You will eat very well in Provo -- the quality and freshness of the food, much of it flown in daily, is remarkable for an island that has to import just about everything in the larder. But you will pay to do so. Yes, you can get a slice of pizza or a burger for a fairly reasonable price in a number of venues, but fast-food restaurants and chain eateries are virtually nonexistent here. It helps that many resorts and hotels offer fully equipped self-catering facilities, a way to offset the costs of paying for double-digit entree meals. Most resorts offer complimentary breakfasts as well, either full American style or Continental.
You can sample cuisines from around the world here, from Italian to Thai to Japanese. You will dine on dishes that have melded Continental-style cuisine with Caribbean influences. But if it's local flavor you're craving, head to Provo's Blue Hills, where casual beach shacks serve such regional favorites as peas 'n' rice (or peas 'n' hominy); cod fish cakes; stewed fish; curry goat, fish, or chicken; johnnycakes (a sweet pan bread); all things conch (conch fritters, conch chowder, and conch ceviche); and all things lobster (in season). The food is fresh, good, and well-prepared, and you won't pay an arm and a leg for it. Or take a trip to the less-traveled islands of North Caicos and Middle Caicos, for solid local seafood (lobster, grouper, or cracked conch at Daniel's Café by the Sea in Middle) or traditional island meals prepared by celebrated home cooks (such as the Pelican Beach Hotel on North Caicos, where owner Susie Gardiner is happy to cook up your day's catch, accompanied by conch fritters and fruit cocktail cake). Try cooking up the local cuisine once you're back at home with a copy of the Turks and Caicos Islands Food cookbook.
But what will you eat that actually comes from the Turks and Caicos? Like many other Caribbean nations, the TCI grows little of its own food except for personal use (on fertile North Caicos, locals grow corn, okra, and other crops and raise fruit trees). Most of what you eat in Provo restaurants is imported. Local hydroponic farms provide restaurants with fresh lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs. The true local bounty comes from the sea, in the form of fresh conch, Caribbean lobster (in season, Aug-Mar), and a range of fish from the local waters, such as red snapper, grouper, and mahimahi.
Liquor, liqueurs, wine, and beer are sold at liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores, but no alcohol is sold in these venues on Sunday. Liquor by the drink, wine, and beer are available 7 days a week in restaurants and bars. While you're on the islands, be sure to try the local beer, Turk's Head, produced in a microbrewery in Providenciales. It comes in a light, delicious lager and a heavier amber. Note: The legal drinking age is 18 on the islands.
Keep in mind that the government adds an 11% tax on all restaurant bills. A few restaurants will add a service or gratuity charge, particularly for tables of six or more people. Always check your bill before tipping to make sure a gratuity has not already been figured in to the total.
In general, Providenciales and the Caicos islands are not late-night dining destinations. Most restaurants stop serving around 9pm to 10pm and close down altogether by 11pm.
Most of the dining choices in Provo are found in the Grace Bay area. Provo has two other good dining neighborhoods in Turtle Cove and the Blue Hills.
If you don't have a car and the restaurant is not within walking distance, you can have your hotel call a taxi for you.
Newly opened in the Regent Village shopping plaza on Grace Bay Road is The Vix Restaurant & Bar (649/941-4144; daily lunch and dinner), with an intriguing modern menu (chicken tagine; slow-cooked pork belly; corn and crab risotto) and a carefully curated wine list. Its only drawback is a location in the middle of a shopping plaza -- you can dine outside on an attractive landscaped patio but you still won't have beach or ocean views. If you love Thai food, the island's full-service Thai restaurant, Thai Orchid (tel. 649/946-4491; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; dinner only Sun), also just opened in the Regent Village complex.
Dining Out on an Evening Pass -- Even if you're not staying there, you can sample the food at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa by purchasing an evening pass. For $220 per adult ($140 per child), you can enjoy all the food and drink you want from 6pm to 2:30am. Just keep in mind that two of the restaurants, Kimonos (Japanese steakhouse) and Sapodilla's (the resort's signature white-glove restaurant serving international cuisine), require advance reservations (and book up quickly). Also keep in mind that Sapodilla's is an adults-only eatery. Prefer to eat breakfast and lunch and make a day of it at Beaches? Purchase a day pass for $200 adults ($130 per child), and from 9am to 5pm you can partake in the resort's numerous all-inclusive watersports and other activities -- a great option for the kids in your party. For more information, call tel. 649/946-8000.
Shopping for Self-Catering -- Staying in Provo and have a full kitchen at your fingertips? Stock it with the following self-catering options. Located smack-dab in the center of Grace Bay is the fabulous new Graceway Gourmet (649/941-5000; www.gracewaygourmet.com), at the corner of Grace Bay Road and Dolphin Avenue, which sells all the basics -- meats, vegetables, fruits, snacks, drinks -- as well as a thoughtful selection of gourmet goods. Among its forward-thinking initiatives: North Caicos farmers sell fresh produce outside the store on the last Saturday of each month. The larger Graceway store, the Graceway IGA (tel. 649/941-5000; www.gracewayiga.com) is on Leeward Highway. (Keep in mind that these grocery stores are fully stocked with beer, wine, and liquor, but you can only buy alcohol in restaurants and bars on Sunday.) Buy fresh fish straight off the Heaving Down Rocks Marina docks; arrive at 5 or 6pm when the boats come in. Or head to LTC Fisheries (tel. 649/941-7358) in Five Cays. For liquor, beer, and wine, go to the Wine & Spirits Liquor Store (tel. 649/941-8047), in the Regent Village shopping plaza on Grace Bay Road; the Tipsy Turtle, in Turtle Cove Marina; or the Wine Cellar (tel. 649/946-4536), on Leeward Highway -- you can also buy soft drinks and water at liquor stores. Gourmet Catering (tel. 649/941-4141; www.gourmetgoods.tc), in Grace Bay Court on Grace Bay Road, will prepare and serve complete catered dinners in your villa or condo.
Celebrating the Conch -- The Caribbean Queen conch may be endangered elsewhere, but here in the Turks and Caicos, it's plentiful and a tasty staple for the creation of many dishes, whether served raw, fried, curried, or even jerked. Marvel at the versatility of conch and get a memorable taste of Blue Hills hospitality at the Turks & Caicos Conch Festival, held the last Saturday in November. Local restaurants vie to win top honors for best conch concoctions, including conch chowder, conch curry, and conch salad, to name a few of the contested dishes. In 2009 the Best in Festival honor was awarded to Bay Bistro and the Saltmills Diner took home the top spot for Best Conch Chowder (Hole in the Wall came in second). In its seventh year, the conch festival has become a popular celebration, with music, food, conch-blowing contests, and a heavenly Blue Hills beach location. For more information, go to www.conchfestival.com.
Dining Da Blue Hills -- The welcoming beach-shack bar/restaurants along the Reef Harbor shoreline of northwest Provo represent what one local describes as a "taste of old-time Provo." For a therapeutic immersion in the TCI art of studied languor, you can't beat a meal at one of the shacks in Provo's oldest settlement along the rural Blue Hills road, dotted with pastel-painted churches and schools. In fact, many visitors come here straight from the airport, kicking off their cold-weather armor and city-slicker shoes to dig their toes in the warm sand, stare out at the sun-dappled azure seas, and dine on conch freshly pulled from the sea. Even better, the food at these shacks is as fresh and soul-satisfying as anything you'll find in Provo. Horse-Eye Jack's has a deck overlooking the beach and Jamaican-style jerk meat, and Da Conch Shack is where live conch is held in pens in the shallows below and brought up to order. The oldest of the Blue Hills restaurants, Three Queens, is a favorite local hangout, especially on Friday nights. Hours for all the Blue Hills shacks vary, so call before you go, but the general opening times are Monday to Saturday from 11am until past sunset. Bring cash.
Locally Made Ice Cream -- For a sugary frozen treat and a break from the island heat, try one of the locally made ice creams and sorbets at Island Scoop. Fill a cone with traditional flavors such as chocolate or peach or try something a little more exotic like white mint. You can also get a range of shakes, smoothies, sundaes, and cookies. You'll find two Provo locations: Grace Bay Plaza (tel. 649/242-8511) and in Downtown Providenciales, next to Hole in the Wall restaurant (tel. 649/243-5051).
The Restaurant at Amanyara accepts non-resort guests, but you must reserve at least 2 days in advance. The menu features Asian- and Mediterranean-infused cuisine (with an emphasis on local seafood) and is served either indoors or on a terrace overlooking the water at Northwest Point. Arrive early so that you can have a drink on the bar terrace and watch the sunset. Call tel. 649/941-8133 to reserve a table.
Note: At press time, the much-admired Aqua Bar & Terrace had closed, replaced by the Anchorage Bar & Grill (tel. 649/241-9140). Aqua owner/chef Clive Whent is now a full-time presence at his other restaurant, Bay Bistro .
In Whitby, Pelican Beach Hotel (tel. 649/946-7112) serves homemade meals prepared by the owner, Susie Gardiner; you must call ahead to reserve a table. The Silver Palm restaurant (tel. 649/946-7113; www.oceanbeach.tc), also in Whitby, is a full-service restaurant with a menu that includes conch dishes (chowder, fritters, cracked conch), grilled or pan-fried fish, lobster (in season), and homemade breads and desserts.
Two recommended local spots to catch a bite to eat are both near the airport: My Dee's Restaurant & Bar (Airport Rd.; tel. 649/946-7059), which serves local food like conch, fish, lobster, and peas 'n' rice and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; you'll need reservations for Sunday brunch and dinner; and Miss B's Island Hut (Airport Rd.; tel. 649/946-7727), which serves native island cuisine and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Super D Café (tel. 649/946-7258), the restaurant in the airport, offers local food.
Middle Caicos has largely self-catering options, although Sapodilley's, a small restaurant at the Middle Caicos airport, offers a few local specialties and a bar.
Turks & Caicos Islands Cookbook -- If you want to take home treasured recipes from the Turks and Caicos Islands, from both professional and celebrated local home cooks, look for a copy of the Turks and Caicos Islands Food cookbook, a colorful hardcover published in 2005 by the Turks & Caicos Islands Red Cross ($20; proceeds go to support the Red Cross). Among the recipes are Love's Fried Fish with Tamarind Sauce, from Isadora Emanuel (known as Love), who runs Love's Restaurant in South Caicos; island jerk encrusted Chilean sea bass, from executive chef Alberto Artiles at Grace's Cottage in the Point Grace resort; and Pat's Dreamy Coleslaw, from Pat Simmons of Pat's Place in Salt Cay. You can buy the cookbook through the Red Cross or at various resorts throughout the islands and in the Unicorn Bookstore on Leeward Highway in Provo.
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.