Seafood is the shining star of many meals here, and for good reason: it’s some of the freshest you’ll ever have. But leave time (and space in your stomach) for local delicacies like iguana soup, funchi, bitterballen, and sweet potato pancakes. Cool off on a hot afternoon with an Amstel Bright (locals just call it “Bright”) and get your evening going with a cocktail—maybe with some blue Curaçao, the national liqueur—at one of Willemstad’s laid-back bars. Here’s our guide to the best restaurants and bars in Curaçao.
Purunchi, tucked away in a nondescript building on the outskirts of Willemstad, is so unassuming you might think you got lost and ended up at someone’s house. (You wouldn’t be wrong, the owners live upstairs.) But walk through the kitchen and you’ll end up at the restaurant on the back porch, with turquoise Caribbean water underfoot and all around you. Calvin Adanus will be filleting just-caught fish in the back corner (which is the whole reason you’re here) and his delightful wife, Gina, will teach you about each piece of fish on your plate (from standards like tuna to the local fave purunchi, which the restaurant is named after). Make a reservation – there’s only room for about 30 people and it fills up quick.
Miles Jazz Cafe
On Saturday nights a live jazz band takes the stage, and they’re fantastic. Locals and tourists pack the small room and spill out onto the tables and chairs outside (where there are also board games to play). Records of jazz legends like Miles Davis (duh) line the walls, and the drinks flow. Come here for a late night, and when you’ve got enough liquid courage, head next door to Happy Bar, which has a karaoke bar where you can belt your heart out.
What they do: Jazz club
Phone: + 599 9 520 5200
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Sunday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Address: 42 Nieuwestraat, Willemstad
This is where locals eat lunch. The “Old Market,” in the heart of downtown, has been converted into a food hall, where a half-dozen independent stalls serve giant helpings of local dishes like snapper, stewed goat, okra soup, and funchi (it’s sort of like polenta). Don’t forget to say hi to the chefs, and try the sweet potato pancakes. Take your time, and eat everything: you’ll get a friendly scolding if you leave food on your plate, just like home.
Hofi Cas Cora
Farm-to-table has arrived in Curaçao. Husband and wife Joshua and Femi Peiliker, who’ve known each other since their childhood on the island, came back from The Netherlands, bought a decrepit former landhuis (plantation in American), and are busy turning the main house into a gorgeous, fresh restaurant and the surrounding land into a farm to support it. The verandah is the perfect spot for a leisurely brunch. The ambiance is what we’re going to call rustic chic, with picnic tables and mismatched chairs, sunlight streaming in the windows, and a warm breeze keeping you cool on the patio. Femi is super happy to talk about their farming techniques and their efforts to restore the property.
You won’t find any local drinks on the menu at Luke’s, and that’s the idea. Dutch-born mixologist Luuk Gerritsen moved to Curaçao sight-unseen to take a job at a hotel bar after years in The Netherlands, and recently ventured out to open his own place. The concept is global cocktails, brought to an island that’s just beginning to discover craft drinks. Our recs: the Tokyo Millionaire and the Campfire Old Fashioned. Don’t forget to buy Luke a shot.
Have you ever thought restaurants would be better if they replaced printed menus with an adorable older gentleman who draws the menu at your table? You’ll love Jaanchi’s in Westpunt, where the titular owner sits down with every. single. customer. and walks through the options of the day. The main attraction: iguana, in stewed or soup form. “It tastes like chicken,” assures Jaanchi. The place is packed with family history: Jaanchi’s grandmother and father missed their boat from Bonaire to Curaçao, and good thing — it shipwrecked off the coast, with only one survivor. When they finally arrived months later, they opened a coffee corner in Westpunt, where the restaurant stands today.
This is your fancy meal. Fresh, local seafood is the star here, with main courses like swordfish, tuna, snapper, scallops, and – our favorite – a seafood platter so you can try everything. Hailing from the Dutch fishing village of Urk (also now on our bucket list), chef/owner partners Michelle and Auke opened Fishalicious in 2009, and have been getting rave reviews ever since. (Photo courtesy of Fishalicious)
Mundo Bizarro is the perfect spot for a few cocktails before wandering the cobblestone, twinkle light-lined streets of Pietermaai in central Willemstad. The main room on the first floor is full of delightfully mismatched furniture and antique frames. The bartender at the mosaic-covered bar will hook you up with your drink of choice, whether that’s just a smoothie or something with a little kick, like a margarita or a caipirinha. The upstairs patio gets a nice breeze if it’s a hot night. If you feel like dancing, Saturday night they’ve got live music and salsa starting at around 10 p.m.. (It’s also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner too, if that’s your thing)
When you step through the historic gates onto St. Tropez’s back patio, you find the chill ocean vibe a lot of Miami hotels aim for but never quite get. Waves crash against the rocks just a few feet from the sprawling pool, giant lounge chairs, and restaurant (you won’t get wet). Let the bartender make you a cocktail, grab a seat, and enjoy the breeze. There’s also a beautiful boutique hotel upstairs.
Hilton Curaçao Bar
Okay, okay, we know a hotel bar is kind of a basic recommendation, but this one is legit. Try the Blue Hawaiian which has a hint of coconut and the country’s official liqueur, the Blue Curaçao. The nonstop breeze keeps the mosquitoes at bay, and the gorgeous #views from the private beach are the only entertainment you need.
Curaçao has its own liqueur, and while it’s been put to some unfortunate uses in the US (looking at you, blue motorcycle), it makes delicious drinks if you know how to use it. The best place to learn: Landhius Chobolobo, home of Senior & Co’s “Genuine Curaçao Liqueur,” which is the only one produced on the island. It’s made from the peel of the Laraha orange, a small, bitter citrus that evolved from Valencia oranges, brought by the Spaniards, which couldn’t survive Curaçao’s climate. Years later, someone stepped on a Laraha, discovered the fragrance, and turned it into booze. That’s our kind of inventor.