Devouring Delicacies in Belize: Where to Eat

In my book, there are three types of traveling eaters: those who dare to eat the most obscure culinary delight no matter the physical toll it may take later, those who are willing to venture slightly beyond the norm and dive into whatever local cuisine is available, and then there are those who stick to what they know, even if it means eating only pre-packaged, processed, brand-name food picked up at a local convince store or even worse – brought from the United States.

Belize caters to all of the above.  After I devoured my first fresh fish taco and downed rum punch, mojitos and blended banana and mango drinks at the over over-the-water Palapa Bar and woke the next morning to realize I wasn’t sick, I turned to my husband and with a big grin and told him I had come up with a new tourism marketing campaign for the country: “Welcome to Belize…Eat and Drink Whatever You Like!”

The food is delicious, and you really can eat it all!  The dishes, like the people, are a cultural mixing pot.  You’ll find a lot of American fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and french fries sold along side Tex-Mex, Salvadorian pupusas, Guatemalen influenced stewed chicken, and local fare like fresh fresh, lobster, conch and crab – all served with tantalizing sauces often spiced with herbs or pureed from fresh fruit.  The locals also serve up a side of coleslaw with just about anything! Again, Seafood, meat, veggies, fruit…it’s all safe to eat without worry! So grab a fork, dive in and enjoy!

For the adventurous eater:

San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), Caye Caulker, Belize City and a number of other smaller villages on the mainland all boast some of the best street cart food the country has to offer.  From locals selling freshly-caught fish and locally-farmed shrimp from coolers on their bikes to some of the best stewed chicken with rice and beans you’ll ever find – simply stopping on the side of the road isn’t a gamble in Belize.  You won’t find strange bugs or bizarre creatures from the deep blue served up on platters in Belize, but the locals do ensure they utilize everything the earth gives them whether it be for food or medicine.

For the “Ok, I’ll give it a try..but I’m nervous” eater

If you’re still not O.K. with eating from a roadside stand, don’t worry.  Belize still has some GREAT dishes served in the comfort of air-conditioned restaurants – even eat at your hotel if it makes you feel better.  Not surprisingly, the bigger ‘tourist’ restaurants and hotels still serve the island favorites including the stewed chicken and fresh fish.  I recommend Elvi’s Kitchen (see below).  There are a number of safe options on the menu with a few opportunities to try something new.  Most menus at tourist restaurants include fish and chips and many have an option for hamburgers.

For the “I’m not eating it unless it’s from a package I know”..

There are dozens of grocery stores on the island selling just about anything you could get back in the States – some even tout their ‘tourist delights’ by painting pictures of doritos, cheetos, pringles, an assortment of candy bars and coke on the side of the building.  Just make sure to check the dates on anything you buy, especially if you’re looking for bread, milk and cheese.  Some grocery stores have significantly higher prices like the Caye Mart or Kmart for all you Americans.  It’s located on the roundabout headed north toward the bridge across from a locally owned grocery store called Richies.  Richies has a decent selection and OK prices, but I may shop elsewhere if I were to go back.  One of the locals we gave a ride told us to shop at Marina’s – we’re told it’s where the locals shop and has some of the cheapest prices.  Remember, you’re on an island and everything is more expensive – Ambergris Caye can be deceiving, it isn’t a truly cheap vacation destination.

 Where we ate…

  Our second night in San Pedro – we found our spot and were hooked.  It’s a little ‘hole-in-the-wall restaurant” called Waruguma (meaning star).  You’ll see it while driving down what the locals call “Middle Street” – a one way street running through the middle of town.  It will be on your left – just look for the lime green building with butterflies painted on the walls.  Dining here once just wasn’t enough, instead we came back for more.  The extensive menu offers a laundry list of pupusas (cooked right in front of the restaurant) for 2.50 BZ each.  My favorite is the pork, bean and cheese, but others in our group opted for the pumpkin (when in season), the fish and the spinach and cheese.  What is a pupusa you ask?  Think Indian Fry Bread meets tortilla, but they are slightly thicker and stuffed with whatever you choose, sweet or savory.  We ate them as cheap appetizers.
  The stewed chicken is cooked to perfection.  It’s not about the flavorings or the sauce you put with it, in fact it was served alone.  It’s the most tender, juicy and flavorful chicken you’ll find anywhere, and for 8.00 BZ or $4.00 US it’s a steal if you’re trying to avoid breaking the bank.  A little on the ‘pricer’ side, but most definitely a must, is the Coconut Cream with Shrimp (pictured above).  A heaping mound of shrimp is soaked in an exquisitely creamy but light coconut sauce that is both sweet and savory.  It’s beautifully combined in a large conch shell and served with rice, which we poured the remaining sauce over so as not to waste a single bite.

Then there’s the chicken burrito. The menu says all burritos are enough for two and that’s no lie. At 18.00 BZ it’s another great deal. Their tender, juicy stewed chicken is combined with rice, beans, cheese and array of other ingredients all wrapped inside a giant tortilla. I can confidently say this is one of the best burritos I’ve ever had. During our stay we also tried the Chicken Tacos, but weren’t as impressed. While the stewed chicken is great – they are very simple and most likely the perfect pick for someone satisfied with a bland pallet.

Elvi’s Kitchen

Elvi’s has been servicing locals and tourists alike since the late 1960s although now you’ll find it in many guide books meaning on any given night it’s mainly tourists and very few if any locals. But, that’s not a reason to stay away. The food is typical Belizean fare and it’s delicious. It’s much more reminiscent of something you would find served at one of the resorts like Ramons. We dined on stuffed chicken, freshly caught red snapper blackened in a garlic chicken sauce and coconut and ginger deep-fried shrimp. The prices were a little higher than some of the hole in the wall joints like Warugumas and significantly higher than the road-side stands and shacks where the locals pick up their food, but overall they weren’t too pricy. For what it’s worth, I should share this story: a man at a table adjacent to ours asked his waiter if he was a hugger. The waiter, who looked confused, shrugged. The man leapt from his chair and hugged the waiter telling him it was the best meal he’s ever had. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do definitely recommend giving it a try.

Palapa Bar

The Palapa Bar is a place to go for the atmosphere and drinks, but not much else. They are known for their BBQ sandwiches (which we didn’t try) among other dishes, but I wasn’t as impressed. We tried shrimp and fish tacos, but both were lacking the flavor found elsewhere. If you’ve been out fishing for the day – you can take your catch the bar and for just over 22.00 BZ they’ll cook it to order and serve it with two sides. The bar is about 2 miles north of the bridge located on a huge palapa over the water, hence it’s name. During the day you can float in inner tubes tied the bar while the bartenders lower buckets of beer into your eager hands.

Legends Burger House

  The name is the game here.  Legends Burger House has dozens of burgers to choose from including black bean veggie burgers.  It’s clearly owned by an ex-pat who wanders his shop without shoes operating on island time.  The restaurant is decorated with sports memorabilia from the US along with flippers tacked to the walls.  The food is good, especially if you’re looking for a break from some of the different dishes you’ve been trying.  There’s a great selection of burger toppings and the patties are seasoned with just the right spices to make them stand out to your taste buds.  Prices are good too – it’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s not an expensive meal.  Arrive for a little later happy hour between 6pm and 8pm for 2 for 1 drinks.

Also Try:

Fidos – Locals say it’s not the place to go for great food, but you’ll find live music, shops inside selling art and jewelry and a good atmosphere on the beach.

Pupuseria Salvadorena – across the street from Warugumas this little hole-in-wall Salvadorean restaurant has similar fare and comes highly recommended

Emilie’s – A pastry chef at one of the islands top resorts, Victoria House, told us this is the place to go for breakfast. We never found it, but maybe you can give it a whirl.