While I was beginning my research for my trip to Aruba, I was consistently warned against booking an all-inclusive package. Due to the safety and ease of traveling around the island as well as the dozens of highly-rated restaurants, most find that an all-inclusive package only limits you.
Considering I can not only recommend five of the six restaurants I dined at while visiting Aruba but can completely rave about them, I’d say that this suggestion was correct.
Yemanja Woodfired Grill
We had booked a dinner reservation to Yemanja for our arrival day after reading several positive reviews and because it was about a three minute walk from our accommodations at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. Yemanja offers both indoor and outdoor seating, which is common in Aruba but has a very unique menu. While service was a tad slower the night we visited, we had excellent service overall, and a friendly waiter who even snuck us a second basket of bread and their delicious butter and tapenade while we waited. We also enjoyed a few delicious cocktails – the Lemon Drop Martini, the Caribbean Dream, and the Retox.
I ended up ordering the item I had been eyeing on the menu before our arrival, the Caribbean BBQ Mahi Mahi with Jasmine rice, stir fry vegetables, plantain chutney, cilantro bell pepper pesto, and pineapple salsa. It was just as delicious as it had sounded on paper and the fish was fresh and flaky. My two companions ordered the Grilled Stuffed Pork Tenderloin and a duck entrée, which is no longer on the menu as they’re only able to acquire duck occasionally. Three different proteins and all exceptionally prepared.
We visited Elements, located at the Bucuti & Tara Resort the day after we had a rather horrible meal at a restaurant I won’t bother mentioning. So while it may have been partially due to comparison, Elements is one of the only restaurants I have ever been to that I would rank as a perfect experience. From the location, to the service, to the ambiance, and food – I could not think of a single aspect that was below outstanding.
Set on one of the most stunningly beautiful beaches, Eagle Beach, Elements offers two styles of dining: the first is on the deck with the a la carte menu; the second is a few feet in front of the deck in your own private cabana with a pre-fixe “romantic dining” menu. We had originally booked the private cabana, however after my boyfriend noted several items on the a la carte menu that stood out to him, we decided to cancel our cabana and book a general reservation. But, due to a magical mix-up, the restaurant forgot to cancel our cabana and so we were allowed to enjoy the full menu with some romantic privacy.
Our server, Christian was friendly, knowledgeable, and great at helping us narrow down our options. To start, I had a delicious, picturesque honeydew melon cocktail and we shared their Arepas with Eggplant Mechada appetizer. The eggplant is slow-roasted, shredded and tossed in a homemade bbq sauce and then topped onto a corn arepa with pickled red onion – we could have easily ordered another order as these were so tasty. To follow, I had the most perfectly cooked Mango Chicken in a delicious sauce. Entrees are served with either rice, risotto, or potatoes unless otherwise noted but I highly recommend the risotto as it was out-of-this-world. My boyfriend ordered the Skirt Steak Churrasco style with potatoes and because we didn’t want the experience to end, wrapped up our meal with espresso martinis, carrot cake, and a Five High Chocolate Cake. Without being dramatic, I will crave this meal everyday for the rest of my life.
Picnic Aruba while technically not a restaurant is still a dining experience that I’d recommend for any couples looking for something sweet – or even families or friends looking for something unique. Picnic Aruba allows you to pick from a few different beach locations and between several picnic categories: one which offers sweet treats, three which offer different options of a meat, cheese, and crudité , and a breakfast picnic. After booking your location, time, and picnic type, all you have to do is arrive day-of to your lovely picnic set up entirely by the Picnic Aruba team.
Our breakfast picnic boxes included salami, the most delicious gouda cheese, fruits and sweet waffles. We also had a box of pastries, including two croissants, two egg popovers, and two rolls; a mason jar of various fruit and coconut shreds, two mason jar yogurt parfaits (one vanilla, one guava), orange juice, and jugs of both coffee and tea. We also had added on the mimosa option – so we also had a large bottle of champagne waiting on ice for us as well. The meal was simple but really delicious and the set-up and sound of the ocean made it all the more worth it. We also loved that our set-up included a Bluetooth speaker, so we were able to listen to some music as we relaxed. This was one of the best experiences we had while visiting and one I’d highly recommend. The staff were also incredibly friendly and excited, and even offered us a cute little photoshoot before they left
Pincho’s was one of the more commonly recommended restaurant and has even been once used for the setting of an episode of the Bachelor. The atmosphere of this restaurant especially at night is incredibly romantic – from walking down the pier to the lit lanterns, to the blue-lit water. We also enjoyed that the food was very simple and fresh but completely delicious and exactly what we were looking for. For drinks, you have to grab the Mango Mojito and/or the Mango Daiquiri. The mojito is light and refreshing but the daiquiri tastes as if you’re eating an entire fresh mango.
For appetizers, we had the Black Angus sliders which were pretty standard and the Conch Fritters which were loved by all. According to our server, conch fritters also act as an aphrodisiac. For entrees, a few of us ordered the Fish Trio and a couple ordered the popular Maple Bourbon BBQ Cowboy Pincho. The fish trio comes with a selection of fish, on our night these were Mahi Mahi, Snapper and Grouper, served with rice, grilled zucchini and an Asian glaze. The Cowboy Pincho is a skewer of chorizo sausage, Black Angus tenderloin, and chicken breast, served with delicious candied carrots and even more delicious parmesan and leek mashed potatoes.
The Dutch Pancake House
This spot is super casual but thankfully a five-minute walk from our resort since lines for breakfast here can often get a little long. We arrived ten minutes before their 8am opening and they let us and a few guests sit at tables until they were open to serve, so I’d definitely make it a point to get here early. Though, we were also here on a Wednesday so it may have been a bit easier to get seated.
The menu is primarily dedicated to various sweet and savory pancakes commonly found in the Netherlands, but also offer poffertjes, waffles, and some more larger options like schnitzels which originated in Austria. We all split a small plate of poffertjes, which are essentially mini pancakes covered in butter and powdered. These were delicious, moist, and we could have easily filled-up on these if we had each gotten our own order. For our main meal, we each got different sweet or savory pancake combinations, me personally going with the bacon, cheese, onion pancake with a side of over easy eggs. Pro-Tip -put the eggs on top. This combination was ridiculous and I’ve already tried twice to remake it at home though sadly have yet to do it justice.
If I could offer one piece of advice for those considering a visit to Aruba, it would be to forego any all-inclusive packages and to get out and experience the various cuisines offered around the island. From casual to upscale, from local cuisine to global, there really is something for everyone and the opportunity to have several different dining experiences while visiting.