Whew! That last post on diving in Roatan was more time-intensive than I had expected with all the underwater photo edits while relearning Photoshop. But it brought back great memories of my trip and how much I love love LOVE to dive.
Now, allow me to direct your attention from underwater photo gawking to my favorite above water activity – EATING!
This was an all girls trip and the four of us rented a villa atop Half Moon Bay. Despite having a full kitchen stocked with all the necessary cooking appliances plus cooking implements, we hardly used it except to make breakfast and to heat up the restaurant leftovers as we ate out every day for lunch and dinner.
From Thai to Argentinian to Indian to local cuisine and much more, there was no shortage of dining options for just this small section of Roatan.
The places we dined at were all located in West End within walking distance of our villa. We always ate out in the fresh air as all the restaurants were al fresco. Many menus were priced in local currency (lempiras) but US dollars were widely excepted.
So here’s what and where we ate…
Lighthouse Restaurant and Bar
Recommended by many online travel resources and even the gentleman sitting on the plane next to me for its fish tacos, I had the Lighthouse on my mind even before I stepped foot onto Roatan. The deal was sealed when I discovered that it was only steps away from our villa.
The setting seemed perfect. Our first night on a Caribbean island, sitting on a wooden terrace under a semi-starry sky, overlooking the water with a sweeping view of the West End coastline, dining by kerosene lamp, and catching up with college friends that I hadn’t seen in a long while.
The menu looked promising even though the sole reason I was sent there (fish tacos) was missing from the menu as we were informed that it was only served at lunch. So we ordered spicy fish wraps, fried conch balls, guacamole, seafood ceviche, and chicken wings with plantains.
Sipping larger-than-life margaritas and beer, we listened to music that ranged from jazzy French to Gloria Estefan to Gypsy Kings – the music selection at the Lighthouse could only be described as…eclectic. The staff seemed friendly and eager to please.
The food slowly arrived and was barely visible under the light of the kerosene lamp (let alone be photographed!). We quickly tucked in after I attempted a few photos.
The verdict? We each had different reasons for not enjoying the food. For me, it was the use of too much cumin. Both the guacamole and the seafood ceviche were completely overpowered by it and I just couldn’t enjoy those dishes at all. I did, however, like the spicy chicken wings and the spicy fish wraps.
Either I am a glutton for punishment, or I was hoping that the highly recommended fish tacos would redeem the dinner experience, but I returned to the Lighthouse for lunch the next day.
Sadly, it was another disappointing meal. The filling of fish, lettuce, tomato, onions and mayonnaise was not what I had expected but was tasty enough. However, the major disappointment was the flour tortilla. It was so thick and chewy – almost inedible.
Luckily it was the only negative experience of the week (for me) and it was all uphill from there.
On our first full morning on Roatan, my friend Nic and I went on a 5-mile run around the town of West End and then it was off to our first day of diving which I have always found to be the most tiring.
By early evening I was exhausted and all I could think of was STEAK.
We asked around for a restaurant suggestion and was directed towards the Argentinian Grill for my protein fix.
The restaurant overlooked Half Moon Bay and we sat relaxing on the terrace, taking in the beautiful sight of the sunset amidst rain clouds.
We ordered steaks, beef kebabs, and chicken breast entrees – all grilled over an open wood fire right at the front of the restaurant.
The food was simple but well-prepared. I enjoyed my filet mignon even though it was more on the rare side than the requested medium-rare. I was quite hungry though and didn’t want to send it back to the grill. As long as my steak isn’t past medium-rare, I’m generally a happy camper.
A huge hefty bowl of chimichurri sauce sat alongside the grill ready to be scooped up into smaller bowls as an accompaniment to our entrees. I spooned it onto everything including the garlic bread appetizer. Chimichurri, I couldn’t get enough of you.
At Tong’s, we dined by the docks at the end of a narrow pier. It was another beautiful night, there was a slight breeze, and we had to be careful that our paper napkins didn’t blow away into the sea below.
Every once in a while, I make it a point of not carrying my camera out so that I can focus on the food experience and the company of my friends instead of being constantly thinking about what shot to take next, what angle to use, where is the light coming from, or in this week’s case, being constantly angry at my sh*tty mediocre lantern-lit pictures.
So there are no photos from our dinner at Tong’s. Orders of Pad Thai, Penang Curry (one with shrimp, one with chicken), and a Spicy Octopus dish were all raved about. And I have a weakness for chicken wings so two orders of the Thai Spicy Chicken Wings were requested which I recall liking very much.
On the afternoon before our night dive, Nic and I went to Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken to grab some takeout. I worried that we’d be too tired to head out for dinner after the dive so two 1/2-chicken meals were ordered as a back-up plan.
How did I manage self-control and not eat any of the temptingly delicious golden-skinned rotisseried chicken that was placed in my hands all nice and tin-foiled and which smelled oh-so-good?
Hah! Self-control? I didn’t even try. I immediately found a chair, sat down, ripped open that tin-foil, tore off a piece of chicken wing, ate it, savored it, and was about to reach for a piece of fatty, caramelized skin when my self-control eventually kicked in and I slowly and reluctantly smoothed the tin foil back over the chicken.
After my night dive, I gobbled up the rest of my rotisserie chicken so fast, I didn’t even remember to take any photos. Whoopsies!
360° Restaurant and Bar
In search for some local Honduran food, we ended up at 360°.
We ordered whole fried red snapper, carne de cerdo cocinado a fuego lento (slow-cooked pork served with yucca, mojo sauce, rice and beans) and a plate of parrilladas (a mixed grill platter of churrasco, chorizo, and chicken breast).
I was so eager to eat the parrilladas that I forgot to take a photo until I was halfway through. Whoops again!
The slow-cooked pork was amazingly good – even better cold the next day…and the day after. It was seriously a never ending take-out container of pulled-pork leftovers. The day we flew out, I even carried some of it with me to the airport because I couldn’t bear to leave any of it behind.
My favorite dish from the restaurant was the Lobster Crepe. At a reasonable price of $10, I didn’t expect much in portion size nor flavor but thought, “What the hell! I’m on vacation.” The simple and uni-color presentation of the dish added a bit to my trepidation.
But as soon as I bit into the soft crepes, a burst of creamy lobster flavors filled my mouth. It was as if the whole crepe had been simmered in a lobster broth, absorbing all the wonderful flavors of the sea. There were certainly no leftovers of this dish and I even thought about not sharing it with anyone…
An odd thing about this place: there were clear plastic bags filled with a clear liquid hanging above our heads from the ceiling.
I surmised that they were filled with sugar water to attract mosquitoes so that they wouldn’t feast on us.
Our waiter informed us that they were actually filled with just water and were used to deter flies. He said the belief is that a fly would see its own reflection and buzz off. ‘Seems to work,” he mused.
Set on the beach, a little ways up from the sea, lies this small restaurant on the terrace of a large house. We were told it is a family business ran by three sisters. The kitchen was viewable through a large open window and I desperately wanted to take a photo of the operations but felt too shy to ask for permission.
As we sat down, we were brought the menus and a small lantern. It would be another evening of dinner by kerosene lamps and hard to see food. But this time around, the dishes were all delectable.
At a place called Lobster Pot, what else could we order but lobster? It was just my friend Nic and I that night and even though an order of conch fritters and two spiny lobsters doesn’t sound like much food, we could barely eat 2 or 3 bites of the lobster as we had been munching on street food along the way to the restaurant.
In essence, we had dinner before we even made it to the Lobster Pot. We were so stuffed we had a hard time finishing our rum punches!
I really thought the waitress was joking when she told us that there was still key lime pie waiting for us in the kitchen. More food?!
Key lime pie and two spiny lobsters were taken home in tin foil that night and made for an excellent post-dive lunch the next day :).
Our last night in Roatan, I just wanted to walk aimlessly around, eat at various street stalls, and take in the last bit of Roatan food and night life. Nic agreed to my plan so off we ventured up and down the main street of West End. That’s when we finally (and belatedly) discovered what baleadas were.
Wiki describes baleadas as “one of Honduras’s most original and popular foods. It is a wheat flour tortilla, often quite thick, folded in half and filled with mashed fried beans.”
Baleadas seem similar to Mexican soft tacos but I think the difference is that the baleada is folded in half, not rolled, and maybe the regional cheese fillings makes it Honduran.
At one street stall, only Spanish was spoken and I was ecstatic to finally put to use what little remained of my 6 years of high school Spanish classes to order one baleada with chicken and one with beef. Both were quite tasty and I enjoyed them with their home-made spicy pickled onions. I had to go back and tell the baleada ladies that, “Nos las gustamos muchísimo.”
At the next stand, the vendor spoke English and was able to explain to us, if memory serves me right, that a basic or no-frills baleada is a tortilla filled with just refried beans and cheese. From there, you can add your choice of meat and/or sauces. We were also give the choice of corn or flour tortilla. I tried them both and much prefer the firmness of the flour tortilla as compared to the softer and mushier corn tortilla.
It was remarkable for me to see the tortillas being made fresh right in front of us – balls of dough were pressed and flattend by hand until very thin (the process looked quite easy, but I’m sure just like pizza tossing, simplicity belies the skill).
Why don’t I have a photo or video? Because this was one of those nights I purposely left my camera at home. But I did take this one shot with Nic’s cam:
The flattened dough was then cooked over a flat grill or pan (using fingers, no utensils) for a few seconds per side. My fingers were burning just watching the flipping process. The baleadas came out piping hot as a result and patience had to be exercised so as not to burn myself. Me = Fail = Burnt fingers and mouth.
I wish I had discovered this place earlier in the week instead of the morning of my flight home. Cheap local food that hits the spot and a cheery owner.
Nic and I both ordered the island breakfast for 100 lempiras which consisted of two eggs, bacon, mashed refried beans, some kind of white sauce that we thought was yogurt, and a choice of corn or flour tortillas.
I found out later that the “yogurt” was a Honduran sour cream known as mantequilla and is a popular condiment over there. I know mantequilla as butter in Spanish so I wonder what Spanish word is used for butter in Honduras?
We both preferred the flour tortilla and I was pleased to see that it was again rolled, pressed, and grilled right in front of us.
After our meal at Cindy’s, it was off to the airport for our flight home.
Up next…What else we did in Roatan (besides eat and dive).