Among the easiest of Caribbean islands to visit during these post-vax times, St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands does not necessitate COVID testing, nor does it require a passport or incur roaming charges. To top it all off, despite what the pandemic did to dining out on many islands, St. Croix actually saw a flourish of restaurants.
Its rural temperament, furthermore, is conducive to the thriving crop of artisan farms and markets that support the vibrant restaurant scene. The island’s balmy, sea-breezy climes have always equated with year-round outdoor dining, and here are 10 of the best for feasting al fresco safely and scenically.
Salt – Great Pond
Don’t be fooled by the backroad location and roadside shack appearance, Salt uses the freshest local ingredients and interpretations to create its craft cocktails and select menu of brunch, lunch and dinner specialties.
The cheese board is always top-of-the-line, or start with the compressed watermelon salad. Pickled red onion and tomato jam spark flavor on the pressed prosciutto panini. Shrimp and ham add to the heartiness of the mac ‘n’ cheese. There’s porch seating, and breeze-through windows in the dining room make it feel open air and islandy.
Savant’s courtyard, the preferred seating option, is tucked into lushness and candlelight. Its old Danish brick accents and 350-year-old above-ground cistern set the historic tone, but the menu goes modern, off-grid eclectic.
From Caribbean stewed lamb to cassava-crusted fish of the day, dishes combine a sense of place with global influences. Savant is a top pick for a romantic night out that delivers in setting, food and service.
Before the pandemic, St. Croix’s second city, Frederiksted, was making headway as a cool hangout, mostly due to the opening of The Fred, a trendy boutique hotel on the water. Now there’s Fred, the restaurant – an oh-so chic place to see and be seen at breakfast, lunch and dinner (no weekend breakfast, though).
Its elegant bar, poolside setting, water views and even its cool restrooms make it the talk of the island. Its menu, too, checks all of the what’s-hot boxes: vegetarian lasagna, chicken and sweet potato waffles, truffle parmesan tots and grilled salmon bowl, for instance.
La Reine Chicken Shack
St. Croix isn’t all about fine dining and million-dollar views. Follow the locals to favorites like the Chicken Shack, a required airport-run stop. Before you take a seat on the open-air porch, peek out back to watch dozens of rotisserie chickens twirling at any given time.
It’s not tough to guess the specialty here, but don’t miss some of the best johnnycakes on the island. There are also other Crucian culinary traditions to choose from: stew oxtail, BBQ ribs and baked macaroni among them.
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The Deep End
Another casual option – but this one with beautiful views of the sea and offshore islands – Deep End is also known for its nightlife. By day, the menu caters to both island and American palates; burgers and fish sandwiches rule.
After 5 p.m., the dinner menu goes slightly more formal with entrees such as seared tuna steak and honey fried chicken. The poolside dining area at Tamarind Reef Resort is entirely open with as little or much overhead coverage as you desire.
The Buccaneer Resort
St. Croix’s most revered historic beachfront property boasts three food and beverage venues, all al fresco with views that drink in water, beach, golf greens or the island’s hilly skyline.
All three restaurants accept reservations and often walk-ins from the public, but The Mermaid, slam on the sand, is most popular with hotel guests and non-guests alike. Lunch and dinner menus offer local seafood along with typical beach café bites. It’s known for its seasonal theme nights built around Mediterranean food, pig roast, Italian cuisine and other buffet specialties.
Also planted on the beach, Beauregard’s is super-casual with light bites. In the manor house, The Terrace opens for breakfast with elevated sweeping views that start the day in the best possible way.
One of St. Croix’s newest eateries, Caroline’s outdoor seating is limited, but the view of Christiansted Harbor makes it worth the wait for its famous breakfast served all day (7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily). There’s also a small lunch menu starting at 11 a.m., and the fresh-juice cocktails are another sure strength.
Do try the salted pretzel cinnamon roll to share as a starter. It’s delicious alone, but you also want to try such specialties as goat cheese and spinach galette, chicken ‘n waffles or five spice bananas foster along with it. Wash it down with the Bloody Maria or something sparkling and juicy.
At lunch, the Caesar gets tossed in tamarind dressing; and fontina and horseradish crème fraiche liven up the French dip.
Another newcomer to the downtown scene, you won’t easily find Hamilton’s. It likes keeping a secret profile, but still the St. Croix foodie crowd fills the place most nights. Its outdoor seating, likewise, hides inside the historic building in an intimate courtyard.
From the exhibition kitchen comes creatively composed seafood and meat dishes such as lamb shank with cremini mushrooms, Cajun seafood tagliatelle and seared wahoo with herb beurre blanc.
Ziggy’s Island Market
When it comes to Ziggy’s, it’s true what they say about finding the best food at gas stations. Its open-air side deck and Libation Station, extensions of the convenience store, are known for cold drinks and hot West Indian food such as saltfish or beef pates (akin to Jamaican patties), curry roti, baked chicken, johnnycakes and banana fritters.
Chef Aaron also cooks up themed dinners and Sunday brunch. From Southwestern shrimp to Chinese pork dumplings to all-American sloppy joes, get it to-go or enjoy it on the deck with the locals in the know.
The Galleon Steaks & Seafood
A longtime tradition at Green Cay Marina, The Galleon recently got a reboot from chef-owner Charles Mereday, who helmed a number of USVI restaurants (including venerable Old Stone Farmhouse on St. Thomas), starting in the late 1990s. His team has cleaned up the space with a focus on the roomy outdoor deck overlooking the yacht harbor.
The water access not only affords luxe views, but means the kitchen receives first dibs on fishermen’s catches. Chef Mereday works his refined comfort-food magic with such dishes as wahoo BLT, shrimp scampi, lamb chops and passion fruit bread pudding.