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Jan 3, 2012 10:55 AM

Go "local" in Turks and Caicos

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: -- a great dining guide, especially higher-end restaurants -- great site for hotel / resort / villa comparisons, rates, specials, and reservations. They're located on the island, and know what they're talking about. -- general information

Hope this helps.

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  1. 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

      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

        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

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

          1. re: Veggo

            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

              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. 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.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Monica

        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

          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

            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

              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!

              1. re: Ziggy41

                So Ziggy -- hopefully this is not a private party :-)
                We are going to Provo end of January and we definitely want to find those 'right' places (and we DEFINITELY do not like tourist-y places. Can you give a heads up, even if you are not going to be there?

                1. re: pdxmaven

                  Well, I got news for you. All of the places just about will be "Touristy" as in establishments that are mainly for tourists. You just need to find where the good stuff is

                  The one place that you may not find any tourists is Three Queens which is as local as it gets. Its about 30 minutes from the resorts and I highly recommend it for lunch


                  I would do at least one meal at Caicos Cafe. We normally do 2
                  One meal at Le Bouchon for the steak, escargot, tuna, soups. Many locals dine here as well.
                  Coco Bistro continues to deliver. Still the most popular place on the island
                  Seaside Cafe at least for lunch for the Peruvian conch salad, lobster risotto, tuna sashimi. Dinner may be better. I now prefer Seaside over Bay Bistro for beach side dining

                  Flamingos for the curried grouper is a must for lunch
                  Chinsons for ribs and chicken, although I hear the ribs guy just quit so its Chinsons for chicken unless they hired him back
                  You may enjoy Thursday night Fish Fry, sampling all sorts of local food
                  If you'll have a car and plan on Taylor Bay, do Bugaloos, or Las Brisas for the views. I prefer the former for local cuisine
                  If you need to stay near the resorts, we like Hemingways for the fish tacos, fish and chips. And Cabana's if you are on the other side


                  CaribDesi, if you reading, how is it going?

          2. re: Monica

            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

              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

                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. 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

                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

                  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

                    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

                      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

                          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

                      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. 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

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

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          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.