13 Best Restaurants To Dine At While Visiting Jamaica

Jamaican cuisine is the product of hundreds of years of colonization and settlement by different groups of people. Its history stretches back to the indigenous Arawak and Taino, who pioneered the technique of smoking meat over an open fire that led to modern-day jerk chicken, perhaps Jamaica's most famous dish. The island was conquered and colonized by the Spanish and then the English, who both brought their own ingredients and recipes to Jamaica. Indian and Chinese migrants, as well as enslaved Africans, were instrumental in creating Jamaican cuisine, too. This rich medley of cultures combined with the country's natural bounty of ingredients has produced a food scene unlike any other in the world.

It's impossible to capture Jamaica's culinary essence in a short article, but that isn't going to stop us from trying. In our list of the best places to eat when visiting Jamaica, we've tried to represent the wide variety of options on the island, from humble street food stalls to luxurious resort fine dining restaurants. We've included plenty of places in and around Kingston, the largest city, but we made sure to throw in some recommendations from across the country, as well. Many subtypes of Jamaican food are represented, as well as some other global cuisines. It is hard to find bad food in Jamaica, and with this list, you'll be prepared to enjoy a gastronomical trip you won't soon forget.

Northside Chicken

No guide on dining in Jamaica can be complete without a recommendation for the best place to get jerk chicken. You'll find a number of places online shouting out Scotchies as the best jerk chicken place in Jamaica. It's certainly an excellent pick, but we decided to go with a different spot: Northside Chicken, a 30-plus-year-old business in Kingston's Linguanea neighborhood. Northside is run by Hopeton and his son Glenville Allen. Many Kingstonians say that Hopeton's recipe is the best jerk in the city even though he doesn't eat chicken himself (he's vegetarian).

As you can see in the Vice mini-documentary about the stand, Northside is a great place to get a feel for the rhythms of Kingston in addition to scoring excellent chicken. It's visited by people from all walks of life, and if you get lucky, you might be served by a long-time employee who's also a Michael Jackson impersonator. Northside's chicken is technically pan chicken rather than traditional jerk, as it's cooked over charcoal in an oil drum grill rather than smoked on pimento wood, but that doesn't make it any less delicious. The cut-up birds get marinated in chopped Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, garlic, and salt, then slowly grilled and served up with vinegar-based hot sauce and ketchup. The combination of spice, smoke, acidity, and sweetness makes for a one-of-a-kind flavor bomb.

Stush in the Bush

While Jamaica excels at informal street food like Northside Chicken, it also has a killer fine dining scene. Stush in the Bush, located in rural St. Ann, about 90 minutes from Kingston, is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant that offers a unique multi-course plant-based tasting menu. The farm-to-table restaurant incorporates some ingredients grown on the property. The proprietors are a married couple, Lisa and Christopher Binns (nicknamed "Stush" and "Bush," respectively). She's Barbadian (also known as Bajan, if you're a local) and he's Jamaican, and the menu pulls from those influences as well as a variety of global cuisines. You'll find New York-style pizza coexisting with Mediterranean mezze platters and vegan Caribbean classics, all washed down with refreshing juices or carefully-selected wines. Combined with the lush forested atmosphere, it's a dining experience worth going out of your way for.

It's important to know that Stush in the Bush does not accept walk-ins. You must make a reservation ahead of time and put down a deposit in order to visit. The reservation includes dinner and a guided tour of the farm with Christopher.

Aunt May's Fish Place

As an island nation, you would expect Jamaica to excel at fresh seafood dishes, and the country's cooks don't disappoint. Of course, if you want the freshest possible fish, you need to eat on the shore. For the tastiest food, avoid the touristy North Coast and head to Hellshire Beach, just a touch south of Kingston. This is where locals go to eat the tastiest seafood in the country prepared in the traditional local style.

While Hellshire is filled with beachside shacks selling similar menus of delicious seafood, Aunt May's Fish Place stands out from the pack enough to earn plaudits from international critics. Although the restaurant's founder and namesake, May Byrou, passed away in 2020, the business still sells some of the best seafood in Hellshire. If you visit, seek out the fried fish, escovitch (which is fish with a sauce of vinegar, Scotch bonnet peppers, and carrots), steamed fish, and grilled lobster. Aunt May's cooking style emphasized using typical Jamaican seasonings and keeping things simple, allowing the sweet taste of the fresh seafood to shine. As long as you're willing to brave the crowds that flock to Hellshire and the beach's somewhat chaotic vibe, Aunt May's is where you should be getting your seafood.

Di Dragon

While much of this list will focus on restaurants serving Jamaican cuisine, that's only part of what the country has to offer hungry travelers. Jamaica also has plenty of great restaurants serving world cuisines, including Chinese. If you want the island's best Chinese food, head to Di Dragon.

The restaurant is a little bit tricky to find, as it's in an unassuming building tucked away in Portmore, around half an hour from Kingston. Despite its humble ambiance, Di Dragon has been getting some major love on social media lately, so wait times can be long. If you're able to plan ahead, make a reservation and pre-order your food to expedite the experience.

Di Dragon serves Chinese comfort classics that you've probably had many times before, like lo mein, chicken in black bean sauce, and sweet & sour chicken. If you want something extra-special, go for the seafood specialties like king crab, lobster, and blue crab — you won't find anything like that in a typical Chinese takeout spot in the States. Remember to bring cash, as Di Dragon doesn't take cards.

Saffron Indian Cuisine

Saffron Indian Cuisine is one of the best restaurants in a neighborhood in Kingston known for stellar international food. Of particular note is its butter chicken, which is as creamy, decadent, and rich as you could hope for. It also offers a unique tandoori broccoli appetizer with charred marinated florets served with chutney.

All of the Indian food at Saffron is great, but it's only part of what makes this place special. Saffron's ludicrously long menu contains not just Indian specialties, but also sections for Thai and Asian fusion food. Where else are you going to get roti, vada pav, Thai green curry, and spring rolls all on the same menu? If you're dining out with a family that can never agree on what type of food to order, Saffron is just what the doctor ordered. There are tons of vegetarian options on the menu as well, so no matter what your preferences are, this place has you covered.

Tastee Patties

Moving back to local Jamaican specialties, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't eat at least one patty while visiting the island. Every culture seems to have its own type of savory pie, and, in Jamaica, the handheld, pastry-encrusted snack of choice is the beef patty. It typically consists of a seasoned minced beef filling enrobed in a golden, turmeric-scented crust. You can find patties from innumerable businesses in Jamaica, but the scene is dominated by three chains: Mother's, Tastee, and Juici. A Jamaicans.com poll determined that Tastee Patties is the favorite local chain.

Tastee has a long history in Jamaica. It was founded by Vincent Chang, an immigrant from Hong Kong, in 1966. Before starting the business, Chang studied at the American Institute of Baking in Chicago. With his expertise, he built an empire of patty bakeries with dozens of locations scattered across Jamaica.

In addition to the classic beef patty, you can get cheese, chicken, and a Super Patty that's been split open and garnished with fresh vegetables. The patties are just a small part of the chain's modern-day menu, and you can load up on many other classic Jamaican dishes like ackee & saltfish, callaloo (stewed greens), and curried mutton. This is a great place to start your day with a traditional Jamaican breakfast platter.

Cafe Blue

Jamaica's special climate and geography allow the island to produce a wide variety of excellent ingredients. We've already talked about how great the seafood is, but you shouldn't sleep on the coffee either. Jamaican coffee is produced exclusively in the Blue Mountains, a high-altitude region that stretches across about 30 miles in the eastern part of the country. The island's coffee is prized for its smoothness and delicacy.

If you're looking to have breakfast accompanied by a Blue Mountain coffee drink, where better to do that than in the Blue Mountains? Cafe Blue is a small chain with several locations on the island, but the most magical one is in Irish Town, where you can sip your coffee while gazing at the mountain scenery.

The cafe's coffee menu includes classic espresso drinks and iced coffee as well as some signature beverages like the Blue Mountain Fog with nutmeg and rum cream. For food, there is a menu of light nibbles like bagels, pancakes, French toast, salads, and paninis. You can take a bag of coffee home with you to savor a taste of Jamaica after your vacation is over.

HouseBoat Grill

We've already recommended a great seaside restaurant, but what if you want to take things a step further and eat your dinner while actually floating on the ocean? That's where The HouseBoat Grill comes in. The restaurant is in a literal houseboat in the Montego Bay Marine Park Fish Sanctuary in the northwestern part of Jamaica. You have to take a very short ferry ride to visit the restaurant. The HouseBoat Grill has been around for over 20 years, but the boat itself has an even longer history than that. Before it was a restaurant, it served as Steve Mcqueen's lodgings and as a green room for famous musicians like the Beach Boys and Aretha Franklin.

The current incarnation of the HouseBoat Grill is overseen by chef (and avid fisherman) Rich Nurse. The menu pulls influences from all over the world, with European specialties like lemon caper linguine and grilled calamari mixing with Chinese flavors like five-spice powder and Jamaican ingredients like Scotch bonnet peppers. The melange of flavors comes together perfectly and the nautical dining room makes the HouseBoat Grill a dining adventure unlike any other.

The Caves

The Caves is our pick for the most romantic dining destination in Jamaica. Located on the waterfront in Negril on the far west of the island, this exclusive resort is an amazing spot for a couples' getaway.

If you care to venture away from your cozy cottage or luxurious villa, there are several dining options at the resort, including the Bamboo Terrace indoor dining room and the outdoor Gazebo, which serves refined takes on traditional Jamaican breakfasts. There's also a rum bar tucked inside of one of the oceanside caves on the property that has an incredible view of the water. However, for the ultimate date night meal, you have to book one of the private dining options. The resort has turned two caves into private dining rooms so you can enjoy a meal with just your special someone and nobody else. You can gaze at the ocean in a cave strewn with candles and flower petals while eating a five-course meal prepared by one of the resort's chefs. What could be more romantic?

Strawberry Hill

Cafe Blue is a great spot for people who want a taste of the lush greenery of the Blue Mountains, but if you want to stay awhile, Strawberry Hill Resort is the place to be. The restaurant at the resort is worth a visit even if you don't stay the night. Strawberry Hill has attracted celebrities like Bob Marley and Mick Jagger, so you know the food has to be good.

The restaurant uses locally-grown ingredients so it has some of the farm-to-table charm of Stush in the Bush but is served in an even more upscale and refined setting. The menu is prix-fixe and seasonal, so you never know exactly what you're going to get, but expect elevated takes on Jamaican specialties like curried goat. Posh Kingstonians make the trip up to Strawberry Hill for its Sunday brunch, and its desserts are excellent as well.

Special tribute must be paid to Strawberry Hill's drinks program, which owes a debt to retired mixologist Desmond. You can't miss the rum punch, which is the perfect thing to sip while enjoying the refined ambiance of the hotel's bar.

Shanty Man

You can't understand the depth of Jamaica's food culture without learning about Ital food, which is a way of eating that draws on the practices of Rastafarianism, a religion that was born in Jamaica. Although the specific tenets of the Ital diet can vary from person to person, it's generally plant-based and focuses on how food can promote physical and mental health.

Shanty Man is one of the best spots to get Ital food in Jamaica. This small food stall in Gordon Town is named after its founder and longtime sole proprietor who follows the precept that food is medicine. Everything the restaurant serves is plant-based, but you won't miss the meat with hearty dishes like rice and peas (which is a great way to use up leftover rice), turmeric chickpeas, callaloo, and fried plantains.

According to a review on Happy Cow, a new owner has bought the place and replaced the original Shanty Man as the chef, but the business still sells healing plant-based cuisine and fresh juices. Shanty Man is an affordable place to fill up huge portions of nutritious, delicious vegetarian food.

Ibo Spice Portal

If you're looking for an Ital feast a little closer to the heart of Kingston than the Shanty Man, seek out Ibo Spice Portal. The proprietor grows much of the food he serves and sources the rest from local vendors, so you know it's all incredibly fresh.

Don't let this restaurant's humble brick exterior deceive you — inside awaits a magical experience. There's a garden to eat in and a miniature art market offering crafts from local artists. If you care to, you can partake in some cannabis. And the food is top-notch. The menu varies depending on what ingredients are available, but you can count on hearty, complex vegetarian fare served in calabash bowls. Look out for the polenta burger, which uses bricks of fried polenta as the buns and is stuffed with a bean patty, tamarind, vegan cheese, strawberry pepper jelly, and guacamole. The fresh fruit and juices are a highlight as well. And just because you're eating Ital doesn't mean you can't have dessert: Save room for the gluten-free squake, a type of vegan cake.

Moby Dick

Jamaica is known for its curry, which came to the island via British colonization and the arrival of Indian workers around the turn of the 20th century. Moby Dick is the oldest curry restaurant in Kingston. It's been open since 1900, but it only started serving curry once Morlyn and Clinton Mangaroo-McBean bought the place in 1985. Previously, the restaurant had specialized in pork and beans, but the old menu conflicted with the McBeans' Islamic faith.

Moby Dick is reputed to serve Kingston's best curried goat, along with other types of curry and the Indian flatbread roti. All the food is based on Morlyn's recipes. She learned how to cook curry from her Indian grandmother, and the restaurant makes its own special curry powder. In addition to Indian-influenced specialties, Moby Dick also serves Jamaican favorites like escovitch and fried chicken. It's the perfect place to grab a filling lunch while exploring downtown Kingston.