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The Best Local Dining Experiences

  • Rojo Lounge (Ambergris Caye, Belize; tel. 501/226-4012): The folks at Azul Resort, an isolated little place on Northern Ambergris Caye, serve very creative and well-prepared fusion cuisine, in a relaxed and inviting open-air ambience. The menu features some of the more creative fusion items to be had on the island -- no mean feat given the competition -- and there are also nightly specials.
  • The French Connection (Placencia, Belize; tel. 501/523-3656): This place created an immediate buzz when it first opened in Placencia, and quickly outgrew its first location. At once elegant and relaxed, the food here is a creative take on contemporary bistro fare.
  • Tamarindos (Guatemala City, Guatemala; tel. 502/2360-2815): The chef at this trendy Zona Viva restaurant is wowing Guatemala City with her eclectic fusion cooking. It's easy to overdo or miscalculate when combining ingredients and techniques from various world cuisines, but Tamarindos hits all the right notes. The menu is long, and touches many bases, with culinary influences from Asia, Italy, and many places in between. Be sure to ask about daily specials, as this is where the chef really shines.
  • Kacao (Guatemala City, Guatemala; tel. 502/2237-4188 or 2377-4189): This popular restaurant takes Guatemalan cuisine and polishes it up a bit. The cooking is fairly traditional, with signature dishes from around the country, but the service, ambience, and presentation are far more refined than you'll find at almost any other place specializing in Chapin cuisine. Although they do a brisk lunch business, I prefer to come for dinner, when the thatch roof is illuminated by candles and other strategically placed lighting.
  • Alo Nuestro (San Salvador, El Salvador; tel. 503/2223-5116): San Salvador is packed with excellent restaurants offering cuisines from around the world. But even in that crowded market, Alo Nuestro stands out for its simply delicious food. The restaurant has been open since 1999 and has built a quiet word-of-mouth following among locals and international travelers. The frequently changing menu is a fusion of San Salvador's many ethnic restaurants, with an emphasis on local ingredients. The service is top-notch and the ambience is formal but comfortable.
  • Hacienda San Lucas (Copán Ruinas, Honduras; tel. 504/651-4495; www.haciendasanlucas.com): On a hillside overlooking the Copán valley, this rustic 100-year-old, family-owned hacienda dishes out an authentic Maya Chortí five-course candlelit dinner focusing on fresh, local ingredients. Their tamales, corn chowder, and fire-roasted chicken with adobo sauce do not disappoint.
  • El Colibri (San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua; tel. 505/863-8612): Set within a funky colored clapboard house with a large veranda overlooking a lovely garden, this enchanting restaurant is a piece of art put together from recycled materials. Mosaic-framed mirrors hang between stained-glass lamps and African face masks, while small colored stones hold down your place mats lest the sea breeze carry them away. The international, mostly organic fare, is a work of art, too.
  • La Casita (Estelí, Nicaragua; tel. 505/713-4917): At this part-farmhouse restaurant and part coffeehouse, you can enjoy great local coffee, fresh bread, cheeses, and yogurts in a garden by a beautiful stream with relaxing music in the background. Also on sale are local crafts and herbal medicines.
  • Grano de Oro Restaurant (San José, Costa Rica; tel. 2255-3322): This stylish little hotel has an elegant restaurant serving delicious Continental dishes and decadent desserts. The open-air seating in the lushly planted central courtyard is delightful, especially for lunch.
  • Playa de los Artistas (Montezuma, Costa Rica; tel. 2642-0920): This place is the perfect blend of refined cuisine and beachside funkiness. There are only a few tables, so make sure you get here early. Fresh, grilled seafood is served in oversize ceramic bowls and on large wooden slabs lined with banana leaves.
  • La Pecora Nera (Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica; tel. 2750-0490): I'm not sure that a tiny surfer town on the remote Caribbean coast of Costa Rica deserves such fine Italian food, but it's got it. Your best bet here is to allow yourself to be taken on a culinary roller-coaster ride with a mixed feast of the chef's nightly specials and suggestions.
  • Panamonte Inn Restaurant (Boquete, Panama; tel. 720-1324): This sanctuary of gourmet cuisine is located within the clapboard walls of the oldest hotel in Boquete. The food is inventive and consistently good, and service is attentive and courteous. You can bypass their more formal dining area for a comfy seat in their fireside bar and still order off the main menu.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.