By Alexander Britell and Guy Britton
A tent, a grill and a menu on a blackboard.
Sometimes the most delicious places to eat in the Caribbean are smoke-filled shacks set on the side of the road.
And when you’re in St Maarten, local spots like these are an art form.
St Maarten has long been one of the Caribbean’s culinary capitals — and while the honor is well deserved, it’s as much thanks to local eateries as it is to its fine-dining establishments.
And thanks to the Dutch Caribbean hotspot’s place as one of the hubs of the Caribbean, immigrants from all over the region and the Americas have helped cultivate a rich, diverse tapestry of cuisine from Dominican food to Trinidadian food to the spicy flavors of Suriname.
That means a broad offering of local dining destinations, from roadside shacks to classic Creole eateries and everything in between.
In other words, if you want to eat like a local in St Maarten, you can. And this is how to do it.
Mark’s Place This full-fledged St Maarten institution in Little Bay serves up a range of Creole and St Maarten specialties. But everybody comes for the ribs, particularly the $24 all-you-can-eat rib dinner.
Semple’s This Guyanese barbecue joint has been here for more than a decade, and locals will argue whether the roti or the ribs are the signature dish. Our money’s on the roti, but you can’t go wrong with either.
The Jerk and Roti Hut Roti is something of an art form in St Maarten, and while roti shops abound on the Dutch side, this Jamaican outpost gives you the best of two worlds: scintillating jerk chicken and terrific roti (oh, and delicious patties and other Jamaican specialties, too).
Oasis Food and Drink Locals come here all day long, but Oasis truly comes alive in the late-night hours when everyone descends on the Simpson Bay eatery for stew oxtail, garlic conch and shrimp.
St Maarten Pica Pollo The Dominican community brought Pica Pollo, a form of chopped and fried chicken, to St Maarten, and now it’s become a local delicacy at restaurants like this in the heart of Simpson Bay. Because you come here for one thing: the chicken.
Caribbean Jerkie Is this the best barbecue chicken in St Maarten? It’s certainly right near the top, the sort of eatery where when you arrive you’re told “you come to the right place.” Come here for the chicken, the ribs and, on weekends, the pork. It’s open all day and all night.
The Original Fat Boy Jimmy’s Another local institution, you can’t miss the sign (or the name) as you arrive in Philipsburg. While the barbecue is top notch, Fat Boy’s is also home to some of St Maarten’s best fried fish.
Lick Da Plate This beloved eatery in Philipsburg is a mix of Chinese and classic St Maarten cuisine, with a buffet concept that means you eat by the pound — choose your food, bring it to the scale, weight it and then try and avoid scales for the next few weeks.
Shieka’s If you’re here on a cruise or strolling the historic streets of Philipsburg, this Back Street signature is your spot. Shieka’s is a who’s who of St Maarten, drawing a unique cross-section of patrons thanks to its delightful French and Dutch cuisine. If it’s on the menu, make sure you get the stir-fry christophine (it’s the best local spot for vegetarians, too).
La Bomba Cole Bay’s go-to is La Bomba, home to as good a selection of St Maarten’s classic dishes as you’ll find anywhere on the island. There’s everything from chicken satay to fried chicken to stew goat and some seriously good boiled yucca.
Captain’s Rib Shack One of the most popular places to eat in Simpson Bay, this roadside shack is, unsurprisingly, famous for its ribs, which, if you notice a trend, is arguably the most popular local dish in St Maarten. But at Captain’s, they take things to another level entirely.
The Rooster Buffet and Lounge Another celebrated local buffet, this Simpson Bay standout is one of the most beloved places to eat in all of St Maarten – but you may not be able to find a seat, so get your goods to go.
Want to plan your meal? Check out our map of all of St Maarten’s local food destinations.