Good Vibes, Great Food in St. John

Enjoy some of the best cuisine on the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Savor pan-Caribbean specialties, Asian fusion and local beach-joint fare.

Though snorkeling is hardly strenuous—generally falling somewhere between floating and staring on the Exertion Scale—you somehow emerge epically famished every time. Hence the linebacker’s appetite you’ll acquire while on near-mandatory daily snorkel sessions on your St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands vacation. Conveniently, “land of great restaurants” describes the place equally well. And of course, the food (from Caribbean staples to Asian fusion) tastes just as good whether you’ve spent the day under water, on a beach or in a hammock. Here are a few top restaurants to check out when you go dining on St. John.

1. Asolare

You know those beautiful, view-commanding restaurants that serve thoroughly mediocre food? This isn’t one of them. Despite its singular bay and sea views and quietly elegant spaces (think stone archways and terraces), Asolare doesn’t try to get by on its looks. The food, which is generally of the Asian Fusion variety, is just as big a draw. Crowd pleasers include curry coconut shrimp and the sashimi tuna with plum-passion fruit sake vinaigrette. And don’t skip dessert, particularly if you’re leaning toward the chocolate pyramid cake. You’ll swim it off tomorrow anyway. Estate Lindholm; tel. 340-779-4747.

2. Morgan’s Mango

Though there’s a list of about 30 frozen drinks at this Cruz Bay classic, go easy on them before your meal. They’re massive and often dessert-y (e.g., the Chobaco: chocolate, bananas, cream and booze). And Morgan’s is one place where you don’t want to—as your mother would say—ruin your appetite. The pan-Caribbean offerings are too good. And we do mean pan-Caribbean: There’s everything from Haitian Voodoo Snapper (with “spicy black magic seasoning”) to St. Lucian Coconut Shrimp to Jamaican Jerk Chicken. And the Vegetarian Plate, a combination of beans, rice and crazy-tasty regional veggies, wins over even the most ardent ominivores. Cruz Bay; tel. 340-693-8141.

3. Shipwreck Landing

The consummate laid-back beach joint, this Coral Bay fixture serves the most addictive munchies on the island—not least, the fries. Get an order going before you do anything else. But make sure you ask for the “fat fries,” which are somehow even tastier than the standard skinny ones (among regulars, there’s a prevailing theory as to why: increased surface area for salting). Another must-order is the Raspberry Mango Colada, or RMC in local parlance. And if you’re what the restaurant deems “too late for lunch, too early for dinner,” a brief survey of your fellow 4 to 6 p.m. diners will lead you directly to the conch fritters. Coral Bay; tel. 340-693-5640.

4. Le Chateau de Bordeaux

You could go here by night for the fine dining. And you’d be duly pleased with the West filet mignon or the roasted rack of lamb. But if you can forgo the haute stuff (and the Victorian linens that remind you of the restaurant’s colonial residential past), go by day instead and have patio-grilled burgers and a cold, Caribbean beer. Perched particularly high up, the Chateau boasts the island’s best views, and they’re best seen in sunlight—though moonlight is a close second. In fact, you may need to try both. Bordeaux Mountain, Cruz Bay; tel. 340-776-6611.

5. Equator

Founded by the notoriously nature-loving Laurance Rockefeller, the island’s most secluded resort is also its poshest: Caneel Bay. To get a taste of the place even if you’re staying elsewhere, make a reservation at Equator. Set amid the ruins of an 18th-century sugar mill, the restaurant surrounds a stone column where mules once crushed sugarcane. Perhaps in a nod to the crop, the warm Mango Crisp uses a direct descendent of cane (rum) to particularly decadent effect. Not that you’ll have much room for dessert: From Julius’ West Indian Chicken Roti with Manzano Banana and Mango Chutney to the Pan Seared Mahi Mahi with Sautéed Wild Mushroom Caribbean Lentil Stew, a meal here is best enjoyed in, say, a drawstring skirt. Caneel Bay; tel. 340-776-6111.

Destinations: U.S. Virgin Islands, Saint John

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat