Since 1648, the Caribbean island of St Martin has been the smallest piece of land peacefully shared by two countries: France and the Netherlands. The northern French side (St Martin) is often compared to a picturesque fishing village, with colorful villas and houses dotting the hills above small ports and long stretches of white sand beaches. The more rambunctious southern Dutch side (Sint Marteen) is home to casinos, clubs, hotels and restaurants. Regardless of which side you’re on, this pint-sized 87-square kilometer island has some of the best food in the Caribbean – not to mention the greatest selection, with at least 400 restaurants and counting. From fine dining French restaurants to lolos (small food shacks by the beach or road), to natural wine bars. Here are some spots worth checking out.
Johnny B’s Under the Tree
Nothing beats St Martin’s lolos, or roadside barbecue stands. Not only do they serve incredible local fare, but they’re by far the most bang for your buck when considering your dining-out options. Most of these lolos serve up a variety of grilled delights, but Johnny B’s Under the Tree is the most well-known of the lot. In Cole Bay, Johnny B’s is run by a former five-star-hotel chef named Jonny Bridgewater who wanted to go back to basics. Get ready to settle in on one of the picnic tables, roll up those sleeves and tuck into some of his famous crispy baby back ribs, grilled whole lobster tails and all the traditional fixings: fried plantains, rice and peas and fresh, hot bread wrapped in foil. And to wash it all down? An ice cold, crisp Carib beer.
Also located in Cole Bay on the Dutch side of the island, this very newcomer just opened its doors in December. A sister restaurant to the popular Montreal bars Loic and Honey Martin, Papia, a Caribbean-style restaurant plus natural wine and cocktail bar is sure to delight. With a chic island vibe, minimal decor and stellar Montreal team working to put together a menu, wine and cocktail list unlike any on the island, this is a must for pre or post-dinner drinks, or a whole evening filled with food and wine. The menu features dishes such as lionfish ceviche or tacos, jerk pork belly, crab tagliatelle, red snapper and hanger steak. Make sure to save room for the coconut rum pound cake for dessert!
Rosemary’s Seafood & Creole Cuisine
In the town of Marigot on the French side, just north of the airport sits another local lolo gem, Rosemary’s. A bit more restaurant-like than Jonny B’s, Rosemary herself is often on hand, helping dish out heaping servings of jerk chicken, red snapper and lambi creole, a hearty dish of stewed conch, stewed oxtail, whole roasted fish and fried fish. But what people really flock to this place for is Rosemary’s melt-in-your-mouth goat curry. Generously served over a mound of rice and peas, this fragrant curry seasoned with cloves will guarantee you’ll be coming back for more.
Bistro Caraibes and Le Cottage
For fine dining on the island, your best bet is to head to the main restaurant drag on the French side in the town of Grand Case. Nicknamed ‘Restaurant Row’, Grand Case Boulevard is lined with numerous fine dining options and excellent wine lists. Made to resemble the atypical Caribbean-style cottage, Le Cottage (pictured right), boasts island style French food and a stellar wine list. Chef David Hanquer hails from several Parisian restaurants (including the one-Michelin-starred Nikko Hotel) and is inspired by the island’s bountiful ingredients and his classical training. From mahi-mahi in mango sauce to lobster bisque, foie gras and duck tataki or a fresh, goat cheese salad medley, the menu is sure to please every palate. Then, there’s Bistro Caraibes. Considered one of the top restaurants on the island, this place, run by two French brothers, is small, intimate and perfect for that romantic evening out. Priding itself on friendly service and an upscale, yet casual island atmosphere, the Caribbean influenced French cuisine is of the highest quality. From lobster thermidor – a house specialty – to sautéed shrimp in coconut sauce, rack of lamb or beef tenderloin, this is a memorable dining experience worth checking out.