The South Pacific isn’t exactly known for its world-class cuisine – however, Vanuatu is doing much to buck that trend, with a number of excellent eateries in Port Vila and its surrounds that benefit from the country’s past as a French colony. As you might expect, the staple diet here revolves around seafood: from local lobster and prawns to reef fish and tuna. There’s much more to ni-Vanuatu cuisine than these staples, however, as you’ll soon discover from any wander around a market. There’s fruit – more fruit than you’ve ever seen. There’s also rice, and, best of all, the best locally bred beef in the South Pacific comes from Vanuatu.
Most of the better restaurants across the country serve a mix of seafood dishes – from ceviche-style raw fish to perfectly cooked fresh lobster – as well as that fine local beef. There’s plenty of imported wine on offer, as well as Vanuatu beer. The locals, however, prefer to drink kava, a sedative drink brewed from the root of a plant – beware, it’s much stronger here than in places such as Fiji.
Our top picks
Eratap Resort Restaurant
Eratap Village, Port Villa
Probably Vanuatu’s finest restaurant is an unassuming little place set on the beach at Eratap Resort. Guests can wiggle their toes in the sand and watch crabs running into the ocean nearby as the extremely attentive wait staff serve up dishes such as seared scallops with spinach risotto, or grilled local beef with roasted potatoes. The wine list is good and the portions here are enormous, so turn up with an appetite.
Palm Cove Beach Bar and Grill
Wharf Road, Port Vila
At Palm Cove Beach Bar, a beautiful waterfront eatery that has recently opened in Port Vila, you can dine on locally caught lobsters and fish, as well as Vanuatu beef, in front of some of the finest ocean views you’re ever likely to see. Kiwi owner Kevin Bradshaw started Palm Cove after losing everything he owned in Cyclone Pam – the restaurant is a testament to locals’ desire to get Vanuatu back on its feet.
Eat like a local
The Beach Bar
Mele Road, Mele Bay, Efate
As popular as it is with tourists and expats, the Beach Bar is still very much a local institution, where kids from villages near and far still turn up in their hundreds each Friday night to watch the weekly fire show. Food here is well priced and tasty, but it’s the activities like jet-ski hire and swimming that keep diners hanging around for multiple meals.
Vanuatu Fried Chicken
Champagne Estate, Port Vila
There’s no KFC in Vanuatu, but there is the immensely popular VFC, a local favourite that does exactly what it says on the box. Port Vila residents love their fried chicken, and the burgers and whole chunks of bird that are dished out here – while they might not fit the island paradise stereotype – are what people want.
Main Street, Luganville, Espiritu Santo
While it’s taking a shot at attracting the tourist market with items like sushi, Natangora is still very much a local favourite on Espiritu Santo. The cafe has a beachside setting, and does staples such as toasted sandwiches as well as a more refined, Japanese-influenced main menu.