farms, Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia) and appear all over the relaxed menu in dishes like a fig-and-arugula pizza. Former French Laundry pastry chef Claire Clark, who took over the desserts last fall, makes incredible pistachio financiers.
Run by up-and-coming Colombian chef Mateo Zuluaga, this newish restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya concentrates on Asian-Mediterranean cuisine: spicy Asian crab cakes with ginger, fish of the day with curried potatoes and coconut soup. But the wine list offers great bottles from Mexico's underrated producers, like the crisp Monte Xanic, a Sauvignon Blanc from Valle de Guadalupe. The only drawback is the Mayan-temple-meets-Stonehenge sculpture that dominates the dining room.
Chef Alessandro Carozzino serves exceptional Italian food with dictatorial style: Don't turn up even a few minutes late for your reservation (one of the hardest to snag on the laid-back Mayan Riviera) and certainly don't deviate from the menu. His fresh pastas and fish poached in acqua pazza (a "crazy water" of tomatoes and seawater) justify the diva-like attitude.
Riviera Maya's Best Value
At this spectacular hole-in-the-wall, 10 bucks will get you Tulum's most excellent home cooking. There's no menu; if you don't speak Spanish, the mom-and-pop team will pull you into the kitchen to choose from the pots of traditional food. Choices change nightly; on a recent visit, a chipotle two-chicken stew was a standout.