From romantic restaurants and high-end heritage hideaways to celebrity hangouts and local liming spots, dining out in Antigua is as varied as it is fun. You'll find foodie gems squirreled away in rustic villages, high-quality restaurants attached to upmarket resorts, and low-key beach eateries overlapping the sand of Antigua's famous 365 beaches.
Island capital St Johns has the greatest concentration of places to eat, while boating hub English Harbour has a great selection too. On a tropical island measuring just 13 by 11 miles, much of the menu comes from the surrounding ocean. Fresh seafood including lobster, snapper and shrimp is as good as it gets.
As you'd expect, Creole and West Indian cuisine also features heavily on the menu with everything from curried goat and seafood gumbo to hot chicken, rice and beans. Antiguan specialties such as conch fritters and saltfish and fungee (polenta-like cornmeal patties) are ubiquitous. Meals often come accompanied with live music in local Antiguan eateries – especially on weekends – adding even more warmth and atmosphere to proceedings.
But while eating local is an absolute must to get a real taste of the island, there are plenty of places with a more international flavour – high-end Italian eateries and Pan-Asian restaurants that can convincingly transport you to the other side of the globe.
Antigua's top tables
Here's our guide to the top tried and tested dining spots and foodie gems across this pocket-sized Caribbean nation, whether you want to eat island fare, tuck into a quality pizza or splash out on lobster.
Authentic Antiguan – Buba's Hideout
Hidden away in its own private enclave on a hillside by Buckleys village, Buba's Hideout is a real find if you want to sample the real Antigua away from the resorts. The restaurant perches on a huge verandah surrounded by herb and vegetable gardens, with Buba's family occupying the surrounding houses on Buba's Avenue and staffing the restaurant.
Once you step inside, you're part of the family too, and treated to a delicious local menu of whatever happens to be in season – be it delicious lentil soup delicately spiced with nutmeg or spinach-stuffed chicken and Creole rice with black-eyed peas.
Local reggae band Weed often pop by on a Saturday to entertain guests with their original tracks including the catchy One Beetroot, a Carrot and an Apple a Day that will stick in your head long after you leave.
Asian recreation – East, Carlisle Bay
If you happen to be craving expertly-recreated Asian cuisine while in Antigua, Carlisle Bay resort's restaurant East serves up some of the best plates on the island. Classic Japanese, Thai and Indonesian dishes such as chicken katsu and beef rendang all feature on the menu and taste exactly as you would expect from a sophisticated oriental restaurant. Although it's set beneath the vaulted roof of the resort's main plantation house, once through the huge Indonesian carved doors, the decor and food is so convincing it's easy to forget what part of the world you're in.
Local hangout – The Roadhouse
A strong local presence attests to the laid-back friendliness and high-quality of the home-style fare at the Roadhouse, which sits in an airy spot atop a hill in the Antiguan locale of Newfield. It's the kind of place you can stretch out lunch with a local Wadadli beer and enjoy the view.
Owned by Zukai, who plays in a Calypso and Reggae band, which has won the island Calypso competition three times, you can expect music on the weekends and bargain deals that include food and drinks.
Italian flair – Sottovento, Ocean Point
This authentic Italian fusion restaurant is run by a family of Sardinian hoteliers and boasts a Michelin-starred chef bringing a touch of the dolce vita to the Antiguan coast. Typical dishes include tuna tartar, fresh lobster and grilled red snapper, all presented in a gourmet fashion. The tiramisu is as good as any you'd find in Italy, the paper-thin Sardinian ‘sheet music' is a nice reminder of the restaurant's origins and the wine list includes specially-imported Italian reds.
Part of Ocean Point resort, the Sottovento restaurant sits waterside on Antigua's beautiful Hodges Bay and is tastefully decked out in bleached wood with quirky flourishes, seashells and nautical colours.
Heritage hotspot – Copper and Lumber Store
Copper and Lumber Store is one of a handful of places to eat within the gorgeous cluster of Georgian buildings at UNESCO-listed Nelson's Dockyard – the only surviving Georgian naval dockyard in the world – and a great place to refuel when sightseeing. The Seafood Fridays buffet spilling onto the lawns of the dockside is one of the best ‘fish fries' in the Caribbean that includes crispy conch fritters, and surf and turf to satisfy a lively crowd of locals, tourists and yachties.
Gastro rum shack – Papa Zouks
Papa Zouks, on the outskirts of St Johns, should be a vital part of any visit to Antigua. A sort of gastronomic rum shop hybrid, its exuberant arty decor, carefully-prepared food and passion for rum reflects a lust for life that owner Birt attributes to deaf dumb and blind man Papa Zouk, who he named the place after.
The two-day simmered bouillabaisse (a sort of seafood gumbo) is widely considered the tastiest on the island, and Robert DeNiro, who has visited more than once, claimed the red snapper was the best he'd ever had.
Pizza paradise – Big Banana Pizzas
A casual open-sided diner in a converted rum warehouse by St Johns old Redcliffe Quay, Big Banana's fresh fired pizzas are humungous and delicious. Known locally simply as Pizzas, its pizzas are legendary in Antigua and are reportedly up there with the best in the entire Caribbean. Having visited for lunch, I can personally attest to their yumminess.
Liming and dining – Dennis Beach Bar and Restaurant
Dennis Thomas learnt to cook traditional Antiguan food hanging out by his mother's coal pot and helping her cook in the kitchen, and his bar and restaurant nestles in the corner of one of Antigua's best beaches. The result is home-style hearty food with the freshest ingredients served up with views of tropical paradise.
Delicious dishes include the pumpkin soup starter, seafood chicken medley, green goat curry, and beer-battered tilapia and chips. For local atmosphere, go for the Sunday afternoon pig roast and live music, then cool off with a dip in luminous Ffryes Bay.
Although the eateries above all come personally recommended, the list of must-eats in Antigua is by no means limited to the ones mentioned above. If you're looking to dine in a boutique-style beachside retreat, for instance, try Jacqui O's Beach House on the south coast, which features an ever-changing menu of the freshest local fare given a gourmet twist, from lobster on a bed of hummus to mahi-mahi ceviche.
At essential sightseeing spot Nelson's Dockyard, Pillars Restaurant at Admiral's Inn makes a pleasant alternative to lunch at Copper and Lumber Store, where you can enjoy seafood on the waterside terrace in view of the fat Georgian pillars of the former boathouse.
To get some great tips on where to eat out in Antigua, ask locals – your taxi driver or the hotel concierge will have some good ideas. They'll often tell you island secrets – this is how I discovered Dennis' Beach Bar and Restaurant serves the best green goat curry in Antigua, and also how I heard about Papa Zouk's renowned bouillabaisse.
The video and photos 1, 5-14, 16-24, 26, 31-32 by Jana Crowne.