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Go "local" in Turks and Caicos

CaribDesi Jan 3, 2012 10:55 AM

We first visited the Turks and Caicos Islands thirteen years ago, and have returned annually ever since. It's become our favorite vacation destination, not just for the sand, sun, and water, but also for the food.

No, I'm not only talking about the latest fusion creations prepared by classically trained chefs at the most expensive and posh restaurants.. Rather, I'm recommending that visiting "Chowhounds" experience the local foods, skillfully prepared by generational cooks whose formal training was at the apron strings of mothers and grandmothers. Yes, Belongers (TCI citizens) call it "island food," but you might notice some aspects of Creole, Cajun, Soul Food, and LowCountry cuisine. After all, this is where all those forms of American southern cuisine evolved from.

I'm a Southern boy, born and bred, and my accent doesn't hide the fact. So, I've got to admit that I was taken back when I first experienced Turks and Caicos "island food." We stopped by the former "Smokey's on da Bay" in Blue Hills for dinner one night, after returning from a day trip to Grand Turk. For the first time in my life, I tasted authentic Caribbean steamed fish, peas & rice, sweet plantains, vegetables, etc., and thought, "Oh my gosh, this is my grandmother's food." Yes, that was the first time I realized that Southern "soul food" wasn't "born" in the South.

When visiting the Turks and Caicos Islands, I highly recommend that you go off the "beaten path," and experience some true Caribbean cuisine. Favorite local restaurants of ours include Hole in the Wall (near the airport), Smokey's (now located across from The Veranda Resort), Ricky's Flamingo Cafe (curried grouper melts in your mouth), Three Queens (Blue Hills), Da Conch Shack and Horse-eye Jacks (also in Blue Hills), Club Sodax (on Leeward Hwy., my favorite lunch spot), and Middle Caicos Cafe (across from The Alexandra Resort). These are all located on the island of Providenciales, but you'll also find great local eateries on North and Middle Caicos, Grand Turk, and Salt Cay -- just ask around.

There are many wonderful fine-dining restaurants in the TCI, and we enjoy them also. However, mixing your vacation dining with delicious local options is a great way to not only save $$, but also experience and appreciate the local culture.

If you've not visited the Turks and Caicos, or haven't visited in a while, here are some good websites to research:

www.wherewhenhow.tc -- a great dining guide, especially higher-end restaurants

www.turksandcaicosreservations.tc -- great site for hotel / resort / villa comparisons, rates, specials, and reservations. They're located on the island, and know what they're talking about.

www.wherewhenhow.com -- general information

Hope this helps.

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  1. m
    madamebatignolles RE: CaribDesi Jan 3, 2012 03:08 PM

    We are thinking of Turks and Caicos for our next trip. If you rent a condo how are the supermarkets? Thanks for your list.

    5 Replies
    1. re: madamebatignolles
      CaribDesi RE: madamebatignolles Jan 3, 2012 03:23 PM

      There are two modern grocery stores on the main island of Providenciales -- Graceway IGA, and Graceway Gourmet. You'll find just about all the items you'll find in the States, although prices tend to be a bit higher. Most items are flown in, driving up the costs.

      Here's a link that shows Graceway Gourmet, located in the heart of the resort district. It's a very nice store, IMO.


      1. re: CaribDesi
        madamebatignolles RE: CaribDesi Jan 3, 2012 06:12 PM

        Thanks alot! We change island each year or 2 years we went to Martinique nice island, no good grocey, Guadeloupe a little bit better, Antigua and Ste-Lucie . Now in St-Marteen for 10weeks and looking for a change. Turks and Caicos look great!

        1. re: madamebatignolles
          Veggo RE: madamebatignolles Jan 3, 2012 06:27 PM

          You need a change from volcanic islands to a reef island and enjoy more conch and lobster!

          1. re: Veggo
            madamebatignolles RE: Veggo Jan 3, 2012 07:01 PM

            Need good food, beach with shade don't like nightlife.... we rent a car and spend +/- 800 to 1000$ per week for appartment or villa not necessarily on ocean front... Apart Turks and Caicos another idea!

            1. re: madamebatignolles
              Veggo RE: madamebatignolles Jan 3, 2012 07:33 PM

              Either of the two Ocean Clubs would work for you, and they are on Grace Bay. Classy, quiet, safe, kitchens. Left hand drive on T&C.

    2. Monica RE: CaribDesi Jan 3, 2012 07:11 PM

      I wish I had read about these places before I left. I just came back from Turks and Caicos and I vowed that I will never ever go back to Turks and Caicos as long as I live. I thought the island had no culture what so ever. All locals basically lived off of the tourists. Food prices were super expensive and basically everything in the supermarket were imported from Florida. We tried some restaurants and every single place was a joke especially for the prices they were charging. I have traveled quite a bit and Turks and Caicos is on my only do not visit again list.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Monica
        Veggo RE: Monica Jan 3, 2012 07:45 PM

        The best food values are in Blue Hills as CaribDesi suggests, which belongs to the "Belongers" , (save for a stray condo development on the west point). But even da Conch Shack is fairly expensive. The Missick family that governed the island for decades ate there regularly, their shiny black Escalades always in the parking area at meal time. Then they were thrown out of office 2 years ago for corrupt practices. A few spots are reasonable in Turtle Cove where the dive trade eat (Tiki Hut for happy hour, Baci for pizza), plus the lobster packing plants near the South Dock. Grace Bay resto prices are goofy. Anacaona, especially. But that is the area where rooms approach $1000 per night in season, and attracts the very wealthy. My family had a house there in Richmond Hill from 1989 until I sold it a few years ago, partly because I agree with some of your points, and partly because few came to visit!

        But it is beautiful.

        1. re: Veggo
          Monica RE: Veggo Jan 4, 2012 08:16 AM

          Are you kidding? we tried both the Tiki hut and Baci and I rather eat potato chips and water than eat their food again. I also tried the Conch Shack..price besides, I wasn't impressed with their grilled fish. The conch salad was decent but that's about it.
          But yeah, it is a beautiful island but I believe there are better islands down there.

          1. re: Monica
            Ziggy41 RE: Monica Jan 8, 2014 04:44 PM

            Monica OMG... I'm a tiny bit late to this party ;)
            You now MUST come back. All you need to do is do so the second week of July (when I'm there) or in 2 weeks (when Desi is there) thats all. You just ate at all the wrong places (villa at turtle cove?). There's NYC quality food abound

            Now we def should meet for lunch in midtown somewhere to discuss your future plans ;)

            1. re: Ziggy41
              CaribDesi RE: Ziggy41 Jan 8, 2014 09:17 PM

              Ziggy, if you don't already know, is a local food enthusiast / critic in New York City. He's also a very nice guy, and apparently he moonlights as a travel agent. :) Glad you joinred this party, Zig!

        2. re: Monica
          CaribDesi RE: Monica Jan 3, 2012 07:57 PM

          I guess no vacation destination is perfect for everyone.

          Like most destinations, if you only dine at tourist-oriented and resort / hotel restaurants, you'll most likely not experience the local food / culture, and you'll probably spend a small fortune.

          Lessons we've all learned -- usually the hard way. ;-)

          BTW, we've stayed at Ocean Club West (4X) since it was mentioned, along with seven other TCI resort properties. I've yet to come across a "bad" Grace Bay hotel or resort. It's a great vacation destination, and we hope to return in a few months.

          Another "BTW," don't order your steamed fish as a grouper fillet --- ask for a whole snapper, prepared wiith head-on. The juices remain, and the fish is delicious. Horse-eye Jack's and Club Sodax have the best steamed fish these days, IMO.

          Exception : Ricky's Flamingo Cafe has the best curried grouper fillet on the island, IMO. Go for it!

          1. re: CaribDesi
            Veggo RE: CaribDesi Jan 3, 2012 08:09 PM

            I would add that as for culture, Titus de Boer and his mom did more to introduce talented artists from Haiti (150 km south) to the world at his Bamboo Gallery than probably anyone anywhere.

            1. re: CaribDesi
              Monica RE: CaribDesi Jan 4, 2012 08:19 AM

              That's the thing, it was very hard to find non touristy places in that island. Unless you have some kind of inside info, there is no way you can find these small places you are talking about. But then I am pregnant so I wasn't going to risk going to those places.
              St John for example had excellent foods...both local and even at touristy places.

          2. c
            cleobeach RE: CaribDesi Jan 4, 2012 08:17 AM

            I agree that the food and drink on Provo is rather expensive. Everything must be imported and, at last I knew, the only tax that exists in the T & C is import duties/taxes. (No income tax, social security, captial gains, etc.)

            Our first trip to Provo was in 2003 and I remember eating at several local places in Blue Hills. The names, sadly, escape me now.

            We visited the Tiki Hut on several occasions that trip (and again during subsequent trips) and until the day he died, my father foundly remembered his meals of curried goat.

            We very much enjoyed our multiple visits to Da Conch Shack doing our last visit, which was in low season and it appeared the bulk of the customers were "Belongers."

            7 Replies
            1. re: cleobeach
              Veggo RE: cleobeach Jan 4, 2012 09:01 AM

              Residency fees for non-belongers on T&C are something above $1000/year, and there is a one-time tax on real estate transfers of up to 9.75%.

              1. re: Veggo
                crewsweeper RE: Veggo Jan 5, 2012 09:56 AM

                Has anyone eaten at any spot on Grand Turk? We're there on a cruise in April. Thus far I've heard about near the cruiseport:Margaritaville(which I avoid like the plague), Jack's Shack (mostly burgers and such with limited jerk chicken); and in Cockburntown:Barbies: which supposedly is a local's dive with conch fritters and pasties, neither of which look good in photos I've seen. Veggo, need someplace like our friend Jaime's in Costa Maya :).


                1. re: crewsweeper
                  CaribDesi RE: crewsweeper Jan 7, 2012 02:06 PM

                  Crewsweeper, it's been a few years since we spent time on Grand Turk. At that time, we were basically the only tourists on the island (cruise port had yet to open), and I don't recall the names of the two places where we dined. For that matter, they may not still be open.

                  Best advice is to ask a TCI resident (called "Belongers") you meet. I've honestly gotten the best dining tips from Belongers, when asking, "Where do you and your family like to eat out?"

                  If you ask a resort concierge or cruise director, they're going to send you to the local tourist spot, everytime -- that's either all they know, or what they think you're looking for.

                  Hope this helps. :-)

                  1. re: CaribDesi
                    madamebatignolles RE: CaribDesi Jan 7, 2012 08:38 PM

                    You are so wright! Everywhere in the world it is my favorite way to plan dinner! When you stop for lunch ask the waiter about <the> place he or she would go but I also ask the concierge about local hole in the wall and it also work pretty well!

                    1. re: CaribDesi
                      crewsweeper RE: CaribDesi Jan 9, 2012 09:28 AM

                      Sage advice. Thank you.

                      1. re: CaribDesi
                        crewsweeper RE: CaribDesi Apr 24, 2012 10:51 AM

                        We wound up at the SandBar on Front Street across fromt he SaltRaker Inn. Deck on the beach. Cracked conch and Fish Bites. Two women running the place, and I mean they were both running to keep up with the lunch crowd. Cold Turks Head. We were looking for Regel Begel and a "belonger" steered us away saying it had closed. food being served at Bohio Beach didn't look that appetizing. FWIW, there is a spot on the beach between Margaritaville and Jack's callled Local Village that has a preety decent beach food menu on its blackboard. Might try that next time. Truly little on the island beyond the cruise center and resorts.

                  2. re: cleobeach
                    CaribDesi RE: cleobeach Jan 4, 2012 11:43 AM

                    I'm not a big fan of the regular Tiki Hut menu either, although their Wednesday night ribs are tasty, and a great value. We've also never dined at Baci, mostly because Italian food isn't high on our list when visiting the tropics -- always looking for foods we don't normally eat at home.

                    Some of our favorite higher-end TCI restaurants include Coco Bistro, Magnolia Restaurant & Wine Bar, Bay Bistro, Coyaba, Grace's Cottage, and Caicos Cafe. Seaside Cafe (located at Ocean Club West) is under new management, and I greatly enjoyed their grilled Caribbean lobster last month -- a pleasant surprise, after not dining there for several years.

                    No two people are ever going to agree on all the same restaurants, but these forums are a great way to share a little inside information. :-)

                  3. v
                    vinoduo RE: CaribDesi Feb 4, 2012 05:58 AM

                    Couldn't agree more with your "go local" suggestions! We just finished our first visit to TCI and our favorite restaurants, by far, were where the locals go. First prize goes to Smokey's, which, as you note, just moved from Blue Hills to Grace Bay, directly across from Veranda's and Alexandra Resort. Ambiance - 0. The restaurant looks like a Knights of Columbus or Elks hall. Food - 10. The best conch fritters anywhere; better than da Conch Shack by far. Fantastic jerk chicken; rice and peas with a mysterious spice that still resonates. Smokey himself is a Belonger who told us he was the oldest of 8 kids and grew up cooking for them. This is island food at its best.

                    Other local favorites: Middle Caicos Cafe (a few blocks from Smokey's); not on the beach, fantastic fish sandwich; and Flamingo Cafe; on Grace Bay just past ClubMed. Owned by a Jamaican man and his TCI wife. Yes, it's a tourist magnet but close your eyes and you'll think you're on the beach in Negril.

                    And for the best lime sorbet you have ever had in your life, go to the bar at the Bay Bistro (Sibonney resort). Single scoop order is enough to send you home very happy. Small strands of lime rind dot the sorbet. We went every evening for our "nightcap."

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: vinoduo
                      CaribDesi RE: vinoduo Mar 3, 2012 09:11 PM

                      vinoduo, Smokey's definitely one of the island characters.

                      Believe it or not, my wife and I enjoyed our 20th anniversary dinner at Smokey's restaurant, when he was briefly located across from Turtle Cove Marina. I told the waitress it was our 20th, and Smokey came out of the kitchen, wishing my wife a happy 20th "birthday." Yep, he's not only a great cook, but he also knows how to charm the ladies. :-)

                    2. Beach Chick RE: CaribDesi Feb 4, 2012 06:55 AM

                      Love love love Turks and Caicos...
                      Thanks CaribDesi for the reminder to get my butt back down there!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Beach Chick
                        CaribDesi RE: Beach Chick Apr 12, 2012 11:33 AM

                        Just an update -- word is that "Sailing Paradise" has recently re-opened in Blue Hills, and is better than ever.

                        If you're familiar with Blue Hills, but not the Sailing Paradise restaurant, it's located in the colorful, wood-frame buildings, along the beachfront. Can't wait to return there this summer.

                      2. o
                        outonbail RE: CaribDesi May 29, 2012 12:59 PM

                        I just returned from a trip to Provo and was quite pleasantly surprised. I was there for a friend's wedding and spent a couple days at a resort. I actually got food poisoning from one of the resort restaurants and was really glad to be able to get out and enjoy some of the local fare. I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to find any good local places but got some great advice here. What did we do before Chowhound?

                        I have to agree with other posters that the best places are in Blue Hills. We ate right on the beach at Da Conch Shack one night and Sailing Paradise another. Both were quite good. Sailing Paradise seems to be straight out of the 80s from the name to the paint job but apparently has just opened (or maybe re-opened) a few weeks ago. If you're going to Provo definitely take a drive out to Blue Hills and try at least these two places.

                        I had jerk ribs at Da Conch Shack which were quite good, my girlfriend had creole fish which we both thought was just beautiful. My favourite meal had to be the curried goat at Sailing Paradise, my girlfriend had foil-steamed fish which was light and delicate and very tasty. We tried Smokey's as well, the food was good especially the short ribs, and the peas and rice have a lovely allspice and clove flavour but the atmosphere is just OK as others have mentioned and the prices seemed a little higher than other places we tried. We also tried Ricky's Flamingo Cafe but were not terribly impressed. The beach-side tables are good and the conch salad was excellent, the rest of the food was OK but a little below the standards set by the Blue Hills joints.

                        To get to Da Conch Shack just follow the Leeward highway to the Blue Hills turnoff then follow the signs for Horse Eye Jack's, Da Conch Shack is right next door. Sailing Paradise is a little farther down the same road.

                        I wish I had more time to explore a few more of the local places on Provo, we ran out of meals before we ran out of places to try. The prices are probably slightly higher than what you're used to paying at home -- starters $10-$15, mains $15-$20 -- but I don't think they're terribly out of line and when you get great food, especially amazingly fresh seafood, and a seaside table at sunset, that's a dining experience I don't mind paying for.

                        1. c
                          Cheesesteak RE: CaribDesi Jul 11, 2012 07:02 AM

                          This is some great info! I'm heading to TCI in August and wanted to see if anyone had anything new to add? Anything there that I absolutely should not miss?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Cheesesteak
                            CaribDesi RE: Cheesesteak Jul 11, 2012 09:23 AM

                            Cheesesteak, we were back again, just a few weeks ago. Glad to report that I can add Sailing Paradise (located in Blue Hills) to the list of great local restaurants. They re-opened a couple of months ago, and serve terrific steamed fish. The jerk and curry dishes are also very good, but might be a bit too hot for some. You can always ask them to tone down the heat.

                            Unfortunately, Club Sodax was destroyed by a fire since we last visited. No word of re-opening.

                            Other than traditional local food, we also enjoyed very good meals at Coco Bistro, Caicos Cafe, Las Brisas, Mango Reef, Magnolia Restaurant, and Seaside Cafe. If looking for inexpensive baked goods and pastries, be sure to check out Caicos Bakery, located at Port of Call.

                            Hope this helps. Have a great vacation.

                            1. re: CaribDesi
                              Cheesesteak RE: CaribDesi Jul 12, 2012 08:18 AM

                              Carib, thank you so much for all the great info. I love spicy, so there will be no need at all to tone it down. Do you have any info about the full moon parties down there? We'll be around for a full moon next month and there are a few places that have beach bbq's to celebrate. Is that anything worth looking into?

                              1. re: Cheesesteak
                                Veggo RE: Cheesesteak Jul 12, 2012 08:40 AM

                                You should sign up for the T&C Islands newsletter -www.enews.tc - it is e-mailed weekly and includes a calendar of upcoming events.

                                1. re: Veggo
                                  Cheesesteak RE: Veggo Jul 12, 2012 11:02 AM

                                  Great, thanks!

                          2. c
                            CheesyWiner RE: CaribDesi Oct 3, 2012 10:19 AM

                            Thanks so much. We are heading down there at the end of this month for a first time visit. Appreciate the more casual venues especially since we will have a baby with us. Did anyone find a place to pick up fresh seafood to cook at home at reasonable prices?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: CheesyWiner
                              Veggo RE: CheesyWiner Oct 3, 2012 11:35 AM

                              Lobster season is open so you should go the the lobster packing plants about 4:00 - 4:30 weekdays for some fresh tails. Check at the IGA in the morning, and if they have conch from the farm they will clean it for you and make a nice conch salad you can pick up later in the day and it keeps a few days. Fin fish like grouper and snapper are getting scarce and expensive.

                            2. c
                              CaribDesi RE: CaribDesi Oct 17, 2012 08:32 AM

                              A new local restaurant opened last week, that's in the heart of the main tourist district. Here's a link to a blog that tells about it. Can't wait to give it a try this January.

                              1. Beach Chick RE: TCIknowitall Jan 4, 2014 07:26 AM

                                Another option on that private chef is on a boat, provisioned with fab food and drink, bare boating around the Turks. .
                                Nothing like jumping off the bridge/bow into turquoise water.


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Beach Chick
                                  Veggo RE: Beach Chick Jan 4, 2014 07:35 AM

                                  In addition, the humpback whale migration begins in a couple weeks, through March ,when the cows bring their calves into the shallower (50 ft) sand flats to feed them. They actually press them down on the sand, and the milk is the consistency of cottage cheese. Fascinating to watch as a diver. The fishing and dive boats keep close track of the moving pods by radio as they surface, so the whale watching boats almost always enjoy sightings.

                                  1. re: Veggo
                                    Beach Chick RE: Veggo Jan 4, 2014 07:46 AM

                                    That must be incredible to watch at 50ft which would be fantastic to experience.
                                    I'm a skin diver or I'll hookah..
                                    Living at the beach in La Jolla, you can see the whales migrating down to Baja..March in Maui is awesome to watch the breach shows..
                                    Best was in Moorea, Tahiti, in Cooks Bay on our bday and the killer whales made a very rare appearance..
                                    They knew who was on shore..hee hee

                                    Diving and eating in French Polynesia.

                                    Beyond solid

                                    ¡Viva 916 mi amour!

                                2. c
                                  CaribDesi RE: CaribDesi Jan 5, 2014 04:21 AM

                                  We're heading back again in just two weeks. Got a great deal at The Somerset, booked through Turks and Caicos Reservations.Those guys are great.
                                  It's Caribbean lobster season, and I can't wait to try some delicious, local lobster. I'm in culinary heaven! It makes us forget about this terrible winter weather, here in the States.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: CaribDesi
                                    Ziggy41 RE: CaribDesi Jan 8, 2014 04:35 PM

                                    Desi, have a blast. Your old fave grilled calamari at Caicos Cafe is alive and kicking.

                                    I found this thread by pure accident.. OMG

                                    1. re: CaribDesi
                                      efgrand RE: CaribDesi Apr 20, 2014 08:29 AM

                                      Hi CaribDesi,
                                      I stumbled upon this thread while looking for local restaurant options in Turks and Caicos. My fiance and I will be going on our honeymoon in June and are staying at Grace Bay Club. As some of the posts in this thread are a bit old, I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for local restaurants that are currently still standing and are in that area? We'd be willing to travel to other areas as well for good food :) It's our first time going to Turks and Caicos and we much prefer finding places that are, like you said, "off the beaten path". Plus, we don't want to get completed ripped off! Any suggestions at all would be greatly appreciated!

                                      1. re: efgrand
                                        Veggo RE: efgrand Apr 20, 2014 08:44 AM

                                        Be wary of Anacaona restaurant at the Grace Bay Club. It is lovely but probably the most expensive restaurant on the island.

                                        1. re: efgrand
                                          Ziggy41 RE: efgrand Apr 24, 2014 05:34 AM

                                          Are you planning to rent a car?

                                      2. Monica RE: CaribDesi Apr 24, 2014 06:19 AM

                                        I am going down to DR with a family next month..food won't be good but at least it will be all you can eat. ha.

                                        Food isn't the only reason why I am not going back to Turks and Caicos...the whole island vibe i didn't like.

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